Relaxation Techniques for Portrait Photographers

Yet another beautiful young lady strides confidently through the plaza with her cotton summer dress dancing in all the right ways. Her auburn hair streams out behind in perfect step with the undulations of her dress and sparkles in the midday sun. As a photographer, you can’t help but marvel at her poise and sense of purpose.

senior portrait

“Here She Comes” captured by Amancay Maahs

She takes a long glance at herself in the shop window without ever missing a step. She strokes her long, thin fingers through her hair and takes another look. We know what she’s thinking, and we think she’s beautiful, too.

But this confident young lass has a secret. A deep, dark secret.

By day and night, in her casual life, she feels confident and beautiful. She’s at the top of her game. But deep inside she feels a dread of things to come. In two days time, she must sit in front of a stranger. One who will look at her with a critical eye and examine her every feature.

It’s not as if she has a choice. Every high school senior must pass through this ritual.

graduation portrait

“2014 grad!” captured by MFer Photography

When she walks through the studio doors, her poise and confidence drop from ten to below zero. Suddenly, she’s conscious of every mark or scar she’s ever gotten and that tiny little pimple seems larger than Mt. Vesuvius today. Why today of all days?! She knows her nose is too big, and it tilts just a bit to one side, but she hopes to God you won’t notice, too. But she’s sure you will. And you’ll say something about it. She’s sure of it.

Isn’t it just amazing how much we all enjoy looking at ourselves, but we hate to have our picture taken! We all crave attention deeply, down to the very core of our being, but we hate for someone to be looking at us!

We humans are a complex bunch!

But regardless of our quirks and peccadilloes, it is the photographer’s job to put clients at ease and show them in their best light. Shouting “SMILE” from behind the camera just won’t cut it.

So what magic does the photographer call forth to help a subject overcome her dread of sitting before the lens?

Prior conversation is a great stress reliever. Meeting the client before the actual photo session is a great way to break the ice. Client and photographer have a chat about the client’s interests, what kind of clothes they feel most comfortable in, and what kinds of props they might like to use. They can discuss hair and makeup. And they can decide on locations or background scenes. Perhaps there’s particular music that puts them in the mood for fun?

portrait props

“H is for Happy” captured by Martina K.

The simple act of sitting down with the client, a week or so before the photo session, and getting to know him or her goes a long way toward allowing their best face to come forward.

At the session, the photographer should display an organized, relaxed demeanor. The client will never relax if you’re shouting angry commands at your assistant or fighting with vendors on the phone. Certainly, never be abrupt or short with the client. A calm and relaxed voice — offered with authority and clarity of purpose — will put the client in the best state for photos.

Put on some upbeat music to set the mood. Ideally, the music you discussed at your prior meeting.

Have the props ready for use, as well as all your lights and equipment. The client’s anguish will only rise if they have to wait for you. Keep talking as you work and prepare the next scene. When they know what to expect and what you are trying to do, it helps them a great deal. You are a team, and your photos will show how well you worked together.

portrait photography

“Devan” captured by Seth Lemmons

And be sure to add humor. It’s one of the best and most genuine ways to induce a smile.

About the Author:
Robert Schwarztrauber ( is a photographer, author, speaker, and teacher who provides many online resources to help people lead healthier, happier lifestyles.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever