10 Tips for Relaxing Your Subject During a Photoshoot

One of the more difficult things photographers face when shooting a subject – be it a portrait client or a fashion model – is getting your subject to relax during a photoshoot. Many people get a little camera shy or feel a little unconfident in front of the lens for various reasons – even professional models. For them, they become less confident when working with a new photographer that they do not have a rapport with or know nothing about. Does the photographer know what they are doing? What are they seeing as a final result and can they execute it?

Model: Tara Virada

 

There are many tried and true things you can do to relax a client during a photoshoot, so buckle up because here’s my list of 10 things that have worked for me during my photoshoots. I hope you’ll find them useful for your shoots too.

 

GET TO KNOW YOUR CLIENT BEFORE THE PHOTO SHOOT

One of the top ways I have noticed that gets my clients to relax during a photo shoot – no matter if it’s a portrait shoot or a fashion shoot – is to try to get to know your subject prior to them stepping in front of the camera. With my portrait clients, I tend to email them an information form to complete that not only asks the basic info such as their name and contact information, whether they wear eyeglasses, colors they may feel they can pull off and what is their favorite side to be photographed, but also things such as their favorite color, hobbies, job, if they have a significant other, if they play sports, their career goals, if they’re in school I ask them what are they studying and how long have they lived in NYC. The form is just one step I take in getting to know my client beforehand.

My portrait questionnaires distributed prior to the shoot.

 

My second step and the only step for my fashion and model portfolio clients is to have the client come 15-20 minutes early so we can go over what they brought for clothes and at that time, I tend to ask a few more questions that allows the door to open for me to share personal things about myself too. At that point, I am not just a photographer taking their portrait for money, but I become a more relatable human being in which we end up finding we have something in common and/or share a few laughs over a few jokes or stories.

I made a joke while explaining my vision for the next set and it definitely broke nervous tension in my subject.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

Image courtesy of Chelsea Jackson

 

My hair/makeup artist is definitely a treasure to have on set with me too as he is extremely friendly and lovable. Every client and/or model he’s come into contact with ends up liking him so much they exchange social media info and keep in touch for months after. I interact with my hair/makeup artist in a fun, positive and playful manner in front of my client as well and through this, the client gets a better sense of my easy going personality, which helps them to relax when it’s time to get in front of the camera. All of this interaction before the shoot helps me know what to talk about with my client during the shoot to keep them relaxed.

 

PROJECT A POSITIVE & MOTIVATING EXPERIENCE

Before, during and after the photoshoot, you want to bring a positive vibe about the shoot. When I first started shooting people, I remember I failed to do this and didn’t communicate much about the shoot itself or even what I had in mind for the shoot. I remember it actually clicked for me by accident about 3 shoots into the start of my portrait/fashion career.

Bringing a fun, positive attitude to your shoots helps relax your subjects as my hair/makeup artist adds here.

Image courtesy of Robert Olsen

 

I was shooting fashion and portraits for a model’s portfolio and personal use. She was dressed in a beautiful purple gown and I took her down the street from my home studio into my gritty, industrial, graffiti-ridden SE Bronx neighborhood as I wanted to try some clever juxtaposition ideas but didn’t communicate this to my client. I noticed at the time, she was very apprehensive not only to my idea of putting her in a high-end gown but taking her into a gritty neighborhood of the Bronx because I didn’t explain why. Once we got to the location, I had her pose in different variations but it wasn’t until I explained the idea I had behind the shots – that I was really excited to try shooting a high-end dress in a gritty neighborhood and why – because it doesn’t make sense and it would make a viewer look at the image a little longer – that she lit up. About ten minutes into the shoot down the street, I noticed a rare beam of light that hit the wall of graffiti underneath a set of train tracks. I squealed with excitement and asked her to quickly move over to the area with the beam of light and excitedly gave her direction for posing. She loosened up and felt more comfortable because I was not only communicating my ideas, but in a more excited and enthusiastic tone where she could also envision the end result. We came away from the shoot with the image below.

It may not be the best example of juxtaposition, but my subject got a lot more relaxed here.

Model: Katie Buell

 

It’s good to be excited and positive about your subject, but it’s even better to also get excited about the circumstances surrounding your subject as it takes less focus off your subject for your subject.

 

ASK THEM TO BRING THEIR FAVORITE MUSIC

Think about it. Doesn’t music cause you to feel emotions? Typically more energetic, right? (Well music types like classical and ambient may relax you into a sleep, but you get the point…) Ask your subject to bring music they like, have them tell you what they listen to or have them sign into their Spotify, Apple Music or Pandora account when they get to the shoot. When a subject listens to music they like, they will generally relax and get into a rhythm with you during the shoot. If they don’t know what they want to listen to, I will put on DJ or club music that has a beat to it.

Apple Music, Pandora and Spotify.

 

Having a rhythm or beat going moderately in the background will get both you and your subject going in a rhythm of your own which can be especially helpful when shooting fashion.

 

PROVIDE GOOD DIRECTIONS & MIRROR POSES

There are several ways I implement providing good direction to my portrait and model clients. The first way is through actual description. This can be kind of tricky though when you have to think of your right being their left, so if you can quickly think opposite like that, this is a good way to go. Another way is to use movements with your hands as to which way they should shift such as what I’m doing in the image below.

Giving good direction will help your subject relax.

