Professional photographer Scott Chanson has put together some of his best tips on getting authentic expressions from clients, in this article over at EnvatoTuts+.
If you take the right approach from the very first minute, the photoshoot will immediately become less stressful for your client. You don’t have to bend over backwards to make this happen – these are actually very small things to do, but they have major effects on the mood of the photoshoot.
Establish a Rapport Before Your Bring Out the Camera
In the past, I’ve photographed a lot of dogs. I currently photograph children pretty often. One of the lessons I learned photographing dogs and kids is not to have the camera out when you start the session. For them, the camera is a big scary machine that intimidates and confuses them. And it sits in front of my face in a way that makes me seem not human. It’s very important to spend some time with them without the camera. You want them to see you are a friendly person, and show that you can be trusted to take their picture.
As it turns out, CEOs and actors are not much different than dogs and toddlers. They need the reassurance just as much as anyone that the person behind the camera is a friendly, comfortable person. For this reason, I always greet my clients without a camera in my hand and without a camera anywhere in sight. I greet them with a handshake and I make reassuring eye contact. If it’s a past client, I usually greet them with a big hug and remind them of how much fun we had last time. This time is so vital and it really sets the tone for the rest of the shoot.
Take the Edge Off and Get Comfortable
Sometimes your subject’s expression just doesn’t look right, even though your lighting and posing are great. Most of the time this happens at the beginning of a session and it happens because your client is still nervous or maybe a little self-conscious. This is so common in fact that sometimes before we even get started I will say something like “hey just so you know the first couple minutes might feel a little awkward. But don’t worry, even professional models need a little time to warm up to the camera.” This really takes the pressure off of your subject and it helps them settle into a more comfortable attitude for their session.
If there’s any doubt in your mind that humor is important, then listen to this: scientists have shown that laughter physically changes your body. It lowers your blood pressure and your heart rate and it puts you in a more relaxed state. If you don’t have a natural ability to be funny and make people laugh, there’s nothing to worry about. You can still be helped.
When I first started photographing people, I was usually really nervous and I had a hard time being funny, so what I did was I watched movies and TV comedies that had something to do with photography or modeling. For me, I found some great lines in the movie Zoolander and in the TV show America’s Next Top Model. And then, when I needed to get a good laugh out of my subject, I had a little pocket full of things that I could pull out, and interact with them and make jokes, and it worked really well. A sense of humor is definitely something that can be developed, so stick with it and practice because it will definitely pay off in the end.
Pump Up the Jams
Another scientifically proven way to lower someone’s stress levels and to make them more comfortable is to listen to music. Music is an amazing addition to almost any photo session and I use it whenever it makes sense. Typically, I have some soft background music playing when my client arrives and as we’re chatting before the shoot begins. Right before we get going, I’ll ask them what kind of music they think would help them get into the session more. Sometimes it’s just some quiet background music to fill in the awkward silence. Sometimes we end up blasting an 80s party mix. Either way, the results turn out much better than without music.