In an effort to further give back to the community, I have decided to kick off a series of informative articles called 'Let's Learn Portraiture.' The goal will be to cover topics related to people and portrait photography. To start, we will cover a topic suggested by *ThomasJergel
Different photographers take different approaches to how they interact with their models, but I've always taken a personal approach. Learning about your subject's interests can not only make them more comfortable, but it can also lead to more striking images that follow along with those interests. Communication is key when it comes to interacting with your model, and building a quick rapport is important in order to solidify that.
When working with amateur models who may not be familiar with posing for the camera, you may often find that they will resort to expressions and poses that mimic what they see in magazines. These emulations may be entirely different than what you want to capture. Being able to converse with them effectively can mean the difference of stiff, mannequin-like expressions and cliche poses to those that portray genuine emotion.
People often respond well to visual aids. Gathering images that demonstrate the look, style, or expression you want your model to represent will be very helpful to them. For the above shoot, I had discovered that my model had a passion for vintage pin-up fashion, so prior to the shoot we looked at some examples of the look I was aiming for. Despite having a short window of time to accomplish the shoot, because my model already had an image in her head of the kind of pose and expression I wanted, we were able to capture the look within several minutes.
Be sure that you can clearly communicate what it is you want your model to do. Establish early on how you plan to direct your model, and what exactly certain phrases translate to.
For example, you may say "look to the right," so the model turns their head to your left. What you wanted them to do was glance to your right with their eyes only, and not turn their head. Another example may be when you say "take a step to your left," and your model takes a large step to the left, throwing off the pose you were shooting for. What you truly wanted was for them to just inch slightly over. It's little miscommunications like these that can complicate a photoshoot. It's important to be as specific as you can be to minimize any misunderstandings with your model.
Confidence is often a key piece of presence in a photograph, and more often than not that is what you want to inspire in your model. When a model feels confident, they will always deliver photographs with more impact. Praise them repeatedly throughout the shoot, especially when they are doing exactly what you want them to do. Everyone enjoys compliments, and repetitively encouraging your model will not only improve their performance, it will also create a fun working environment.
Just be mindful of how you are complimenting your model, and be sure to keep it professional. Some photographers may say certain phrases that their model finds disrespectful or offensive, so try to avoid any racy comments that may make your model feel ill-at-ease.
At no time should you touch your model, as it will likely make them uneasy. If you absolutely have to touch your model, it is paramount that you ask them permission first. The issue with touching your model is also the fact that it means you'll have to pull yourself away from the camera to do so. If you have anyone assisting you with the shoot such as a stylist or make-up artist, it would be wise to have them do those adjustments for you. It's common for a stylist or assistant to brush back stray strands of hair, or adjust a crinkled area of a shirt on the model, etc.
As a photographer, think of yourself as the director of the shoot. Directors do not touch the actors, they communicate with them verbally, and rely on their creative team to fix what minor issues may arise.
In all of my sessions, I always have a time where I tell my model to just 'freestyle it,' and do whatever it is they want to do, without any instruction from me. Often I'll play music that the model enjoys, and capture candid portraits of them dancing, smiling, or just posing in whatever independent ways they wish to. Many of my favorite portraits have come from these freestyle sessions, where I encourage the model to be nothing else but themselves.
This has been the first article that I've written for photography, and I genuinely hope that someone does find it useful. Please do let me know what you think of this article, any questions you may have regarding the topic, or any suggestions for topics you'd like me to cover in a future installment.
The second issue of Let's Learn Portraiture! is available here: Let's Learn Portraiture: Natural Lighting.