10 Tips for Relaxing Your Subject  During a Photoshoot

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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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



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.



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.




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.



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.



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.


Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Getting More Creative With Professional Self-Portraits

Getting More Creative With Professional Self-Portraits

Self-portraits have been a form of portraying oneself that goes very far back in time through not only photography, but sculpture and paintings as well. It has only been recently that it has morphed into an arms-length version called a “selfie”. The more classic version of a self-portrait, allows endless possibilities of how you tell your own story. In general, a self-portrait should be a reflection of you, your ideas, your tastes, your interests and your personality. How you communicate these things is where the fun begins.

A simple pensive self-portrait.


Why Self-Portraits?


It fuels creativity. When you have all the time in the world to create a portrait without the pressure inconveniencing someone else’s time to create it, and no boundaries set by a subject other than yourself the possibilities are endless with how creative you can get with your self-portraits. The less pressures that inhibit you, the more creative you can become.


Perspective In Front of the Camera. Self-portraits gives you a sense of feeling of what it’s like to be in front of a camera – rather than behind it – making you more aware of how your subjects feel in front of your lens.

Self-portraits give you perspective in front of the camera.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Gil Aldrin


Giving Direction and Posing. This form of photography can also help you learn how to direct your next subject or model as oftentimes you need to mimic the pose to translate to the subject/model what you want them to do.

Giving direction for posing.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Rachel Endoso


Self-expression.   Self portraits are also a good form of personal self-expression. Yes, we can put a personal touch on a portrait of someone else, but using yourself as a subject adds a whole new level personal expression.


Ideas & Experimentation.  It’s difficult to find friends and family who are patient enough to sit for you when you are only beginning learn lighting techniques or you want to experiment with a new idea. I resorted to using a mannequin when learning lighting but I found that using myself as a subject also worked and improved my photography tenfold.


You Can’t Find a Model. You know what they often say, “you can only depend on yourself…”. Sometimes you fall short of time and end up without a model and sometimes your model is late or just doesn’t show up at all. No one is more available than you.


Coming Up With Ideas

Inspiration for self-portraits is all around you, you just have to open your eyes, be aware and seek it out. It’s also important to reach deep within for inspiration that is unique to only you. Some things that can be considered to inspire ideas are:



You are a photographer, so there is a theme right there! Let your hobby be expressed in your self-portrait through the use of locations and props. For example, as a photographer, be sure to include your camera as a prop for a self-portrait.

A quick self-portrait of me in my home studio using a remote.



What you do for a living can also be expressed in a self-portrait. It is usually successfully portrayed only if it is something you love and enjoy doing for a living. For some, your hobby and your profession might be one in the same. In my case, while photography has only more recently become a profession for me, my long-time career has always been as a paralegal. For this, I might shoot a self-portrait of myself researching and writing in a library or maybe just a classic headshot in front of law books.



Tripods will always be your best friend when shooting self-portraits. They are mandatory. They are also a portable tool to take with you to shoot yourself on location. Including your favorite hangouts and/or quiet spots in your self-portraits can sometimes add to the ambiance of the photograph and reflect part of your personality.

My favorite graffiti location.


Physical Abilities

Play sports or a musical instrument? Including something you are able to do in your self-portrait is a great way to convey your personal interests and extracurricular activities.

I don’t play enough, but when I have time, I love to play guitar.


Your Actual Physical Features

If there’s a part of you that you favor more than the rest or perhaps have been the topic of others’ conversations (in my case, it’s my long hair), focusing on this can make for an interesting self-portrait.

I consider my long hair one of my prominent features.



If you a fashionable person, photographing yourself in your best rags can also reflect your tastes – especially in fashion.


Objects of Your Affection

We’re taught as portrait photographers that the best way to get a great personal image of a disinterested teenager is to include an object of their affection in the picture. You are no different. For me, not much comes before my cat and my guitars.

My other dream, as a rockstar.



Like any photoshoot, sometimes it is good to conjure up a theme and let it go from there. Have a favorite color? Create a monochromatic image using only that color around you. Maybe you are into cosplay? Dress up in your favorite costume, find a good location, set up your tripod, grab your remote and shoot. If you can create a theme for a party, you can certainly create and shoot a theme for you.


Capturing “You”


The Classic Headshot. We’ve already discussed how to create a classic headshot in my last article, 4 Ways to Create a Professional Self-Portrait (Not a “Selfie”) – Part I, so we’ll move onto other fun ways to get more creative with your professional self-portrait.

Here is a classic headshot I took as a self-portrait using the Lightroom capture button.


