Confession: I am the most uncomfortable, awkward person in front of a camera. I never know what to do to look natural, then I lock up and don’t know how to be normal, and all of a sudden every photo of me is the cheesiest portrait ever shot. It’s a curse, really.
The majority of people do not like having their portraits made because they feel like the whole process is awkward. That’s a major problem for portrait photographers. It’s an extremely difficult task to keep portrait shoots casual. Honestly, it’s a skill that has to be acquired and practiced over several shoots. There are a few very good strategies that portrait photographers can use to keep portrait shoots casual that start way before you press the shutter.
A lot of portrait photographers like to meet with their clients before a shoot begins, and I highly recommend every portrait photographer does this. It’s an important part of the comfort process. No one likes to show up to a random meeting location to meet a complete stranger who immediately starts taking photos. That’s the definition of awkward.
Pre-shoot meetings keep portrait shoots casual because they allow the photographer and client to get to know one another before the shoot. Right away, you can use the pre-shoot meetings to create chemistry and a good, casual friendship with your clients.
In the pre-shoot meetings, be extremely casual. Don’t be 100% business or salesman like. Be very casual and just chat with your clients. Allow conversations to go off topic a little bit so you aren’t bombarding them with photography jargon. Allow them to lead some of the conversations as well. It may lead to a discussion where you’re able to use their story for your portraits.
The pre-shoot meetings are also valuable for photographers to get an idea of what each client is comfortable with, and what is off limits. Use every moment, every sentence, and every word of the pre-shoot meeting to gain an understanding of your client so they will feel comfortable during the actual photo session.
During the Shoot
Portrait photographers, this is your Super Bowl. It’s your moment to shine in order to deliver amazing photos to your client while using your gained knowledge to keep portrait shoots casual. Your first step is to use the information you gained in the pre-shoot meeting to create a personal portrait session.
First, take them to locations that they are familiar with. You may have discussed some locations beforehand, but you should always choose some that your client knows. Even if you know your suggestions are better, it’s your job to make them comfortable and deliver amazing photos. Besides, you’re a photographer. Use your creative compositions in not so great locations.
Talk to your clients throughout the photo shoots. This may include mentioning how great the light is, how great the photo location is, or current events. You should always keep your comments extremely positive, though. Never, EVER tell clients a photo doesn’t look good or mention anything negative. That’s a sure fire way to make your photo shoot awkward. When someone hears that a photo doesn’t look good, they interpret that as you telling them they don’t look good (even though you probably weren’t even looking at them, you were probably talking about the lighting).
To keep the mood light and casual, let them see photos that look really good. In all likelihood, seeing a really great portrait of themselves will boost their self esteem so that they don’t feel strange having their picture taken.
Lastly (and most importantly) you may have to turn into a bouncer during a photo shoot. It’s not uncommon for people passing by to stop and watch your photo shoot unfold. The only thing more uncomfortable than having your portrait made is having a group of strangers watch as it happens.
You don’t have to be rough with people who are watching, but you do have to stand firm for your client. If people start watching, simple say something like this, “Excuse me, could you not watch us? It’s making us a little uncomfortable.” Saying something like this will do two things. First, by using the word “us” it includes you in the process so you aren’t singling out your client. Secondly, it tells your client that you’re on their side and you’re looking out for them.
Using all of these tricks will help you keep portrait shoots casual. Always remember that it’s your job to keep the mood light and positive for you client.
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