Whether your subject is children, the hot person you just met on the street, someone you hired as a model, or the CEO at a large institution, a portrait is always a collaborative effort between you, the photographer, and your subject.
Note, I’m making an BIG assumption here.
I’m assuming you, the artist, know your brushes, paint and canvas: your entire arsenal of gear, camera, lens, lighting gear.
So your challenge is to get your subject to relax and trust you.
Most subjects who don’t know you worry about how they’ll be immortalized in a still picture.
It’s totally understandable.
Generally speaking portraiture subjects fall into these two groups:
- The Almighty–folks whose stature warrants an entourage
- Everyone else
Needless to say, those in group #1 present the most challenge simply because their time is so precious.
The trick is not to let their stature get to you.
Your Own Psyche
If you act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t, your subject will be at ease.
You don’t want to be so bossy to the point you are rearranging furniture without first asking.
But you also don’t want to be such a push-over that you’ll come away with pictures you can’t be proud of.
It really is a fine line between treating them as someone really special (if they are very self-conscious) and not letting them and their entourage push you around.
Some folks assume just because you make living from photograph, you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed.
There is something in your own life which you do really well unrelated to photography which you can use to give you that shot of self-confidence should you need it.
I remind myself I know how to fly a plane.
To make things go smoothly
- Arrive early
When you don’t give yourself enough time, you will be flustered
- Pre-visualize the scene where you’ll shoot.
If you know before hand the location, this helps a lot since you can anticipate what gear you’ll need.
Bring as much gear as you can. You can always leave it in the trunk. That way, it’s at least an option.
- Do some background reading on your “Almighty” subject.
The internet makes it a whole lot easier to learn about your subject especially if they are in this important group. They might even have their on Wikipedia page.
- Engage your subject in conversation as soon as you meet.
Don’t wait till they are in front of the camera to start chatting to them.
- Be prepared to share something personal with them
Even though most folks love to talk about themselves, you will often encounter others who are tight-lipped. Since someone has to break the ice. It better be you . But once you have them opening up, reel yourself back and let them do the talking.
Is it your picture or your subject’s?
Showing your subject your camera’s LCD monitor after every shot can back fire on you.
You could be reduced to a button pusher or worse a photo booth.
And someone else will be making the creative choices instead of you.
I usually start off with the ‘safe’ conservative shots making sure the subject gets what they want.
Then I get increasingly more adventurous in the poses, lighting, even camera angles, use of props.
While I shoot, I’m always asking, “how do I make this better?”
If you have some other tips, do share them under comments.
Next time, I’ll share what works for me with those subjects in group #2.