Help Me be a Charming & Effective Portrait Photographer
May 21, 2013 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Any tips for photographer patter while taking slightly candid portraits? For marketing/social media purposes, I’ll be taking individual candid portraits of a large number of people at my company. I’ve already taken a good handful, and although I have a good eye for angles and setting up the shot, I have a difficult time directing the subjects and am hoping to learn some new phrases and strategies.

I’d love them to do basic stuff, like “square your shoulders, raise your chin, turn your head a little away from me, now look at me and smile like you’ve got an amazing secret,” but it’s hard for me to actually tell them to do this. I think I’m worried the implication is that they’re not attractive the way they are.

On top of my reluctance to direct, I often start to babble in a self-deprecating way (“Ugh, sorry this is taking so long, it can be really hard to get a good shot, cameras be crazy, etc.”). It's partly so they don’t feel bad if the pictures don’t turn out well, but I’m also trying to get them a little more relaxed around the camera, and that’s the only way that comes to mind in the moment. Most of these people sort of know me, so there’s some familiarity there already. Still, all that self-deprecation? Probably not ideal.

My slightly more successful tactic is to have them imagine a scenario tied into the photograph (“So, which Thing are you totally in love with right now? And tell me why it’s the most amazing of the Things, and why I’d be a fool not to get on board with this particular Thing.)

Photographers of Metafilter: do you have any strategies or phrases you use during portrait sessions? What are some positive ways to have people rearrange themselves into more photogenic poses?

Photography subjects of Metafilter: What are some ways photographers have put you at ease and gotten great shots?
posted by redsparkler to Human Relations (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This Strobist post by Sara Lando suggests some things to do with your model when shooting portraits.
posted by tangaroo at 9:26 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

My portrait photographer used one of those little remote cable shutter release thingies. She'd compose the shot, get us all in place and take a picture or two, then sort of step to the side of the tripod and chat a bit, (unbeknownst to me) taking pictures the whole time. The shots were a fantastic combination of posed and unposed, "slightly candid," for sure.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:08 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nix the negative talk, no need to undermine yourself.
Petapixel just had two relevant posts.
You may want to take the first shot with the person holding up a sign that includes their name/id number in a QR code.
posted by Sophont at 10:17 AM on May 21, 2013

Response by poster: From the first Petapixel link:

At first I was trying different approaches with each person because I got bored with saying the same thing, but I soon realized that giving the same basic speech about posing, the same general encouragement, and cracking the same jokes just flowed and worked the best.

I would love to know what his basic speech was! He does give the general outline:

I’d give them a little speech about posing, then let them do whatever look they wanted while I took a few more shots to check and tweak the lighting. Once I was all set, I typically had them start with a serious look straight on, then joked with them to get some smiles, switch them to a slightly sideways shot, and call it when I was pretty confident I had at least a few good images.

Details and specific jokes would be awesome.
posted by redsparkler at 10:30 AM on May 21, 2013

Taking people's pictures feels artificial and weird at first. Treat it like any other interaction. You don't need jokes. Treat this naturally - you're getting to know someone. It's kind of like a first date. Ask the person what they do, or ask about their kids or hobbies. It's like any other situation where you're spending a bit of time with a new person.

Your clients will be concerned about looking their best. Assure them they look good. Tell them they look amazing! Compliment them right out of the gate, and make it sincere. If you want them to smile, say, "You look great when you smile." This is true - a smile improves just about everyone's expression.

Yes, self-deprecation is NOT the way to go - it makes people less comfortable with you, not more. You want to come off as utterly professional and confident - this is what inspires confidence in your clients. A self-deprecating stance takes the focus off your client and puts it on you, which is exactly where it shouldn't go. The session is not about you, it's about your client.

With subjects who may be overweight, don't mention it. Fat people know how they look. If they start to complain about themselves, don't get lured into the conversation. Especially if you're a man photographing a woman, don't ever say: "It's okay not to be thin," or, "Our culture places too much emphasis on thinness," or ANYTHING that implies your portrait subject isn't perfect. All she needs to hear from you is that she's beautiful.

The most important thing for me personally in a photo session is the scheduling of enough time. I might need a hundred takes before I get one photo I like. Make sure you've scheduled enough time with your clients and that they don't feel rushed.

And have fun!
posted by cartoonella at 10:44 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

When we are nervous, our face freeze up and we over-tense. Result: ludicrous photos. The best photos are taken when we are most relaxed, regardless of facial expression, sometimes, even angle or lighting. The best way to help people relax is to be relaxed yourself.

Having one's photo taken is slightly nerve-wracking for most people, and nervousness vibrates through the air. When you are nervous, you amplify their nervousness. In turn, their nervousness might amplify yours. Being mindful of this fact, I find, helps me calm down. When I calm down, eventually, they do as well.

Therefore I don't think other people's routine or jokes would really help you. Best to play around, experiment, and find a routine of your own that you are so comfortable with, you can unreel it in your sleep -- since your primary focus should be on and through the lens of your camera, not trying to entertain your clients.

Good luck.
posted by enlivener at 10:47 AM on May 21, 2013

Ask people to tell you about their kids or pets. If neither, ask them if they know any jokes, no matter how corny. Assure them that you want a flattering result just as much as they do. You can explain some of what you're doing if you want them to stop talking once you start shooting, but getting them to talk about anything pleasant will help them relax a little. I would tell people to take a deep breath, and when they exhale, consciously relax their shoulders. That Strobist link is good.
posted by theora55 at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I’d love them to do basic stuff, like “square your shoulders, raise your chin, turn your head a little away from me, now look at me and smile like you’ve got an amazing secret,” but it’s hard for me to actually tell them to do this. I think I’m worried the implication is that they’re not attractive the way they are."

Before you give instructions, in response to however they're posing on their own:

"Oh, that looks great. Good!"


"Next let's try this: square your shoulders and raise your chin. Great. Could you turn your head a little away from me? Terrific. Okay, now: look at me and smile like you've got an amazing secret."

Respond as if everything looks good and will come out well - the things they do on their own, and the things you ask them to do - because you never know ... any of those shots COULD turn out well.
posted by kristi at 9:04 AM on May 23, 2013

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