One of the most important skills portrait photographers can have actually has little to do with their camera. When it comes down to it, having the right people skills are pretty high priority. When shooting portraits the ability to make clients feel relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera will greatly increase the quality of the portrait.
So, say goodbye to forced smiles and tense, unnatural expressions–here are four different social skills (plus a bonus tip!) every portrait photographer should be honing:
1. Be Cool
It’s hard to expect a client to stay relaxed when their photographer is a bundle of nerves. Do your best to stay calm and relaxed, even when things aren’t going to plan. Maintaining a confident and friendly attitude will subconsciously encourage your client to do the same.
2. The Art Of Conversation
Even before the photoshoot starts, during the initial consultation start getting to know your client. Engage them in conversation, find out what they like to do, any major events coming up in their life like a wedding, birthday, anniversary, etc. Get to know them by asking questions about themselves and building conversation from the answers.
Listen to their answers and use that insight to come up with ideas for photos. For example, perhaps your client tells you they really enjoy the art of bread making. That may be a great opportunity to suggest using a kitchen as a possible shooting location, or better yet, suggest you take their portraits while they are actually making a loaf of bread. You’ll get truly authentic portraits that tell the story of who your client is.
Remember, once the portrait session begins, keep the conversation going to help them keep their mind off of having their photo taken.
3. Learning To Be A Director
Amid all the great conversation and jokes your making with your client, don’t be afraid to slip in some posing suggestions every once in a while. Since most people are not professional models who spend all their working hours in front of camera, chances are your portrait clients aren’t going to be practiced enough to know how they’re supposed to be posing, and not knowing what they’re supposed to be doing tends to make a lot of people nervous.
In a friendly tone, give them good direction in an easy to understand way. Refrain from touching them, instead, do the pose yourself, while explaining to them how to do it. Having a visual reference of how to pose will be easier for the subject to understand and remember. Once you’ve shown the way, have your subject try it out for themselves–be sure to let them know they are doing a great job to bolster their confidence!
4. Just Keep Shooting
Avoid taking long breaks in between shooting each frame. Keeping the shots coming consistently without long pauses will help your subject get used to being photographed more quickly, whereas shooting only intermittently will build suspense leading up to each shot, leaving the subject tense and uneasy.
You will end up with a lot more photos than you will actually use, but the “keepers” will look much more natural if your client doesn’t look like they were just waiting for you to snap the shutter release. You can use a program like Adobe Bridge or Lightroom to quickly cull all the extra photos and cherry pick the best ones.
Some portrait photographers also like to give their clients sneak peaks at the back of the camera during a session as a way to get them to relax. When you take an especially great shot, take a second to show your clients the image preview. It will instill confidence in your clients not just in your abilities but, also in themselves.
Remember, the idea of getting your client to relax is all about guiding them to a positive mindset where they can stop focusing on their insecurities and enjoy the photoshoot!