Our job as photographers is to capture the essence of our subjects. This involves adjusting to our clients and any given situation on a moments notice. A challenge is simply an opportunity.

Recently, fellow photographer Toni Shaw shared her experience of working with an antsy client. Confined to the walls of her studio, her young subject a dancer was having trouble sitting still and taking directions during the shoot. This, in turn, was causing her to miss crucial shots. Behind the camera that day, Toni wracked her brain as to how she could make the situation work. What was she to do?

As for me, I recently found myself partway through a portrait shoot with a subject before realizing that the feel of the images was not matching his personality. Although he was extremely cooperative, no matter what I tried, the shots weren’t quite doing him justice. About halfway through the shoot, I wondered, what was I to do?

This is actually why I enjoy portrait shoots: unique challenges often arise during a session.

So how do we best adjust to and work with our portrait clients?

How To Adjust To Your Clients

Get To Know Your Client During The Shoot

Getting know the person youre working with has a two-fold benefit: (1) it puts them at ease (which often puts you at ease!) and (2) as you learn more about them, it can give you ideas as to the type of portrait that you want to create.

In my case that day with my client, learning about him was crucial. As I sat him down on a stool in front of a white backdrop and adjusted my lighting, I began asking him questions about himself. It inevitably turned out that we had some overlapping interests (the band Twenty One Pilots), and that some of our experiences even overlapped (motorcycles). All of this helped us connect in a way that put him more at ease, and gave me ideas.

Here is an early shot from the shoot in his original outfit:


A bit later in the shoot, our motorcycle discussion led me to eventually suggest he change into his motorcycle vest and bandanna, which he had brought along with a myriad of additional outfits.

In his new garb, I could tell we were making progress. However, I still had a nagging feeling that we needed to switch things up even more. In particular, the white backdrop was bugging me.

It was time to make a simple pivot.

Be Ready To Pivot

Sometimes during a shoot, you need to pivot your strategy in order to adjust to your client. This can involve a change in posing, props, location, or just the general concept.

For me that day, it was a simple decision to switch the backdrop. While the white background was crisp and clean, I decided to haul both the client and my 50 Mega Apollo Softbox across the room to where a black backdrop was hanging. The black fabric lent the photos a more dramatic, moody feel, which I felt was much more aligned with the client and his new outfit.

Here is the result, which I felt was much more appropriate for him.


And what about Toni Shaw, the photographer with the energetic dancer I mentioned earlier? How did she pivot?

It almost didn’t happen, actually.

Just as she was resigned to wrap up the shoot and finish the session, the mother of the client casually mentioned that her son had not taken his medication that day. It dawned on Toni that perhaps this was why he was having difficulty concentrating.

What did Toni do? In a flash of inspiration, she decided to take the young man outdoors and work with his pent-up energy, instead of against it. Outdoors, he was able to be more himself.

It made all the difference in the world. Toni Shaw, from Shaw Photography Group, created the resulting shot:

www.shawphotographygroup.com 2014

Final Thoughts

When working with portrait clients, its often necessary to make tweaks during a shoot in order to capture their true essence. Have confidence in yourself, and give yourself permission to make adjustments. Keep in mind that the goal is to ultimately express the authentic personality of your client, so don’t be afraid to turn a challenge into an opportunity.