I haven’t done a great deal of portrait work over the last few years. I’ve been concentrating on wildlife photography. But recently, I found myself shooting portraits and in other situations involving people and I remembered an important lesson. Talk to your subject.
One of the reasons I am a photographer is that I thought it would help insulate me from having to be in the picture. I am not alone. Lots of people don’t like to have their picture taken.
Reassuring them can help produce not only a better picture, but provide the person with a better memory and experience.
Some points to remember…
1. Have your gear ready BEFORE the subject arrives. You should spend as much time as possible concentrating on the subject and not your gear.
2. Spend the first 30-60 seconds (or in a perfect world more) of the session on the same side of the camera as your subject. Shake their hand. Let them make a physical and personal connection with you.
3. See to the subject’s comfort. Ask if they are too hot or cold or if they need a bathroom or refreshments.
4. Talk to the subject and do so with your face anywhere but behind the viewfinder. It’s hard to hear someone who’s talking into the back of a camera. Spend time framing the shot and then come out from behind the camera and let the subject see you.
5. Compliment the subject and give clear and concise directions. Make it easy for them to give you what you want.
6. Smile, use positive body language and do everything you can to positively reinforce the person. Let them know it’s going well.
7. If you have a gear problem or something else goes wrong, try to keep any concern you might have for that problem from the subject. There’s nothing to be gained by giving them one more thing to worry about.
8. If you’re photographing a man, give him something to hold on to. Men are often uncomfortable with where to put their hands during a portrait setting. Giving them something to hold, from a golf ball to a football, to a pen, to a guitar, etc., will help.
9. If you’re photographing a person of the opposite sex, always ask for permission to touch them if you plan on adjusting their pose. If they don’t grant it, smile and offer clear verbal instruction.
10. Don’t forget to thank the subject after the session. I consider it an honor to photograph someone and I share that thought with them as they leave my studio.
Here’s an easy bonus tip. Just remember what it’s like for you when you have a portrait made. Treat others as you’d like to be treated. Good luck.
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