Your Reflection. You’ve probably tried this before in your own bathroom, in museums where there are mirrors present or even in Chicago at “The Bean” statue, but since you are a photographer, using a mirror to shoot your reflection showcases you engaging in your personal hobby or profession.

Shooting yourself in front of a mirror is an easy way to create a self-portrait.

Just make sure you don’t have your flash on and watch your borders!


A good tip for a better self-portrait using a mirror: be mindful of your background. Check out every inch of your frame before taking the shot to make sure anything unwanted is not in the image. Also, if desired, be sure to flip your camera’s logo in post. 🙂


A creative tip: place a mirror behind you to add a repeating effect.


Without a Face. Shoot only part of you – instead of all of you – and I don’t mean a headshot only. I’m sure you’ve seen images of expectant mothers that creative photographers shoot that include only the chest and down to emphasize the beauty in a mother’s body during pregnancy. We might not all be able to be pregnant right now (if at all) so try shooting only your feet, only your waist-down or only your neck to waist.

Most people know I am a world traveler and love this image entitled “I am here” taken in Madrid, Spain.


Location! Location! Location! Switch it up and take your shoot outdoors, to a garden, to a zoo, to a library – anywhere but the plain four walls of your home.

Under train tracks right down the street from my apartment.


Capture Your Dark Side. Create a silhouette of yourself by using backlighting without any front or side lighting.

Here I’ve created a quick silhouette example in the studio using red background paper.


Get a Move On! Incorporate motion into your self-portrait. Dance around, shadowbox – get into a groove and set your camera’s shutter speed on a slightly slower speed to capture a range of motion.

While I can’t say that I can really dance anymore, this self-portrait of me twirling in song did turn out pretty cool.


Don’t Be Afraid of Your Own Shadow. Your shadow in the morning and midday sun can make for an interesting, unique image. Shadows can also elongate your body depending on the position of the sun.

Shot around 3pm.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Gil Aldrin


Work Your Angles. Shoot yourself from different angles. Set your tripod low and shoot up. Stick your camera on a lightstand via your tripod ballhead and position it up above you and shoot down on yourself.

Shot from below. I love the shadows on one of my favorite shooting backgrounds in my neighborhood.


I secured my camera to a light stand and used a remote to shoot from above.


Creating a Mirage. So this may take a little bit of Photoshop skills, but combining two images into a double exposure can make for a pretty spectacular image. Here, I took the initial profile image in this article and combined it with an image of one of two of my favorite flowers – cherry blossoms.

Here I combined a self-portrait with one of two of my favorite flowers – the cherry blossom.


Create Enough of You to Go Around. A fun self-portrait to create, which also takes a little bit of Photoshopping skills, is to composite several images of you together to create a “multiple-you” image. Here, I took advantage of my most used space in my home (aka. my “woman cave”) and created four separate images leaving the tripod in the exact same place for each shot. Each image was of things I pretty much do daily, creating a pretty accurate representation of me.

Here is a composite image of everything I like to do in my woman-cave.


The Honest Truth. Capture yourself doing an everyday task around the house or outdoors. You don’t even have to be looking at the camera. In this image, I captured a natural image of myself on my front doorstep in the industrial area of the SE Bronx.

Just be yourself.


Equipment Needed for Self-Portraiture

The Basics


  • Camera (DSLR preferred). I prefer a DSLR camera because I can generate RAW images to work with, I can tether to a computer or laptop, I have a lot more lens choices and because if I shot with film – this project could get very expensive! I have a few suggestions on DSLR cameras in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 1: Space and Essential Shooting Gear.


  • Tripod. A tripod is a must for self-portraits otherwise you will be very limited by using any available level surfaces. Imagine, if you had a tripod (with a ballhead), you have a choice of all available surfaces plus a decent height and just about any angle. I have several suggestions for choosing the right tripods in my article: Tripods: Choosing the Right Support for Your Investment.

A tripod is pretty much vital to creating a self-portrait.


  • Camera Remote. It just makes things much more simpler than running back and forth to the camera to set the timer over and over again…

A simple remote for my Nikon D750.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul



  • Light Source. A light source can consist of available light, a speedlight, a continuous light, a monolight or strobe. You can really get by with any of these, though you can create an endless variety of results and achieve them much faster with the use of some sort of flash light source (speedlight/monolight/strobe) due to positioning, brightness and modifier used.


To start, a speedlight can work just fine. This is my old Nikon SB-700 Speedlight.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul


The Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight is a good choice for a monolight.


