One of the more difficult things for a portrait photographer to do is start the shoot with a resistant subject. You can light them stunningly well, pose them beautifully, and place them against the most perfect backdrop ever – but if your subject is not choosing to engage in the experience of being photographed, it’s quite difficult to achieve your best portrait work.
What’s a ready-to-go shooter to do?
1. Get to the root of the resistance. Are they self-conscious? Have they had a bad / boring / harrowing previous experience?
With adults – and children – I ask them quite directly. I ask them to specifically tell me the details of their previous experience, and then I try to get to the root of why it was so detrimental. I will close the discussion by explaining, in exhausting and often humorous detail, just how this particular experience will not mirror any previous negative ones.
2. Are you automatically hearing from your subject that he or she never looks good in photographs?
Many people have a self-image that conflicts with how positively others view them. One of the perks of this job is to show another how you beautifully you see them – and how you can enhance that through great lighting and posing.
An excellent tool at your disposal is the act of mirroring. Show them how you think they’d look best – play with various expressions and engage them through your sincere interest in truly wanting to show off their best attributes. Tell them they need do nothing but mimic at first. As long as you’re willing to play along, that takes the pressure off of them – and, if shooting digitally, you can show them how you are actually getting attractive photographs of them, which does wonders to boost confidence.
3. Are they simply running in the opposite direction?
This applies frequently to children and pets. Hopefully not as much to brides – but there’s a lot of pressure out there, so you can’t really rule that possibility out in all cases.
With children and pets, I let them get it out of their system – often encouraging more running and activity right out of the gate, if I see that’s what they need. In terms of the photographer, this requires a good sense of perspective, a basic understanding of the sheer power of bottled-up energy, and an active willingness to wait for the right moment.
With brides, it’s a whole different issue and usually one best suited for a relationship counselor. And that’s pretty awesome because, every so often, it’s nice to know that we photographers don’t have to do everything.
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