Portrait Posing Tips: How to make your subject feel at ease during a portrait sitting
Working with people for the first time as a photographer can be a daunting task. So here are a few ways to put your subject at ease during a portrait sitting that I have picked up over the years
Explain why you are doing everything
One of the main reasons any situation is stressful (that includes things outside of the photography realm) is not knowing what’s going to happen. As a photographer it’s easy to forget that whilst you know exactly what’s happening, it’s unlikely your subject does. So if you ask them to move a little, or change the lighting, or swap a lens- explain why. If your subject is even the slightest bit unsure or uncomfortable then any changes can feel personal. By that I mean that asking them to move their hand by 1cm can be interpreted as you wanting to hide a part of their body for being unattractive. Explaining everything in everyman language is important as it puts your subject at ease. And a relaxed subject makes for a better photo.
Have a meeting before the shoot
Having a pre production meeting always benefits both you and the subject. This isn’t about sitting around a table and working through an agenda. It can be as relaxed as you want it to be. Have a coffee (or even a beer) and chat about what will happen on the day, what you both want to achieve, how long the sitting will take, what to wear, what kind of makeup to wear/bring/not wear. The detail should be covered off before the shoot day so that the sitting is simple, relaxed and enjoyable.
Take your time
Obvious? Yes. Always achieved? Certainly not. Leaving plenty of time for a sitting can be the difference between getting that one shot and not getting it. Feeling rushed leads to anxiety for most subjects, even actors and those used to being shot. So arrive early at the studio or location and take your time.
Put yourself in their place
Empathy is a word rarely discussed in photography, yet really it sums up all we do. Capturing a moment with a lens is all about sparking empathy in others. We want those who see our work to understand exactly what was felt, seen and enjoyed in that moment. And to provoke empathy in our work begins with empathising with your subject. I regularly sit for portraits as a subject (well, as much as I can stand to – I can’t be the only photographer who much prefers being behind the camera?) simply to remember how it feels to be on display, to have that gaze upon me. Try it. It’s exposing.
Face your sitter
It is very intimidating to have a large black box staring you down from across the room. One of the main reasons that I moved to medium format is so that the camera is below my face. This allows me to keep eye contact with my sitter as well as offering a wealth of other advantages.
Having said all this about time and preparation and empathy and explanations, sometimes the best portraits come from just having a lot of fun. Taking people’s portraits is a privilege. And it’s fun. This photo here took around 15 seconds to take.
If you employ these tips to your next portrait sitting it will help your subject feel at ease.
You can see my full portrait portfolio at www.scottchoucino.com
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