The best compliment a portrait photographer can get is when a client loves their photos. But sometimes you’re working with shy models or clients who aren’t comfortable in front of the camera.
This article will show you how to get those natural looking images. It won’t matter whether you’re working with a professional model or a camera shy first-time client.
Build a Relationship With Your Clients
It’s important that as the photographer, you’re able to connect with the subject before the release of your shutter.
It’s natural for people to feel more comfortable around those with which they’ve built a relationship.
This relationship should be built even before the photoshoot happens. It might be a phone call to help answer questions. Or a Skype session.
With wedding clients, it is quite normal to meet for coffee so each party gets to know the other. Some of my clients have discussed being uncomfortable in front of the camera. Some have said that they hate having their picture taken or even that they feel unattractive in front of the lens. But they know that they need photos to document their wedding day.
Knowing that I am dealing with camera shy clients helps me prepare myself and my clients. We both know what to expect during the wedding/photoshoot.
A better connection with your subject puts them at ease, which will allow them to relax as you shoot.
If this is the first time you’re working with a particular individual or even if you already know your clients, don’t start taking photos the moment they walk into the photoshoot.
Take some time away from the camera to talk to them. Make small talk, ask genuine questions and establish a rapport. Photos come after.
Communicate and Set Expectations Early On
Communication is a powerful tool in creating a relaxing atmosphere and making your subjects feel more comfortable in front of the camera.
Remember good communication is the basis of any form of trust. There are several things you can do even before taking a single frame. Or even before meeting your clients face-to-face on the day of the photoshoot.
- Send them a link to your best work so they can see themselves in your images and this sets you up as the expert. This is critical in establishing trust in your abilities for a camera-shy person.
- Send a timeline and expectations document before the shoot. They’ll know how the day of the photoshoot will unfold. Let them know if you want them to dress a certain way, go to a certain place, or bring certain props. Outline everything so there are no surprises – for you and for them.
- Send clothing suggestions if photographing a large family. You don’t want everyone showing up in white t-shirts and jeans. Or worse, some in a suit and others in board shots and flipflops.
- Any model releases, pricing discussions or even gallery instructions. Camera shy people tend to be uncomfortable in situations where they don’t feel like they are in control. Giving them all the details before, during, and after the photoshoot will ensure a more relaxed client interaction.
Tell Your Clients What to Do to Make Them Feel Less Awkward
For subjects who are inexperienced in front of the camera, sometimes showing by example is a great way. They’ll know what you, as the creative director, are looking for. This is great for camera shy clients who feel awkward being in front of the camera.
Sometimes I will also say something like “I know this may seem odd and a bit awkward but trust me this looks amazing in photos and brings a whole level of creativity to the image”.
That always seems to ease my clients and makes them more comfortable in front of me and my camera.
On the flip side, some poses may not work out. Don’t force it. Forcing someone to do something they are not comfortable with will only result in alienating them.
Be confident in your skills to make any pose, any location, and any lighting work in case plan A is not happening.
Provide Direction and Offer Distraction
Your clients are looking towards you, an expert in their eyes, to tell them what to do. They want to know how to stand, what to do with their hands, what expression works best and sometimes even what to wear.
Do your research and give them specific directions and instructions. This is important with shy clients. Giving them the ability to slip into an alter-ego allows them to be more expressive. It removes the vulnerable feeling many get when standing in front of a lens.
Subtle movements also encourage creative expression from your subjects. Keeping the subject moving, even if it’s just a subtle head or hand movement. This will invite variation to your shots.
Sometimes it is okay to tell the clients where you want them to end up and allow them the creative freedom to get there. For example, with kids, I like to include some jumping and movement shots. With couples, I like to include a shot of them kissing.
I will tell them what my end vision is and how they get there is up to them. The kids will run towards their parents and everyone will be laughing.
Other times couples will laugh, tickle each other and then eventually kiss. That is my end shot.
Remember to keep your camera shy subjects moving. And remember to keep photographing through those movements. Sometimes those in-between candid shots are gold!
When you are directing and giving your subjects poses to try out, pretend like that’s not the only thing you’re doing. Otherwise, you will risk making the subject even more anxious.
Make sure you offer positive feedback throughout the session so they get a boost of confidence. Maybe even show them the back of the camera so that they are seeing what you are seeing. They’ll have a better idea about what your vision and creative eye is looking for.
