Getting your portrait taken is an extremely vulnerable position to be in.
It can be stressful, uncomfortable and frankly quite intimidating. Whether you’re shooting a senior portrait, corporate headshot or a big time celebrity, we all have our insecurities.
Especially if millions of people are going to see the photos which is often the case for my clients.
It’s your job as the photographer to recognize that, disarm the situation and get your subjects having fun.
I always try to stop whatever I’m doing when my subject arrives. I sit down with my clients in my studio and have a bagel or coffee and do everything I can to find common ground.
Especially the type of common ground we can laugh at.
You have screaming toddlers at home? Me too! You like the beach… me too? You like smoking cigars… I’ve got a great one you should try.
I try to have a good laugh with my subjects before I ever get a camera in between us.
Start a photo shoot off laughing and chances are you’re going to hit a home run.
Here are five things you can do to make your clients feel more comfortable (and take amazing photos of them)
1. Genuinely compliment your Subjects immediately.
One of the first things I do when my subjects walk in the door to my studio is find something I can GENUINELY compliment them on. But be careful this has to be from the heart. Maybe it’s their eyes, eyelashes… or even their shoes. FIND SOMETHING.
This starts disarming them right away and they’ll start feeling more comfortable with you.
2. Stop & deeply connect with your subjects.
Stop whatever set-up you are doing and take a few minutes to break the ice. I like to start by sitting down, looking them in the eye and in a lighthearted curious way ask them ice breaker questions. Where are they from. Tell me about how you started out in this career?
I then tell them something vulnerable about myself that helps them take down their defenses and trust me more. Don’t drop a bomb on them like when my father in law passed away… but instead make it light hearted like I got a speeding ticket the other day. Everyone can relate. Find some common ground. Before you know it your telling hilarious stories about childhood.
Note that we haven’t even started talking about the photo shoot yet.
It’s breaking down defenses getting know each other as vulnerable humans. Helping them trust you.
Now that you have some rapport with them you can transition to say hey why don’t you show me your outfits… what do you love… and why.
3. Make them feel beautiful.
Even if your technical settings are perfect, the background is stunning and the shot looks incredible, if your subject doesn’t feel beautiful… chances are they won’t like the shot. When you are shooting portraits the way your subject feels will determine how great the shot is. so don’t say things like “Oh that looks bad” or “OOPS” or “this doesn’t work.”
Too many photographers spend too much time focusing on their settings than they do affirming or directing their subjects in a positive way.
Regardless of what the last shot looks like… let them know THEY look awesome. This comes back to finding stuff you can genuinely compliment them on. Keep repeating step 1 above the rest of the day. When they feel like they look beautiful, they will look beautiful.
Even if you’re not in love with the shot or their pose… tell them you love this dress and I loved it when you were standing an such and such angle.
DO NOT SAY I hate this angle on you… or that dress makes you look fat. Always try to be encouraging… and working towards a great shot. Even if you haven’t achieved it yet… keep encouraging until you have some gold. I will shoot 300 shots of them same thing until I dial it in and get one great shot.
4. Have a list of jokes handy.
Seriously… keep the fun going. I am a natural cheesy joke collector… but my friend Jeremy Cowart told me a few years ago that he starting writing down jokes and keeping a list of them in Evernote for easy reference. The jokes I have stored are TERRIBLE… which is great for my personality. They almost aren’t funny by themselves but when I laugh at my own dad jokes… that’s where the comedy is. It breaks the tension for them and get’s their mind off of taking themselves too seriously.
Working in jokes, humor is definitely a learned skill for some people and for others it comes natural. I’ve had to work really hard at it but I can disarm a room real quickly with terrible puns… because I’ve spent 1000s of hours practicing.
5. Thank them from the heart.
Most of the time your subjects/ clients are going to thank you for you time or expertise. But I try to close the shoot with a genuine attitude of gratitude. I thank them for trusting me to do this for them. I tell them how much fun I had and if it’s true… that I’m honored to work with them on this amazing project.
Word of caution with all of these steps… BE GENUINE. People can sniff a fake miles away. Practice being positive, encouraging and finding things to compliment people on. People (almost) always love unsolicited genuine affirmation. Practice giving it freely. You may even find it making you more happy.