  • Light Stand(s). If you are using any light source other than available light, you’ll need light stands for your lights. Don’t skimp on these. They are what are supporting your $300-500 flash or $500-3,000 monolight or strobe. I have a few recommendations for light stands in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights and Light Stands.

Light stand(s) and sandbag(s) for support.


The Superstar Setup


  • Laptop or Desktop. The bare essentials are completely fine for creating self-portraits, but you’ll eventually need a laptop or computer to edit those images. One or the other is also key if you plan to tether while you shoot. I do have an old 27” iMac but if you are considering going the iMac route (which I highly recommend for any graphics or photography-related use), don’t skimp here – like I did, or you’ll be sorry – like I am. If you can’t afford what you really want – wait and save for it, otherwise you’ll be stuck with a computer that doesn’t run fast enough or have enough memory for your needs. For photography-related work – especially if you shoot RAW (which you should!), be sure to choose an iMac with the latest processor (currently the Intel Core i7), at least 1TB of memory, but more if you can swing it, and at least 8GB of RAM. My heart is currently set on upgrading to the Apple 27″ iMac with Retina 5K Display, 5120×2880, Intel Core i7 Quad-Core 4.0GHz, 16GB RAM, 3TB Fusion Drive + 128GB Flash, AMD Radeon M295X which is currently available at Adorama for $2,900.

My iMac and my Dell 17” XPS Inspiron laptop.


  • Tethering Cable. If you choose to use a computer and tether, you’ll need a good tethering cable – one that does not lose connection a lot or fall out of your camera port more times than the number of frames you’ve shot thus far. The Tether Tools Starter Kit is a pretty useful and reliable tool for tethering.

Tether Tools makes a great line of custom tether cords.

Image courtesy of Tether Tools


I wrote a pretty lengthy article on tethering a little while back called: Preview While You Shoot: The What, Why, When, Who and How on Tethered Shooting that you might find useful on this topic.


  • Adobe Lightroom or Other Tether-N-Edit Software. Using software that allows you to tether so that you can review and edit your images as you shoot on the big screen saves a lot of time and incorrect assumptions that might happen if you rely only on the LCD screen on the back of your camera. Adobe Lightroom is probably one of the best all-inclusive tools out there for both tethering and editing and is the first tool I use before exporting it for fine tuning to anything else, if even needed. If you plan to use it for tethering, be sure to check to see if your camera is compatible for tethering to the software first. If for anything, it is “magic” and easy to use for organizing and editing your images during and after a shoot. You can get in on the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes both Adobe Lightroom AND Adobe Photoshop for one low annual price of $119 and you will always be up to date on the version you use.

There are several programs available out there for tethering, some of which also allow you to edit in post.


  • Adobe Photoshop. You may need Adobe Photoshop to do some finer adjustments or to just do some completely creative edits to your images. Again, you can get in on the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes both Adobe Lightroom AND Adobe Photoshop for one low annual price of $119 and you will always be up to date on the version you use.


Other Stuff

The number of things you can use to help create your self-portrait is endless, but here are a few obvious choices.


  • Background. Whether it’s seamless, your living room, your backyard or down the street in the park, you will need some sort of non-distracting background to put yourself in front of.

I sometimes use creative art papers for backgrounds.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul


  • Unique Wardrobe. What you’re wearing, or not, can sometimes be the center of the intention for the image.

It helps to have some unique pieces in your closet.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul


  • Props. Adding in a wig, facial hair, a baseball bat, baton, bicycle, car or other prop can only lend to telling the viewer more about you and things that interest you.

Just a small fraction of the props I’ve collected over the last few years.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul


  • Additional Light Sources and Stands. You can do a lot with one light source but your options can open up even more with added monolights, strobes or speedlights to create multiple light setups.


  • Patience. If you are aiming for things like your eyes to be perfectly sharp, you will be shooting the same shot, let’s just say… A LOT, before you get it just right.


Creating a Picture Perfect You

Creating a self-portrait, whether for business purposes and/or for fun can be a great release of self-expression and showcasing the real (or not so real) you. Creating self-portraits of ANY kind will take a lot of time and practice, even for a skilled photographer. The images in this article took a great deal of time and effort to create. Whatever you do, don’t get frustrated if you are shooting and not getting exactly what you want. Number one, your frustration show in your images and number two, it will happen – just keep shooting and shooting and shooting until you get exactly what you are looking for. Using some of the ideas and tools above, you can come up with an endless number of ways to reinvent yourself digitally, and most ideas without the need for heavy photo editing.


Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments