Q. What a refreshing attitude to photography! I’m not that interested in the technology of photography; I want to take a picture that looks right, download it and enjoy it. How do you get the person to relax so that you don’t get that posed smile? – Bryan Altimas, Woolwich
A. Hi Bryan, The reason it’s hard to get a person relaxed is that they are often just not relaxed! You have to think about how THEY think about having their photo taken – most people hate it, because they are used to seeing bad pictures of themselves, so they assume they will look bad on every picture. I think it’s impossible to relax someone when you shoot a photo, if you don’t do tons of work before you actually press the shutter. So, what I’m saying is that if you just get your camera out and then try to relax them, this will be very difficult. I always do 90% of my work before I take the shot.
When I turn up at someone’s house to do a shoot I never get the cameras out of the car until I feel we’re ready to start. I always have a coffee with them, chat to them about everyday things just as you would if you met a friend. I see the shoot as something we are doing together and I tell them that we are going to look at locations and clothes, before we ever start shooting. Split it up into parts. Have coffee, and wander around their garden/location with them (and your coffee!) looking for backgrounds and places to shoot – I always look for shade – doorways, barn roofs, trees etc, as this will provide the most flattering light.
At this stage you now have some ideas about WHERE you will shoot.
The next stage is to look at their clothes so you have an idea of WHAT they will wear – this is often quite tricky, because most people don’t really know what works. It will improve with experience, but for now ask them to get out all the clothes they really like and feel comfortable in. Your job is to make people look good in pictures, so you need to find flattering clothes. You are also looking for colours that will work with the backgrounds you have just chosen. To make it easier think about those places, and pick 3 – then pick 3 outfits – one to go in each location.
This will take a good hour by the time you’ve gone through locations and clothes – and all the time you are helping the client to relax, because you are working together – and the client is starting to see that you know what you are doing (even if you think you don’t – see more on this later). All this will help to relax them and make them realise that this is going to be fun. During this process you need to say “don’t worry – I’m making it all up as I go along – I just need to see the backgrounds and clothes to work out ideas – and then we’ll just work it out together” – in other words you are saying to the client that the pressure is not all on them to pose and look good. Tell them they won’t need to pose – that you will position them as you work it all out with the backgrounds etc, and they won’t have to do a thing except do as they’re told!
Once you’ve decided on the first outfit and background, you can go and get your camera (which will all be ready because you will have sorted it all out the night before!!) – no messing with equipment which might put them off – see the camera as an extension to your eye – not a scary thing that frightens the client. You wouldn’t expect your dentist to greet you at the door with his drill!
Remember, they will be feeling worse than you about having their photo taken – they go through feelings of not being attractive and useless at posing etc – so they worry they will let you down. Many photographers I’ve trained have been worried that they won’t be able to make people look good (it’s a bit like horses – don’t let them know you’re apprehensive!) – if you are relaxed and in control, they will feel relaxed and trust you and your job will suddenly be so much easier.
Getting them involved in looking at locations and clothes, will also help – don’t feel you need to have done all this before so you look like you know what you’re doing. Trust is a huge thing – people are definitely not relaxed if they don’t trust you. If you don’t pay attention to detail they will stop relaxing too. I see everyone as a “shape” and I have to make that shape look the best shape it can look. So I never shoot a picture until I feel they look right – I check all the details constantly, like moving a hair, or a bra strap – and you can tell if someone does not trust you, because they will constantly fiddle with bits like this – so you just need to say – “don’t worry about that – you just sit there and I will move things that don’t look right” – and when you do, they will start to relax because they will know you’ve seen it.
Many men worry that they can’t move someone’s bra strap or touch their hair – you have to have the confidence to do things like this – so long as you are having fun with people and they trust you, they will be fine. I always tell male photographers that no-one would be bothered if it was Mario Testino doing that, so just have the confidence to do that too! And if you still feel really uncomfortable – take a woman along with you to help.
Just looking at things in a different way will make all the difference. Your photo shoot should never start right at the beginning with the camera! The camera is the last thing you need – all it is doing is recording everything you’ve done already!
Hope this helps.