SCENARIO 2: You meet your client on location at a local park for a portrait session. You exchange greetings and small talk about the weather while you take out your camera to begin the shoot. You begin walking your client to another section of the park that you know has a beautifully painted mural that would be the perfect backdrop for your client. You use this opportunity to talk with your client casually about how excited you are to get started with the shoot and how awesome he/she looks. You share the hilarious story about the last time you ripped your pants during a shoot while trying to get a shot. Your client laughs at your story and appreciates your honesty and humor. You both arrive at the mural and suddenly both you and your client are vibing and feeling relaxed ready to start shooting.
I’ll take Scenario 2 for the win please!!
Ok, so first things first. All things considered, the worst thing that photographers are afraid will happen during their client portrait sessions or wedding portraits is: awkward silence, tension, uncomfortable faces; you get what I’m saying. All of these things add up to BAD PICTURES!! You know the one where the subject looks terrified or uncomfortable as if they are counting down the minutes until you’re done taking their photo. Clients who aren’t used to being in front of the camera while a professional snaps their picture will naturally be nervous. This nervousness transfers into body language resulting in not so nice photos of them. What a nightmare! Photographers have to find creative ways to deal with situations like this to miraculously turn what can be an awkward situation into a fun shoot for the client. What we call photo coaching.
Some photographers are just naturally good at getting their client to relax in front of the camera. But for the rest of us out there, like myself, we have to work a bit harder. This has been something I have been trying to improve with every shoot I’ve done since day one. What I’ve found through working with other photographers and honing my own style of shooting is that every photographers style of photo coaching will be different according to their personality and what their comfortable doing. I am able to kind of blend in with my surroundings and observe people being natural. So during engagement shoots or wedding portraits, I can say words like “just pretend I’m not here” or “be private in the public” because it meshes well with my personality to just observe my subjects being their natural selves. But sometimes, you have to take a more active role. My photography style tends to emphasize candid emotion filled shots with a combination of some light posing. If you have a similar shooting style, whether working with individuals or couples, what I’ve found to work the best is the following:
- When working with a couple engaged to be married, meet with them prior to their shoot. Use this time as an opportunity to get to know them individually and as a couple. Ask them to tell the story of how they met, who made the first move, how long they’ve been together, how did he/she propose, etc. Learn to listen in between the words and observe body language. Try to remember specific elements of their relationship and story by taking mental notes. If possible, try to write everything down after meeting with them while it's fresh in your mind. It will be helpful to know this information for when you shoot their engagement session or during their wedding day.
- During the actual photo session, when shooting a couple try to talk casually with them about something unrelated to the shoot. Ask them to remind you of the story of how they met. Get them to talk to each other instead of to you. That way, they will be interacting with each other; the smiles and playful touches will begin as they reminisce together. Also good questions like, "who is the more playful one" or "how would you describe your relationship" are great questions to get your clients to open up about themselves. Sometimes their answers will lead to laughter and cute teasing. All the while you will be snapping away capturing the glow in their eyes and the energy of their love. They become so wrapped into each other and forget that you’re even shooting.
- When shooting an individual the above point can be applied with a slight twist. Strike up a light conversation about something unrelated to the shoot. Questions like, do you watch the show XX (insert popular show name)? This may require actually taking the camera away from your eye for a moment to connect with your client during conversation. This shows that yes you are the photographer but you are also a person that is interested in getting to know them. Still remain focused on conducting the shoot but use this time to observe your client for cues. For example, a female client may like to subconsciously push her hair behind her ears frequently. This may be a great shot for you if can capture her doing this naturally during the shoot. It shows her uniqueness and represents her genuinely.
- Give good directions. Be able to tell your client specifically what you want them to do with their hands or what direction you want them to face. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve mistaken my right side for their left. My right equals their left; it can get confusing. Get into the practice of giving precise directions for every part of your client’s body.
- If you’re working with someone who might be self-conscious about something, reassure him or her about how beautiful they look. You can do this by simply voicing it to them in a genuine way. Show them the beauty you see in them by snapping their photo and showing them the image in the back of the camera. Sometimes seeing themselves in an image straight from the camera can be the extra boost that they need. For example, one time I worked with a teen who wore braces and was self-conscious about her smile. I referenced the TV show America’s Next Top Model and told her to smile with her eyes. She did and I showed her how beautiful she looked on the back of the camera. My heart smile when I heard her say “wow, is that me?!!”
- Always give feedback to your clients during the shoot and after. Let them know when they are doing a great job and how great the photos are coming along. I tend to use the word “awesome” and “wow” a lot when I get that perfect shot. I’ll usually say these two words whenever I get excited and this usually makes my client excited as well. Sometimes I’ll even show my clients four or five shots in the back of the camera to reassure how great everything is coming along. Also, don’t be afraid to let your clients know when they aren’t doing what you need them to. Whether it is a foot out of place or if they need to take a couple of steps back so you can get that perfect sun glare shot. Be polite but firm.
- Lastly and I can’t stress this enough, SMILE. Whether shooting an individual, couple, or guests at a wedding always remember to keep smiling. Clients connect with your energy and they can feel your excitement. They want to know that you’re having a good time and happy to be spending your time with them. Smiling can be infectious and a simple way to brighten the mood. So no matter if you got a parking ticket or a flat tire on the way to the shoot, let the stress go, remember your client, and smile.
Photo coaching can really be fun; it’s all about having a good time with your client. For photographers, what cool tips can you share on your photo coaching techniques? Or for anyone whose had an amazing experience with a photographer; what did they do to make you feel comfortable? Share your stories!