Arguably the most important factor when taking portraits of people is the quality of their expression.
Of course it is important to nail focus, composition, color and camera settings too. But if your subject looks uncomfortable or out of their element then your photo won’t shine.
In this article we will look at some important considerations that you should organize for and plan around when working with a model in a portrait photography setting.
Your Subject Should be Mentally and Physically Relaxed
It’s not just how your subjects face looks. Their body language matters a lot too.
If you really want your portrait photos to shine you’ll need to support both your subjects mental relaxation and comfort levels while also making sure that their body doesn’t get into any unnatural positions.
Unless you exclusively take pictures of seasoned models then some of the people you photograph won’t always know how to situate their body during the shoot. Often times people will contort into all kinds of positions that they wouldn’t usually end up in when they are posing for photos.
It is up to you as the photographer to gently guide your subject into natural more poses when this happens.
A great way to get comfortable doing this is to study some common portrait poses. Start by guiding your subject into easy, relaxed poses before trying more complex ones.
Maintain Constant Communication with Your Subject
Always be willing keep your subject involved and engaged when you are taking their photos.
While many models are comfortable posing in silence, others are not. You never want to be just a silent camera clicking away with a person behind it when your subject is inexperienced or uncomfortable.
Keep talking to them. Be quick to give gentle direction, reassurance and feedback.
Keep a Lighthearted Environment with Music and Scent
Many people who get their portrait taken are not comfortable because they feel like they are in an alien situation.
If your subject matter isn’t at ease then they will end up looking fidgety or like a deer in headlights.
A great tip I learned years ago was to ask your subject before the shoot what their favorite music and smells are.
After I get an answer I will set up our shoot with speakers playing some of their favorite music and incense burning. Or if they prefer natural aromatic smells I’ll whip out an aromatherapy kit and make sure pleasant smells are filling our shooting space.
I was once shooting for a public awareness campaign at a local orphanage. My subject was a girl who had been staying at the orphanage for a few months. She was incredibly shy and I was unable to shoot her in a comfortable manner the first day I was visiting.
At the end of the day I asked her caregiver if she knew anything that helped relax her. The caregiver told me that the girl seemed her best and was able to fall asleep at night quickest when she had lavender essential oil rubbed on her chest.
The next day I brought my essential oil diffuser and some lavender oil to diffuse while we tried taking photos again. This difference was night and day. The girl was far more relaxed during our shoot and I came out with the best photos of the campaign.
Out of curiousity I asked the girl why she was so fond of the smell of lavender. She said that before she had lived at the orphanage she’d stayed with her grandparents and her grandmother would run lavender on her legs and arms to help soothe and heal her bumps and bruises.
It’s the little details like these that can make or break a portrait shoot. The more detail oriented you become the better luck you’ll have at getting great photos.
Do you have any tips or tricks that you know to help ease your portrait subjects?