Image courtesy of Rachel Endoso

 

Other good techniques include mirroring poses yourself as when a subject can see visually what you have in mind, it makes it easier for them to mimic the pose. In addition, when a subject really isn’t understanding what you need, you might need to physically place them as you want to pose them, but make sure first, to ask them if they are okay with being touched.

 

Oftentimes, for the professional models who already know many poses, I’ll start them off and tell them to vary the pose freely after the flash pops and my camera beeps. You are there to guide your subject through to your vision so it’s your responsibility to give good direction so that they are not lost like a deer in headlights.

 

ASK BEFORE TOUCHING

Some people can be very finicky or sensitive about being touched. It’s really important to ask before you touch. Something as simple as, “Is it ok if I…” goes a long way. My hair and makeup guy lives by this rule even after my client already told them it’s ok as it also keeps them forewarned that he’s coming in to make an adjustment rather than surprising them with it.


Always ask before touching

Model: Daria Komarkova

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

COMMUNICATE WITH THEM THROUGH THE ENTIRE SHOOT

Beyond communicating direction during a photoshoot, it’s a great tool to talk to your client as much as you can throughout your entire shoot. Remember that pre-shoot chat I recommended? Use some of the topics you talked about with your client or model at that time as points of things to make conversation about. Make jokes (when appropriate). Ask questions.

I always insert a lot of positive speak while I direct and shoot.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

Image courtesy of Chelsea Jackson

 

When you talk to your client during a shoot, it makes you more than just a photographer – it makes you a relatable human being. I often even turn the conversation away from the subject and banter or joke with my makeup artist or assistant about something very general that my subject might even find funny and relatable. Just be sure whatever you do, that it comes natural to you, otherwise it just comes across awkwardly and the client will notice.

 

STEER CLEAR OF NEGATIVE REACTIONS

It’s really important to steer clear of negative reactions on a set at ALL costs. Showing a negative reaction can make your subject or model very uneasy and may make them lose confidence in how they are doing doing a shoot. We sometimes even subconsciously show a negative reactions to things, whether it’s the way your subject is posed that isn’t working for you or when you look at an image on the back of an LCD screen and don’t like the results such as in the photo below.

Example of a negative reaction.

Model: Colleen Rose Careri

 

How you handle your facial expressions, your tone of voice, sighing and what you say can all make a difference as your subject is watching you and looking for cues as to how they are doing. Everything you do needs to be in a very positive, upbeat expression. When I see something not working for me, I generally, shift into a “I just had an idea… I think I want to try something new and different so let’s try this and see if we can get some different variations for you to choose from on this look…”


Example of my positive reaction while looking at the monitor. The model sees this and is motivated.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

If something’s not working, keep positively transitioning until you find what does. Be sure to compliment the subject along the way with things like, “beautiful” and “I love that” and “Can you do that again? That was really pretty.” This will keep your subject’s confidence high and their feelings relaxed.

 

 

SHOW THEM A FEW PHOTOS ALONG THE WAY

I feel it’s really important to show a client a few shots along the way during the shoot. It’s a very uneasy feeling to blindly get in front of a camera and not know how the images are coming out. This is a great opportunity with your portrait clients who might have low self-confidence to show them how amazing they look in photographs to spike not only confidence in themselves, but confidence in you, as the photographer.

Here I’m showing my fashion model some of the photos from the last set as she was a bit uneasy

and curious how they were coming out.

Model: Colleen Rose Careri

Image courtesy of Robert Olsen

 

I generally have a number one rule when I shoot portrait clients or models: they are not allowed to look at my monitor during the shoot unless I tell them it’s okay, and this is a good rule to have. I assure them I’ll show them shots along the way, but we don’t want to waste time looking at every single photo and primping after each capture. I once had a model who was obsessed with how she looked that she spent more time primping instead of shooting because she kept using the monitor as her mirror.

Sharing takes with the model to give feedback.

Model: Colleen Rose Careri

Image courtesy of Robert Olsen

 

Since I work with a lot of models on portfolio images, and as a former model back in the day, I do spend time during the shoot with the model clients giving them feedback on posing, what photographers like and are looking for when they shoot things like fashion of which the models have always been open and receptive to learning. I always ask if they are open to critique after a series of shots first though. Never presume.

 

PUT SOMETHING IN THEIR HANDS

A well known tip for getting your subject to relax is to give them something to do with their hands. Giving them an object to hold helps them take their focus off of being photographed and puts it more on what’s in their hands. The more familiar the object is to them, the easier the task of relaxing them.

Give your subject something to hold.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

In the image above, who doesn’t remember the days of enjoying a big lollipop? Or if you never had the experience, finally having the experience. This became a much more fun set for the model when I handed her the lollipop as a prop.

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU… RELAX & HAVE CONFIDENCE

The very best way to relax your subject is to make them feel like you are the professional and know what you are doing and that is shown through confidence. You need to know your gear and you need to know what you’re doing. Even if your images are not Vogue or Elle-worthy yet, act like they are. Your subject’s nerves will subside once they trust the photographer is taking care of things.

It’s important to not do anything you normally don’t do, such as, if you’re not a joker – don’t tell jokes. Maybe start a conversation instead. When you try to do things you normally are not comfortable doing, the nervousness shows and transmits lack of confidence to your subject. Make sure you stick to your true self as that is what will relax you.

 

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