Tips for Photographing Camera Shy Guys

Photographing guys can be challenging, because as a portrait and wedding photographer, I spend all of my time taking pictures of people who are not models and don’t know how to pose. To make things more difficult, most of my male subjects don’t even like to have their pictures taken. With that being said, I enjoy working with men and actually find it very easy because I have found five tips that help me capture priceless portraits every time.

1. Have Fun

camera shy photography tips

Canon 5D Mark II: 1/250 second, f/5, ISO 2500. Lens: 70-200 2.8 @ 85mm

The first step in my mind is the easiest and most important. Your subjects will be looking to you for guidance, because we have been trained from an early age to stop and say cheese when somebody is taking your picture. The problem with “posed” portraits is your pictures will all look stiff and boring. The popular buzz word over the last few years is photojournalism. But if you were to only work with that mindset you would never get any official shots, and I think it’s being lazy. I know we are getting paid to take pictures, but as a good photographer you need to be engaged with your clients. The more fun and engaged your are with your clients, the more open they will become to the camera. In a way, your subjects truly decide whether your pictures pop or not. If you take the most amazing technical images but your clients don’t like you and don’t open up, the images will lack emotion. In the end, as photographers we are there to capture emotions.

When you are taking pictures of your clients you still need to pose them to a point. Remember as a photographer, you’re still responsible for the images background, foreground, and composition. What I recommend is putting your subject where you want them so the light and other photographic elements are good, but have fun with your subject and encourage them to joke around with you. Trust me; this will make the experience for your client much more enjoyable, which will show in the images.

2. Hands


positioning hands in portrait photos

Canon 5D Mark II: 1/200 second, f/6.3, ISO 250. Lens: 70-200 2.8 @ 105mm. Flash: Canon 580EXII off camera left at Manual 1/16

Let me start by saying hands are difficult, and actually my least favorite part of takings portraits. I feel like hands look like dead blobs attached to a subject’s arms. I also think if your subject’s hands are just at their side it destroys even the best of photographs. I have a hard time describing it, but hands at the side look like your subject has no interest in the photograph. Often when I start taking pictures my subject will ask me, “What do I do with my hands?”

Start looking at pictures in catalogs or advertising campaigns and you will notice the subjects’ hands are always doing something. I call this giving your hands a task, if you have your subject do something with their hands your images will look more engaging. If the subject is in a suit I often have them put a hand in their pocket, or I have them lean on a wall which gives them a place to put their hands. Another idea for hands is to have them hold something. This can be anything from a coffee cup to their jacket. Remember give your subjects hands a task or your subject will look/feel funny.

3. Environment

environments for portrait photos

Canon 5D Mark II: 1/200 second, f/6.3, ISO 800. Lens: 70-200 2.8 @ 200mm. Flash: Canon 580EXII off camera right @ Manual 1/32, Canon 580EXII off camera behind subject right @ Manual 1/8.

Your subject is the most important part of the image, but please don’t forget your environment. When I am taking portraits I spend most of my time thinking about the environment, framing, composition, and depth of field. Most newer photographers forget to think about this part. I have seen tons of pictures where the subject is looking good and having fun but it was shot on a flat background. When I say flat background I am saying it’s a view of the water or a grass field. Don’t get me wrong; a scenic background is great. But if you want your pictures to stand above the rest, find ways to add depth to your images. Picking a good environment can make a complete difference in a picture.

Take the above image as an example. Technically the image’s exposure and lighting are strong, but I feel like the environment is the only thing keeping my attention. This picture has great framing and makes good use of lines. I know pictures are two dimensional, but I spend lots of time trying to make them have depth. In the above image, this is done by the repeating lines and shallow depth of field.

4. Posture/Camera Angle

portrait posture poses

Canon 5D Mark II: 1/200 second, f/4, ISO 50. Lens: 70-200 2.8 @ 200mm. Flash: Canon 2 580EXII off camera left at Manual 1/4.

Posture and emotion are important elements for any photography. If you were trying to capture a silly picture, you would not want to have your subjects frowning, would you? Since I am a wedding and portrait photographer I spend my time making people look friendly and happy, so I use posture and camera angle to help tell my story.

Camera angle is very important and subtle. If your subject is trying to show power you take the picture looking up at him. A great example of this is politics. Look at political pictures. Most of them will be shot up at the subject, as it shows power. So if you want to take pictures where the subject looks friendly, you probably want to shoot down on them. These changes don’t need to be dramatic; little changes go a long way. I personally don’t do this at extremes, because the more of an angle the more obvious it becomes. The difficult part for me is that I am not a tall person, so shooting down on people is difficult. I spend most of my days standing on my toes or boxes or looking for smalls hills.

Your subject’s posture is also very important. If you’re trying to take images where your subject looks happy, make sure to put them into relaxed poses. I always tell my subjects that if they feel funny in a pose to stop. If they feel funny it will look funny in the image. Often I find myself telling my subject to meet me over by that fence and I watch how they stand; most often they will stand relaxed. If I know what is relaxing for my subject I can then just make a few changes to make the image strong instead of me trying to pose everything.

5. Accessories

portrait accessories

Canon 5D Mark II: 1/200 second, f/2.8, ISO 250. Lens: 100mm Macro 2.8 @ 100mm. Flash: Canon 580EXII off camera left at Manual 1/32.

I find accessories to be the extra element that shows your subject’s emotions or personality. In the above picture, I found out while talking to my subject during the photo shoot that he loves playing the guitar. I asked if he had his guitar with him and if so would he get it and play something for me. He played some song for me; I actually have no clue what he was playing, but I used that time taking his pictures while playing. While he was playing he opened up and relaxed out of “picture mode,” which was great as we got his best pictures during that time. It was wonderful when he started to smile because I was able to show more personality than just a picture of him sitting along a fence would have provided.

Accessories give the viewer more to look at in the image. Accessories can be things like bags, hats, jewelry, skateboards—anything that adds to the photo. When using accessories try to tie their color into the image. For example, if your subject is carrying a blue hat, look for a shade of blue to add to the picture. Think of the color wheel and use complementary colors to your advantage to make your image pop.

About the Author
This has been a guest post by Kyle Miller. Please visit their Photography Tips blog for more great tips and tutorials to help you improve your photography.

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2 responses to “Tips for Photographing Camera Shy Guys”

  1. photoman022 says:

    thanks! great ideas and suggestions.

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