Truth be told, the majority of people who step in front of your camera lens are going to feel at least a little bit “out of their element.” Some will certainly be more challenging than others, but a stiff, nervous, awkward model can be one of your most difficult obstacles to great portraits. You can choose the perfect backdrop, studio lighting and pose, but a forced, inauthentic smile can make all of your other preparations for naught. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to minimize the awkwardness and put even the most nervous models at ease. Here are seven tips for getting the most out of your portraits and inspiring natural, genuine, authentic smiles:
1. Relax YourselfNervous energy can be contagious, but so is relaxation. The more calm, collected and centered you can be, the more your subjects will pick up on it and relax themselves. Being well-prepared, on time and confident in your abilities are some of the keys to setting the atmosphere for a relaxed photo shoot.
2. Communicate Warmly but ProfessionallyBe warm but always professional during the session. Make pleasant conversation; tell a joke now and then if appropriate. Let the model know ahead of time your vision for the shoot including poses, compositions and how you will proceed. Make sure you are both on the same page regarding the intent and desired outcome of the shoot. Give clear, useful posing directions. Consider using a posing app on your smartphone or tablet to call up ideal poses so the model can easily mirror them.
3. The Art of Positive DistractionDistraction can be a very good thing if your model is excessively nervous. Get them talking about something they’re interested in; ask questions about their work, their family, pets, the most recent movie they’ve seen, or the latest book they’re reading. Pull their focus away from themselves and their nerves. Tell a funny story about yourself; getting them to laugh will do wonders for settling their nerves and inspiring natural smiles and relaxed body language.
4. Keeping Hands BusyAnxiety tends to show up in awkward hand movements and positioning. You can reduce this by giving your subject something to hold or play with during the shoot. Busy, engaged hands can go a long way in curbing on-camera anxiety. The item they are holding can be cropped out of the shot, or it can function as an artful prop and become an integral part of the composition.
5. Posing Stools and ChairsA posing stool or chair can do wonders for getting a model to feel more comfortable on camera. Make a habit of carrying a stool or chair with you to every shoot. When people are able to sit down, they tend to immediately lose the nervous rigidity they can have while standing. The situation automatically feels less formal, and their entire demeanor will change.
6. Avoid Touching the SubjectSome people are very uncomfortable about being touched by someone they don’t know very well, even a professional photographer. Try and avoid doing so if possible; be respectful of the model’s personal space and preferences. If you do need to move a lock of hair, straighten a tie or smooth the train of a wedding dress, ask them if it’s okay to do so first. Some subjects may genuinely not care, but those who do will appreciate being asked first.
7. Show Them Photos Along the WayWhen you get a really good shot, take the time to bring the camera up to the model and let them get a peek at the preview window. Showing the model how well the shoot is going can do wonders for their confidence. You can also ask the client if they’d like you to photograph them in different ways. They may have a “good side” of their face that they prefer, a flattering pose that they really like, or have ideas for other adjustments. The more the client feels the shoot is going well and that it’s a collaborative effort, the more relaxed they’ll feel. Lastly, be generous with your praise throughout the shoot. Give genuine compliments from start to finish. Complement the best elements of their outfit when they arrive, gush about their hair or smile, and don’t be hesitant about throwing out the words “Beautiful!” “Gorgeous!” and “Perfect!” when warranted. Be genuine, warm, prepared and professional, and you’ll soon become adept at putting even the most awkward models at ease.
Do you have any special tips for getting your models to warm up to you?
-Backdrop Express Photography Team
Interested in reading more about finding and working with models? Check out How to Find Models for Your Photography!
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