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How Do I Get a Person Who Is Very Conscious of Her Looks To Pose Naturally for the Camera?

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Answer by Brian Fey, Cultural Designer, Bosque Village

  • When she shows up for the shoot, she already is afraid of being shot. Don't be ready. Be doing things. Maybe have her help you setup the space. People take time to adjust to a space. Shoot her occasionally while she is doing something. Throw away shots.
  • Tell her how to be photographed. Many people who think they 'don't photograph well' just don't know how to be photographed. I usually tell people that the reason they don't have good photographs of themselves is that they are photographed in poor lighting conditions by poor photographers. Assure her that you will be shooting many, many photos and deleting many. Even the most beautiful people in the world have many photos taken to get a few good ones. I usually tell people to put their nose about 20 degree down and 20 degrees to one side. This make the "mug shot" look go away.
  • So she still isn't relaxed ... you did give her white wine right? White wine doesn't stain the teeth.
  • Place her in some good lighting. And say you just need to check the lighting. Test shots. Direct her to look around to different places. Look at you, look away. Try to shoot good shots, you may get great ones. She might be relaxed because the real shoot has not begun. Fiddle with lights, then shoot a little. Toss in some complements about her eyes or the shape of her face and how the lighting will be able to catch it right if you can get the angle right. She won't be worried about how she looks because the shoot hasn't started and you are showing that you are taking care of making her look good. Take a look at the angles of her face you have so far and see how her face looks at various angles and in what lighting.
  • Think how her most personally distinguishing features can be shown in a photo. Many times, beauty is thought to be finding the perfect generic average. The middle is average and considered perfection. Shoot for that if you want. You can make the person look more like the mean. But also think ... what is this person's beauty? The large nose, the small nose, the narrow eyes or wide ... the real beauty of this person is in how they are different ... but you might need to shoot a while to find that right. And they might need to accept themselves to see their own beauty.
  • Go ahead and shoot the first official shots. Gauge her level of relaxation. She isn't really smiling is she? Go ahead and shoot her fake smile. Sometimes it is good to shoot people's professional shots while in that state since they use their fake smile then anyway.
  • Change the setting. Change the clothing. Keep her moving. You can learn to get in a pattern of saying things which make her have a positive reaction just before you shoot. Hold the shutter down so three shots are taken as she reacts. Don't encourage her to talk a lot since talking people look terrible in still photos most of the time.
  • Sometimes when you have a really good shot say, "oh you will like that one" or show her one. Once, I shot a pregnant women who was so self conscious about her body changes, but she and her husband wanted to document it. We shot nudes and we did OK. It was not perfect, but we moved far away from her nervous state and on to one where we could work creatively on composition together. We shot her belly lit just by a candle she held. Perhaps her kid will like that shot someday.
  • More wine. (Well not for the pregnant ones.)
  • Do the trick where she looks away from the camera and then turns towards it. This distracts her from posing. Have her make quick random expression changes. Tell her to pretend she is acting and to show this emotion or that. Not static!
  • Take a break in a well lit photogenic spot. Give her a snack. Shoot her occasionally even then. Hand her the camera and have her shoot you. Mug up for the camera to show you are a good fun subject as well. Teach her how to shoot with and without flash and how that affects the shot.
  • Tell her you got great shots, but maybe should shoot a few more. Like the real photo shoot is over. Start again in another setting and tell her you want to shoot some casual shots. Not real photos. Shoot slower while chatting. Ask her about stuff and then signal her to pose, then shoot. Her face will be less stiff than when you started. Now you will see her emotions and humor. A couple times I gave a model a slap on the face to get a great reaction, but after someone had a very negative reaction, I can't advise that. Flirt with her if that might be welcome. If she is up for making funny faces then shoot that too. The process should be fun.
  • Send her home. Delete every bad shot. Choose the most officially beautiful shots and send her an early copy. Later, send her one which really is her and tell her that is the one that shows who she is and her beauty. Then give her the full set. Hopefully she likes them.
  • Shoot her again. If things didn't go perfectly, then that is even more important. I shot a guy I know who is not the standard definition of male beauty, but is a very attractive guy. He was nervous. I shot him three time before I wore him down and got great shots of him. I was finally able to get him out of his self-conscious state to get his heart of gold to show through on his face. So shoot again. She will see that she is not one vision but many. She will like to have the many ways she can look and be recorded. She will be on your team and relaxed and trust you.
  • In your next shoots, get to different settings. Expand the wardrobe to weird or sexy. Have fun and play because games are fun and relaxing and energizing.
  • Now she trusts you. Now you play. Now you make photos which she will love for the rest of her life. You captured time. You captured her. You gave her to herself.

Here are some shots I did for participants at Cumbre Yah! 2012.
I did not follow the suggestions above as I had only a few minutes with each person before they moved on to the next photographer's station. Photos of Cumbre Yah 2012More questions on Photography: