Looking at you looking at me and being comfortable.
Photographers may be comfortable with taking a portrait. I know from experience that our subjects are often very uncomfortable. Some insights may help us put our subjects at ease.
As a photographer you should be running the portrait session. It is good form to help the subject feel, not only at ease, but looking good. Many photographers forget that the subject often does not know how to look good. So you can do two things about that…
1. direct your subject to act in ways you think they look good.
2. give them a quick lesson in looking good.
Both can work. Direction works best with experienced sitters and models. They often settle down once they see the way the session is going to pan out.
Directing an uncomfortable and reluctant sitter may not work well with someone who has no posing experience. I’ve found that if you do a portrait session where you are directing the reluctant sitter, they often look more uncomfortable and wooden. In this latter situation you have the option of going through a series of practice exercises to see how they feel and what looks good. The video below takes a bit of both approaches. It is worth viewing to get some insights and ideas.
Some other considerations
I think it depends on who you have sitting for you. I prefer to work with the person. Get to know them a bit and build a rapport. That does often settle your subject down. However, some people never feel comfortable in front of the camera. So, after the jump are some hints to help them out…
Tell them you need to take a few test shots, “just sit there for a minute while I get everything set up”… then get chatting to them. Make them laugh if you can. Get a few shots in. Spend two or three minutes doing this. Get as many shots off as you can. Show and share them so the sitter sees what they look like relaxed. This helps them settle down for ‘the’ shots. Actually, you have probably got the best shots already! Yup! This is portrait photogs psycology at work.
Some people really relax if they have a familiar object. Get them to bring a favorite item. A guitar, roller skates, a hat, whatever. Get them to show it off while you chat and shoot.
Getting someone to do something silly sometimes helps. Just afterwards they have a happy demeanour and a more relaxed pose. So click away during the silly bit, but catch the best shots afterwards. This works well especially with families. The parents go with it to get the children going. But children rarely need help once started. In fact you are settling down the wooden poses of the adults!
There is no one way to run a portrait session. You, the photographer, have to suck it and see. Sometimes what you do works first time. Often you have to try things out as you go through the session. Flexibility, experience, and trying out a few of the techniques above may all come into play. Try a few things and see how you get on. The more experience you get the easier it will be to work with your subject. Have fun!