I've learned the hard way that having a successful session is not just about the camera. When photographing people, you will also need to be a great DIRECTOR!
This may be really obvious to you guys. However, this was something I totally had wrong when I first started out! When I decided to do my first family session I had no clue. I expected to show up and just "take some candids" of that sweet family, doing what they do... without saying much to them at all.
Needless to say, it was a bit awkward. They didn't know what to do and didn't know what I expected of them.
I quickly learned that my job as a portrait photographer would involve a whole lot more than photography if I was to be successful. After getting over that initial shock, I challenged myself to succeed in this area.
Here are my five biggest tips for directing your people so you have a successful and fun session. You'll want to do these five things any time you are doing portraits- families, seniors, couples, children, or groups!
1. Take Charge
Like it or not, when you're the photographer, you are in charge! From the moment you arrive, your people are looking to you for verbal and nonverbal cues on how to act, where to go, what to do. Don't wait for someone else to suggest how things should go...you should already have a plan in mind. It's important of course to listen to your client's concerns and wishes... be flexible but be in charge. Your confident and friendly tone will help your people feel assured and relaxed.
2. Give clear direction
Communicate clearly what you'd like your person (or people) to do, and even demonstrate when necessary. Continue to give clear instruction throughout the entire session. Where to stand, what to do, where to move to next. It's particularly important to tell people what to do with their hands, because they will feel awkward if they're unsure. You can even give your people "actions" to do instead of poses... I do this often, because the movement usually looks more natural and helps people feel relaxed.
Here are a few examples of how I direct:
Romantic Couple: "When I say "go", walk towards each other, give each other a big hug and a kiss... we'll do this a couple of times. Perfect."
Child: "Let's sit right here and you can hold your flower (or ball, leaf, toy, etc) for a moment. Great!"
Groomsmen: "Line up shoulder to shoulder facing me.. Now give each other a little space... I just want you to relax, put your ands in your pockets like this (demonstrate) or however you normally would.... perfect... let's do a couple of serious shots, no smiling... great.."
3. Give positive feedback constantly
Being in front of the camera can be really uncomfortable for most people. Your verbal encouragement is key to helping your people relax and feel confident that they're looking great on camera. Even if a certain pose or spot isn't working, don't ever communicate that. Just say, "Awesome. Let's move on to another spot." As you are shooting, keep telling them "great job", "perfect", etc.
4. Mirror the mood you're wanting
Many people don't realize that when interacting with other people, they will often mirror your own attitude and facial expressions. If you offer a smile to a stranger or the grocery store clerk, her or she will most likely lighten up and smile right back. Try it! When you are acting as "the photographer" you have a lot of power to set the tone, and you should take advantage of this as soon as you arrive. ( If you show up acting quiet and moody, I'm going to take a wild guess and say your photo shoot is going to be a little awkward! I know because I've done it haha!) You're in charge during a shoot and your people are looking to you for cues on how to act. If you want "happy and at ease", you need to project "happy and at ease". If you want upbeat, then project energy. This works with children as well as adults.
5. Work Quickly (but calmly)
Unless you are working with professional models, it's best to keep your session to 20-30 minutes in my opinion. Especially since you will likely have at least one person present who is not truly thrilled to be there (a child, a husband, or a fiancé for instance!) Once everyone is tired, the photos and the energy can fall flat and its best to stop before you get to this point if possible! (Newborn sessions are an exclusion to this rule). If you've planned ahead, it should be pretty easy to get the photos you need in 20-30 minutes or less... choose two or three spots in the same general location.
Not so hard, right?
If you're an introvert and all this is giving you a headache, don't worry. If I can do it so can you. I used to be TERRIFIED of working with people, not to mention having to be in charge, not to mention interacting with strangers! But I eventually learned that making friends while also getting great pictures is really not so hard! The reality is, people want to connect. My approach is to show up smiling and talking about whatever. Making conversation or telling about that funny thing that happened to me that morning keeps them distracted and lightens the mood. There's no opportunity for things to get awkward, and before anyone realizes it, we're done and a little surprised at how easy it was!
You don't have to do it my way, but find a way that works for you.
Here are my three bigger kids. I managed to get this photo by working fast and saying a few silly words!