Giving your subject complements outside of their poses and movement is also key. This establishes a rapport and a positive relationship far beyond the photoshoot.
Remember clients who feel comfortable around you, will love your work. They will also refer you to their friends and family.
Shoot in Familiar Environments to Keep Your Client Comfortable
As a photographer, your role is to direct your subjects in environments that are complementary.
Subjects who are inexperienced may shy away when the harsh light of a photography studio is turned to them. Or when they are asked to pose in public or in an unfamiliar environment.
Instead go where your client or subject is more comfortable. This can be their home, an outdoor area that they visit often, or even a place that has a special memory for them.
When I photograph engagement sessions or even family photos, I always ask my clients to pick a place that has a special meaning to them. This could be the place they got engaged, their college campus or even a favorite ice cream shop.
All these things aim to make camera shy clients more comfortable. You’re giving them a sense of control rather than the other way around.
Keep in mind the best location, background and even light for getting what you, as the photographer, want as well. Don’t be afraid to suggest alternatives if clients are recommending locations that are not the ideal for your style of photography.
Always give a reason why you think the location will not work and suggest alternatives.
How to Prepare for a Photoshoot With Shy Clients
Your clients and subjects have hired you because they trust you to have the skills and tools necessary for getting the job done. On the job training is really not the way to make a good impression.
Know your gear inside and out. Study your environment to know where the good light is, what distracting elements are around and how to eliminate any mishaps during the photoshoot.
When I photograph weddings, I always make it a point to scope out the area before the event. I create a shot list of poses and locations and shots that I want with my clients.
Even if you cannot travel to the location before the photoshoot, you can always use Google maps and external research. You can even ask your clients to take a quick picture of the location they want to use for their photos.
Avoid shooting in backgrounds with distracting elements. Messy backgrounds can compromise the composition of your images. If the light is not ideal, use external or on-camera flash to get the look you want.
A paid client photoshoot is not the best place to try a new lens or worse yet, a new camera where you are figuring out all the settings and buttons.
Your clients will lose faith in your technical skills as a photographer if they see you messing with buttons, settings or even constantly checking the back of your camera.
When clients are shy, they want to get done as soon as possible so they get out of the camera limelight. It is okay to say you’re testing the light and just trying a few shots to capture the best possible photo.
But if you are constantly doing this, your shy client will lose faith and become even more uncomfortable in front of the camera.
Allow Clients to Have Fun to Capture Candid Pictures
For whatever reason, most clients and models feel like taking photos is a chore. There are always exceptions but, in general, people dislike posing. They feel like others will be watching and judging them.
Give your clients the permission to be themselves and have fun just like they would if you were not there. Oftentimes I will let my clients or models know that I am going to be photographing through an activity. Or that I will be moving around capturing candid photos.
I tell them to forget I am here, engage with each other, laugh and just have fun. I give them a heads up that if I see a moment that I feel looks like an amazing shot, I will interrupt them and take a shot.
This almost always works because my clients now don’t feel like they are ‘on display’.
Another thing to do is to include props or an activity during the shoot. This works well when kids are involved. It serves as a great distraction and is a great way to get your subjects out of their shell.
Having a selection of fun pieces to play with creates a relaxing photography environment. This increases creative, natural expressions from your subjects.
You can also add music to your shoot to bring another element of interest. Ask your clients to pick a couple of their favorite songs and download them to a playlist.
Some examples can be the first song they danced to as a married couple, or a song by their favorite band. Even a favorite song from their childhood works.
Either play the music in the background during the shoot or even take a moment and have them play it. Remember to photograph through this. You are bound to capture some candid and heartfelt moments.
Even the timidest person can let loose when they’re having a good time. Having a sense of humor, staying relaxed, and keeping your sense of humor handy as the photographer works wonders.
If you’re not relaxed or having fun, your camera shy subject is not going to either. As the photographer, you need to lead the way. Do this by having a good time, being considerate, being pleasant and setting the mood for a professional and fun shoot.
Working with a camera-shy subject does have its challenges. But it also has a lot of opportunities for you to get creative and try different things to get the shots you need.
The tips listed above will ensure you get the most out of your shoot and your subjects.
Remember to be patient with your clients, especially the camera shy ones. Most of them are doing something completely outside their comfort zone. They’re even more nervous than you think they are.