Don't you just love it when a giant lens is pointed right at your face?!?!? And you can hear the shutter clicking?!?!?! And you feel super self-conscious?!?!?!
Actually, you probably DON'T love that.
One of the most important things about taking good pictures of people is the ability to make people comfortable in front of the camera. If they feel awkward, they will look awkward in the photos. And that's no good now, is it?
Unless of course you are purposely going for "awkward" in your photographs. Then it's awesome.
But assuming you DON'T want your subject(s) to look uncomfortable in your photos, it's important that they actually feel comfortable. So how can this be achieved?
1. Develop a relationship with who you're shooting.
Whether it's a friend, family member or a client. I make an effort to develop a relationship with each and every couple before their wedding day and/or session to insure that they feel 100% comfortable with me by the time their wedding/session rolls around. I want each couple to feel like I'm their friend, not just a photographer. Developing relationships deepen trust, and the more that the person trusts you, the more comfortable they will feel!
2. Take some time to warm up.
No matter how comfortable (or uncomfortable) the person you are photographing claims to be in front of the camera, everyone needs time to warm up! Even you. Expect the person you are photographing to take at least 15-20 minutes to start finding their groove. I will start shooting the second I arrive, even before the person I'm shooting is ready to begin, just so that they can get used to me with the camera.
3. Ease into the session.
Start the season with the person(s) doing something that makes them feel comfortable! For example, I started the engagement session below at the couple's apartment- a place that they felt totally at home at! (Obviously, because it WAS their home- duh!) I just kind of hung back and let them chat and drink their beers. Obviously starting at a location like this isn't always feasible, but no matter what location you are at, start off easy. Don't immediately put whoever you're photographing into some awkward pose or try to take some "serious" photograph. Start with a simple and easy action, like walking. A photo session is kind of like a work-out, you need to warm up your muscles first before you get into the meaty stuff.
4. Interact with the people you photograph!
This one is so, so important. I mean how awkward is it to have some one photographing you while being totally silent? (Unless you're doing more candid photojournalistic shots where you're just off blending into the background some where.) I am CONSTANTLY talking to the people I'm shooting as I'm photographing them. I start a conversation with them, ask them questions and talk throughout the entire time. This helps them to forget that they've got a big old lens pointed directly at them!
5. Give them reassurance- consistently.
During the entire photographing period I am ALWAYS telling my subject(s) how amazing they look, how awesome they are, how FREAKING SWEET the image we just got is, etc. Most people are self-conscious about something, and that gets magnified when they step out in front of a camera. Consistent, genuine reassurance while you are working with them is vital to helping them feel more confident and comfortable. Likewise, if you are photographing a particular pose or action that just isn't working, don't tell them that! Just take a couple quick snaps and move on. Or be like, "ohhh this is great, now let me just see it with you doing x." Move on or make an adjustment, but don't be like, "Oh man this looks super awkward, let's try something else!" Stay positive.
6. Get excited and have fun!
One of the most frequent compliments I hear about my work is that "everyone seems to be having so much fun!" And that's because well … WE WERE having fun!!! How can you expect people to get excited and have fun if you aren't? I'm constantly saying dumb things, rambling on and making silly comments to get people to naturally have fun and laugh. Having fun, joking around and laughing are one of the best ways to feel comfortable. Obviously you probably don't want people to be laughing in EVERY shot, but the overall vibe of the shoot should be a comfortable, fun one.
7. Back off a little bit.
Some times I love to shoot with my 70 - 200mm lens because it allows me to shoot from farther away. People who are especially shy appreciate the space, especially if you're asking them to do something more romantic-y. This also helps with families- having that big scary lens farther away helps children to feel much more comfortable!
8. Take some ridiculous photos just because you can.
This always works great, especially with guys! If they are feeling particularly awkward or uncomfortable, they tend to warm up more easily with some slightly ridiculous photos added into the mix. Whether it's your photo idea, or theirs. Like this lovely shot that the groom requested of him and his groomsman sitting together in the outhouse:
9. Show them something on the back of your camera.
Did you just take a particularly kick-ass image? Show the person you are shooting! I will usually show off a photo or two during the session because it a.) shows them how awesome they look and b.) gets them really excited. It boosts their confidence and in turn helps them to feel more comfortable!
I hope you've found some of these tips to be helpful! These are things that I do that always seem to work for me, and hopefully they will work for you too!
And now if you'll excuse me, I have some bullet proof coffee to make.