Making subjects feel relaxed when taking portraits - tips

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Name
Daniel
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#1
I've just finished a set of headshots/portraits for some members of staff art work, something I have done previously, however there are always one or two that hate it.

I like to get people to relax, on this session I took a shot, told them to look at the result and just said it's way too serious, and then once they stood back in front of the camera they had the same expressision, so my key here was to just say again, "look, you look way too serious, go on, give us a smile" to which they would laugh, then I would grab a few shots (continuous shooting on the A7iii was a godsend!).

I just wondered how some of you get your subjects/models to feel more relaxed in front of the camera, some people are great at it but others dread it!
 
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Trevor
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#2
Always have a few jokes up your sleeve.

A whoopee cushion works wonders with kids.
 
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Daniel_Paul
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Daniel
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#4
This is the worst thing anyone can ever say to me when I'm having a photo taken... Makes me give off an awkward forced smile. Pure hatred for it to be fair lol
Yeah I'm not sure if they were the exact words but words to that extent! The thing is I start to find it awkward also the more awkward it gets ha ha
 
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Ian
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#5
Clown hooter (finding a decent one on Amazon is a bit of a trial)
For people with a sense of humour - ask them not to look so miserable.
I also like to talk about Peter Hurley's "squinch" because it's amusing and nine times out of ten will get people to crack a smile. The object is *not* to get the squinch, but to take lots of photos while they're trying. If they get the squinch then you have to do a shabang. Threaten them with it :)

To be honest, I'm never after a "relaxed" look but all my portraits are for fun (apart from the makeup stuff I do for my wife's Instagram). If someone looks at one of my portraits and says "that's *so* them" I know I've done right.

For people with no sense of humour...
Ask the subject to count the number of slats on a blind (or similar)
Ask them to look into the lens and see if they can see the shutter open and close.
I risked a "Right. That's the serious stuff done, now give me your sexy look." with one guy at the weekend and got a belting look of utter confusion followed by a really nice smile (2 in the bag). Just remember everyone is different and one person's joke is another's insult. And I speak from experience here.

Also, directing something other than the face will cause people to forget about the camera. Get them to cross their feet, put hands on hips, arch their spine, shoulders back... You might just be doing headshots but it gets them thinking about something other than the lens in their face.

Personally, I love it, because I love people. The gumpy impossible-to-crack-a-smile people are very very rare. You just need to find a way in because it's mostly fear that causes the tension. It's 80% psychology, 20% camera skills - even less once you start to get your lighting how you want it.

Practise. Practise. Practise.
 
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Daniel_Paul
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558
Name
Daniel
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#6
Clown hooter (finding a decent one on Amazon is a bit of a trial)
For people with a sense of humour - ask them not to look so miserable.
I also like to talk about Peter Hurley's "squinch" because it's amusing and nine times out of ten will get people to crack a smile. The object is *not* to get the squinch, but to take lots of photos while they're trying. If they get the squinch then you have to do a shabang. Threaten them with it :)

To be honest, I'm never after a "relaxed" look but all my portraits are for fun (apart from the makeup stuff I do for my wife's Instagram). If someone looks at one of my portraits and says "that's *so* them" I know I've done right.

For people with no sense of humour...
Ask the subject to count the number of slats on a blind (or similar)
Ask them to look into the lens and see if they can see the shutter open and close.
I risked a "Right. That's the serious stuff done, now give me your sexy look." with one guy at the weekend and got a belting look of utter confusion followed by a really nice smile (2 in the bag). Just remember everyone is different and one person's joke is another's insult. And I speak from experience here.

Also, directing something other than the face will cause people to forget about the camera. Get them to cross their feet, put hands on hips, arch their spine, shoulders back... You might just be doing headshots but it gets them thinking about something other than the lens in their face.

Personally, I love it, because I love people. The gumpy impossible-to-crack-a-smile people are very very rare. You just need to find a way in because it's mostly fear that causes the tension. It's 80% psychology, 20% camera skills - even less once you start to get your lighting how you want it.

