Home Forums Let’s Talk Photography Getting people to relax in front of the camera.

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    Ok, so I did a shoot for a friend yesterday who needed a simple headshot to accompany an article she has just written. Technically I think it was ok, the exposure, comp and focus etc. My main problem though, was the fact that she really doesn’t like having her photo taken and in all of the photos, and this was quite evident I think. So, sorry for such a noob question, but can I ask if others have photographed more reluctant clients (she wasn’t a client for me though as I’m no where near ready to charge) and how you’ve got them to relax in front of the camera?


    The trick to doing any head shots or any other portraits is to get the person(s) to relax and to ease up a bit.  I know, easier said than done, right!


    Usually I know when I got the right shot for the client.  It can be within the 1st 5 minutes, or it could be the very last shot of the session.  Regardless of how many shots were taken, I still will take more then needed, just in case there is a break during the session where the client really lets their guard down, this is where I find I get the most “real” shots of them.

    It’ not sneaking candids of them while they aren’t looking, it’s just getting to know your client either through small talk or chit-chat when they really let go and that’s where the real person comes out.  You have to be able to read your clients and be able to use their nature and personality to navigate the session to bring out the the look your and your client are looking for.  Just remember, the same approach will not work for every person, so that’s where you have to be able to read your clients and adapt your approach.  Some will like talking, some humor, some will just open up after they get to know you.

    It’s easy to say to your client, just pretend I’m not here, well that is hard to do when you have a big-ass camera in their face and maybe some soft-boxes and strobes going off close-by.

    Look at some of the videos online of more famous photographers, like Peter Hurly, he jokes and talks to his clients all while giving them subtle directions during the shoot.

    There is no magic trick or any single answer for this, I’m sure many others out there have a different approach, just have to go with what works for you and your client(s).


    If it is a friend, crack open a bottle of wine. Have some laughs and catch her just after the laughter has died down but there is still that bit of genuine smile left in her eyes.

    For paying clients that may not be the perfect solution though. There it comes down more to your personality and how you can manage to get them to relax. Expect to discard most of the first frames. Classic trick was after all to shoot blanks for the first “roll” but that is hardly worth doing now that we don’t have to pay for film.


    People skills are not easy and I’m not sure they can be taught. I certainly know someone who make you feel uneasy just by sitting next to you. (luckily he only shoots landscapes)

    I go for the cheeky approach. It’s much easier if you have a chat beforehand but if that’s not possible, I have a handful of “old classics” that get most people smiling. You may not want them smiling but it’s better than stiff.


    My people skills suck ass.  There’s no changing it, even though I have learned a few tips and tricks to get more out of people, it only works when I know my subjects well or if my subjects are experienced being in front of the camera.  It is what it is.  I’m with Worst case, I don’t think it’s something that can be taught.  Doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying, hoping to get better at it, but I know it’s not going to come from a book or youtube video, or just by talking about it


    Thanks everyone – it’s such a help to have tips and insights from pros into this! Thank you for your time.

    The Peter Hurly videos are an excellent resource and very helpful.

    I agree that people skills isn’t necessarily something that can be taught as it’s more do to with your personality. I don’t think mine blow altogether as my job was based in working with people and getting the best out of them. But in this case, I just didn’t know what to say as I didn’t want to offend my friend! I know that sounds really dumb. The shoot wasn’t great, but in reflection the experience was exactly what I needed as it’s really opened my eyes to the importance of directing and posing and also developing some kind of patter or rapport.




    as for more videos with good photographers, check out the “pro tog cheap camera challenge” on digitalrev’s youtube. While DR is pretty cringe worthy at best seeing the really good photographers using crap gear interacting with people could be good inspiration


    Thanks for that Nesgran. It was great seeing Zack Arias and how he interacts with people, even through a language barrier  – the results were lovely too – really inspirational!


    It is important that people in the front of camera feel relaxed. The reason is that if a person feel free, then in that case the photo capture is good.


    One thing that I find that helps, especially with headshots (that you don’t see the whole body), is this:  I have two stuffed monkeys that hang out on my camera bag.  When I can’t get the subject to relax, I’ll throw the monkeys at them and have them hold them (just out of frame). I’ve found that when people have something in their hand (especially something as ridiculous as some bright colored stuffed monkeys) they relax more, plus it takes their mind off how much they don’t like or want their picture taken.  On very few occasions has someone not laughed or relaxed some from me throwing monkeys at them! Sometimes all it takes is for you to get them to laugh for them to loosen up. This may not work for all, but it works for me.


    Thanks misfire! That sounds like an excellent idea and something I never would have thought of in a million years! It makes a lot of sense though.


    It is very interesting to see all the different techniques people use.

    I’ll add mine. Two things have worked for me when trying to relax or ease them into taking nice photos are: first, small talk and jokes. Usually I’ll make fun of myself or my wife (sorry hun). As for example, a couple I was photographing was telling about their plans to hike Yosemite.. I figured this was a good time to tell them about my fear of heights trying to climb half-dome and how my wife made fun of me.. (You’ll understand this is you’ve ever been to Yosemite). Another thing I do is constantly ask them questions that are open ended, questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. When I do engagement sessions I always ask the guy to look at his bride and name the thing he loves the most about her or if there is one thing he would never change about his fiance, what would it be, this always gets the bride all giddy and brings a genuine smile on the face of the guy.

    My second way of getting clients to relax a bit is to ask them to act out a scene relevant to the pose I want to capture, something simple. I just did some headshots last week and I ask the model/actress to pretend she was a at a bar and some attractive guy just gave her a smile across the room.. now give him a smile back.. a smile that would make him buy you and me a drink!

    This was probably the hardest thing for me to do when I first started.. basically every personality test I’ve ever taken classifies me a an introvert. So it does take some practice, I can attest to the awkward moments I’ve had with my clients in the beginning lol

    A way to get some practice is get some random people from craigslist and offer $20 headshots. Practice on them and treat yourself to lunch afterwards.


    Thank you peterography, asking the guy to say something nice about his fiancee is a lovely idea – it made me smile when I read it and I can imagine your clients responding really well to that. I have a maternity shoot (free) on Sat so I will try that out – many thanks!



    Sorry for bringing this back to the top, but I find that part extremely easy. I seem to be very good at directing them 🙂 I tell them exactly what I want and i seems to work

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