People are a big part of what most photographers shoot.
Be it fashion models, employees, family, or just regular people, most photographers find themselves interacting with people on a regular basis. For this reason it is key to know a few tricks to help put your subject at ease and make them feel comfortable in front of your camera.
Some of the ways to do this have been covered already in previous parts of this series, but I will discuss them briefly just for a refresher.
One of the easiest things to do to make a person feel comfortable with the idea of having their photograph taken is to just walk them through what will happen and how the shoot will unfold. This gives them an idea what to expect, and it also lets them gauge how far along the shoot is.
For example, if you are going in to do a head shot, just let the subject know what you are expecting from them. You can let them know that you will do some light tests first, then have them face the light for a few serious and a few smiling shots, then have them facing away from the light for the same serious and smiling shots. Then they will be done. This helps the subject prepare mentally for what they have to do. It also gives them something to focus on other than just staring blankly at the camera. People like direction, especially in situations they are unfamiliar with.
Ask the subject if they have a preference as to how you will photograph them. Some people favor one side of their face over another, or prefer one pose to another. You may not always have the option to accommodate their wishes, but involving them in the creative process will help them become more at ease.
Get your subject to laugh. If possible, do this when you first meet them. Take a minute or two and talk to them. Try to find some common ground between the two of you that you can chat about for a bit. This will help them see you more as a friend than just a person pointing a camera at their face. A good way to do this is to research your subject ahead of time so that you know something about them. This gives you a point of interest to open a discussion with.
Once they have opened up to you verbally, they will open up to you more 'photographically'. The subject will trust you more and you will be able to make better photographs.
A lot of times people will pose for a photograph and after I've taken one shot they think the shoot is over with. The reason they do this is because they are used to just being in snapshots taken by friends or family. For these kinds of pictures, one shot is enough. But for the quality of work that professional photographers do, there are multiple shots needed. So by informing the subject ahead of time that you will be shooting a few series of shots, it keeps them from starting to walk away from the shoot as soon as you've started shooting light tests!
As mentioned earlier, having music playing will keep awkward silence at bay. If you have the model bring their own playlist, it will give them something familiar to ease their nerves. I find this to be true in many cases in life, not just photography. If I can't sleep sometimes just putting music on will help take my mind off of whatever is keeping me up, and it will relax me enough to allow me to doze off. Obviously we don't want our subjects dozing off so I would avoid playing anything that is slow or quiet, but that depends on the model's taste.
I also mentioned before that the atmosphere has a lot to do with making the subject feel comfortable. If you are shooting in a completely foreign place, the subject may not always feel comfortable. However, you will find that if you can get the person in their natural environment (work or home) that they will be more at ease in front of the camera.
Attitude and energy also help to relax a person. If you are happy to be photographing them, and are in a good state of mind, it will show, and rub off on them. I've covered this pretty in-depth so I won't spend too much time on it, but it is a key factor to getting a subject to relax.
I find that complimenting a person raises their self-esteem and, along with that, their level of confidence. All of this shows in a photograph. If you sense that the model is up tight or nervous, drop a few well-placed compliments and see how well the person responds. Telling someone they look great in a photograph, or that they are photogenic, or letting them know that they are doing a great job can really go a long way to helping them to relax.
People are always more comfortable dealing with other people than with machines or electronic devices. Therefore, try to make eye contact with the subject on a regular basis. If you just hide behind your camera the entire time, the subject will get little human interaction with you and will feel like they are just dealing with a piece of equipment. A tripod may be a good option for you if you have the option of having your subject sit still for an extended period of time. This cuts out the need to hold the camera in place and allows you to just stand and chat with the subject while snapping photographs.
If you don't like using a tripod, have an assistant who can be there to engage the subject in conversation while you are shooting. Often times if someone is chatting and thinking about something other than having their photo taken they will relax. You will want to be careful not to get too many shots with an open mouth or a tongue sticking out, so occasionally just ask the subject to look at you for a minute, and then let them continue their discussion. Whenever possible, have your assistant stand next to you, or as close to the lens as possible. This will keep the eyes close to the lens.
Be respectful of your subject. If there is something that the subject doesn't want to do, try to be respectful of that. The exception would be if you are hired to get a specific shot of a person, and they just don't want to have their photo taken. In this case your hands are tied and you have to use any and all means available to get the shot. Often times though, they will know about the shot before hand and be willing to work with you.
Touching your subject is a topic that is sort of a grey area. I know a lot of people don't feel it is appropriate for a photographer to touch a model. This is something that you must decide for yourself. I normally ask permission the first time and explain what I am going to do - for example, if I need to move hair away from someone's face, or reposition them I will ask permission first. This makes it less awkward, and it introduces your subject to the idea of being touched by a stranger in a way that is much less of a surprise than just having someone reach out and grab them. While it may not always be necessary to touch someone while shooting them, it is sometimes faster and easier to just move a person to where you want them than it would be to try to explain what you want them to do.
Give the subject something familiar to hold onto. This could be a tool they work with often, or something as simple as a clipboard. The prop will provide one more point of "comfort" for your subject. In addition, having something to do with their hands gives them one less thing to stress about, and it will also make for a more interesting photograph.
Another thing that will make your subject feel more comfortable is showing them that you are in control and you know what you are doing. As mentioned earlier on, you are the director of the shoot in most cases. Therefore, if you act as such, the model will be much more willing to follow your direction. If you are acting like you don't know what you are doing, the model may or may not feel confident cooperating with you.
Show an image here or there if you think that the subject will benefit from seeing your work.
This is an easy confidence booster for your model. If your shot is coming out like you had envisioned it and you are excited about it, then it would be a good thing if you can get your subject excited about it as well. If they see that they are the key part of an amazing image, they will more than likely relax a bit more and, as a result, be much more willing to follow your direction.
Finally, sometimes it helps to have friends or familiar faces around. This can be for moral support, distraction, encouragement, etc. Be careful with this one though, as sometimes people feel strange having their photo taken in front of people they know. It can create some awkwardness or even tension in the room. A good way to see how this might work is to start off with people they know in the room with you. Then ask the subject if they would feel more comfortable shooting in private. Do this as discretely as possible so that the other people in the room don't notice what you are doing. You want to avoid anyone getting their feelings hurt because the subject doesn't want them to be there. If they prefer to be in private, just ask everyone to leave as if it is something that you require. This keeps the subject out of trouble.
Personally I would prefer to shoot in private as there are less distractions for the subject to interact with. However this isn't always possible.
I think I've covered quite a lot of ideas in this posting as to how to make your subject relax for you. There are probably as many ways to do this as there are photographers so just try some of these as basic starting points and then work on some things you think of on your own depending on the situation. Remember to try to put yourself in your subject's shoes and think what would make you feel comfortable.
Labels: chemistry of a photoshoot, how to, model, photoshoot, subject, the chemistry of a photoshoot, tips, tips and tricks