Practise. Practise. Practise.
These are great tips! Everyone loves a good clown hooter too!
 
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Phil
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#8
This is the worst thing anyone can ever say to anyone when I'm having a photo taken... Makes me give off an awkward forced smile. Pure hatred for it to be fair lol
Fixed...

The reality of this is that being a great portrait photographer is about this more than it is about photography. The first step to making people feel comfortable is us being comfortable, engaging, relaxed, then if we can add funny all the better.

The worst things to do are to fiddle with equipment, seem at all unsure or uncomfortable ourselves.
 
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#9
When I tried my hand at portraiture back in the 1970s I got a vital tip from a guy who specialised in what some people now call "corporate portraits". He told me never to hold the camera but to always put it on a really solid tripod and use a long cable release. Once the subject was sat down and focused forget the technicalities and don't look at the camera. Instead look at the subject and concentrate on chatting with them, releasing the shutter when you see the expression you want. You should only touch the camera to wind the film. I was never very good at it but what little success I did have was entirely down to that advice. The same principle should work even better with digital cameras.
 
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22,631
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Phil
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#10
When I tried my hand at portraiture back in the 1970s I got a vital tip from a guy who specialised in what some people now call "corporate portraits". He told me never to hold the camera but to always put it on a really solid tripod and use a long cable release. Once the subject was sat down and focused forget the technicalities and don't look at the camera. Instead look at the subject and concentrate on chatting with them, releasing the shutter when you see the expression you want. You should only touch the camera to wind the film. I was never very good at it but what little success I did have was entirely down to that advice. The same principle should work even better with digital cameras.
The issue with this advice is that the sitter looks at you and not into the camera.
It’s one of the worst things about trying to get the attention of small kids, a parent sat behind us is still loads higher than the lens.
 
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175
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#11
The issue with this advice is that the sitter looks at you and not into the camera.
Perhaps I should have added that the camera needs to be at your head height to avoid the "looking up" thing.
 
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Daniel_Paul
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Daniel
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#12
Yeah because our portraits were corporate they were more 'head on' then candid 'at your desk' style ones so they did have to be looking at the camera.

Would you make them aware that you're about to take the shot also? I find this somewhat stiffens people up rather than relaxes them but then some of the guys wanted prior warning!
 
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Phil
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#13
Yeah because our portraits were corporate they were more 'head on' then candid 'at your desk' style ones so they did have to be looking at the camera.

Would you make them aware that you're about to take the shot also? I find this somewhat stiffens people up rather than relaxes them but then some of the guys wanted prior warning!
What people ‘want’ is rarely the right thing, get them engaged and relaxed and positioned for light and pose, then just keep talking and shoot loads. Words of encouragement, ‘a little bit to your left - that’s great’ rather than ‘don’t look to your right’ etc.
Keep smiling, they’ll respond in kind, it’s all about creating the right mood, rather than trying to dictate.
 
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Daniel_Paul
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558
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Daniel
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#14
What people ‘want’ is rarely the right thing, get them engaged and relaxed and positioned for light and pose, then just keep talking and shoot loads. Words of encouragement, ‘a little bit to your left - that’s great’ rather than ‘don’t look to your right’ etc.
Keep smiling, they’ll respond in kind, it’s all about creating the right mood, rather than trying to dictate.
Thank Phil, appreciate it!

I think the times where I have been smiling and chatting to them actually have worked out much better, unfortunately during this time I had to keep my finger on the shutter button to capture a moment of relaxation in their expression but it seemed to work.
 
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Greg
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#15
I like to get them thinking about crazy banter I provide. As mentioned, Peter Hurley uses a squinch, but he's also a master at throwing crazy remarks out to get the subject thinking, and reacting naturally. Peter is a friend and I've learned a lot from him. Even if you don't like his style, watch some videos and pay attention to how it's never about the camera. Here's a headshot I made after saying something completely inappropriate. More of my work is here: https://www.gregthomason.com
 

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