Whether you love photographing portraits of your best friends or strangers in the street, here are some simple tips to help you pose your subjects and make them feel more comfortable during your shoot.
Build a Connection with Your Subject Before You Start Shooting
Portraiture is all about capturing a person’s character and natural beauty, but people don’t always feel “natural” when someone is pointing a camera at them. For this reason, your first goal as a portrait photographer should be to build rapport with your subject. Start by sitting with them and talking about what you’d like to achieve. Compliment them on something you like about them, such as their hairstyle or outfit, and slowly begin the shoot while they are still sitting (it’s less intimidating than standing shots as most people don’t know how to pose their body). Even if you’re photographing a family member or a friend who you know really well, you’ll want to ease them in slowly to the shoot, rather than immediately grabbing your camera or smartphone and snapping away.
Communicate and Collaborate with Your Subject as You Shoot
Whether you’re photographing your child on their birthday or your best friend’s mother at a wedding, you can make your subject feel more comfortable and involved in the shoot by sharing your thoughts and ideas as you go along. By communicating clearly, they’ll be able to get a feel for what is and isn’t working and collaborate with you to achieve your vision. Offer positive reinforcement and compliments to encourage more of what you like: ”That’s perfect! Beautiful! Excellent!”. And instead of using negative language, simply make suggestions: “What if we try a few shots over there where the light is better? What if you turn your body this way?”. Show them the images on the back of your camera (or smartphone screen) so they can see the results for themselves and feel part of the process.
Know the Basics of Posing
As a photographer, it’s your job to make your subjects look and feel good. You can do this by “coaching” them and helping them explore flattering poses. Make it fun and don’t be afraid to demonstrate each pose. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Prompt your subject to stand (or sit) straight and pull their shoulders back. This will make for longer lines and more flattering postures.
- Use props to help your subject’s feel more comfortable. Maybe your partner likes to read, in which case they may feel more natural with a book or pair of reading glasses in their hands. Give your child a toy to play with while you photograph them, or suggest that your subject plays with their hair. The options are endless!
- Try different locations to see where your subject feels most comfortable. Suggest leaning up against a wall or tree, or find a bench or boulder to sit on. If you’re shooting at home, try the stairs or sofa, or move into the garden. The goal is to experiment until you find the best light and setting for your subject.
- Shoot your subject from eye level or from slightly above and instruct them to look directly into the lens. Avoid shooting from below as these angles can be unflattering (although this can also make kids in superhero costumes look taller and more heroic!).
- Remind your subject to pull their chin up and forward to exaggerate their jawline. If they struggle to understand, describe it as “the turtle neck trick” and demonstrate what it looks like. It’s a funny pose, but it’s perfect for portraits!
- Lift your subject’s arms up and away from the side of their body, so that their hands sit on their hips (or lower back). This look is far more flattering for most people and is easy to achieve.
- Make sure you can see the irises of your subject’s eyes and not only the whites. You can help them with this by telling them to look at something specific behind the camera. The point is that they don’t always have to be looking directly into the camera.
- Turn your subject’s shoulders sideways so that their body is not facing the camera head-on. This slight angle makes for more dynamic and flattering portraits. Conversely, if you want to make your subject look big and powerful, tell them to face the camera directly.
Play Some Music
If you have the option, why not play some music to add to the overall experience of your photo shoot? Ask your subject what they like to listen to and play it nice and loud to create a fun and lively atmosphere. Kids will love it, and will adults too!
Street Photography Etiquette for Photographing Strangers
We all meet interesting characters while travelling or exploring our own cities, but you might feel too nervous to photograph strangers. With the right approach it can be extremely fun and rewarding. If you come across someone who you’d like to photograph, simply approach them with a big smile and introduce yourself. Explain why you find them interesting – maybe you like their hat or think they have an interesting look – and ask if they’d be happy for you to take a quick photograph. This is almost always a better idea than trying to quickly “steal” a candid shot without asking permission. Most people will be happy to pose for a quick photo for two. Try to keep it brief, so as not to take up too much of their time, and always remember to say thank you.
Be Aware of Your Body Language While Shooting
By being open and giving off a positive, happy vibe, you will make your subjects feel more relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera. This is especially true when taking street photos while travelling, but also when trying to capture candid photos of friends and family members at home. Be natural and don’t try to “hide” your camera, as this will arouse people’s suspicions and make them feel like you are doing something you shouldn’t be. Just smile while you shoot and make it obvious that you love photography. Show people your photos as you go and they will soon be having as much fun as you.
Portraiture is one of the most challenging forms of photography, but also one of the most rewarding. Remember to have fun with your subjects and to experiment as much as possible to push your creativity.