Day 84: Making People Relax in Front of Your Camera

JUST INCASE you’re gonna go that way, this isn’t me tooting my own horn here, but one of the most frequent compliments I receive is how I make people look and feel comfortable in front of my camera. I very very rarely will shoot a professional model so 95% of the time, my subjects are everyday people. Moms who want beautiful photos with their kids and brides and grooms who want their day captured with lots of candid images. So how do you take someone who has never professionally modeled and make them rock it in front of a camera?

I learned early on that this was crazy important. It would suck to get your gallery back, from which you paid thousands of dollars for, and looked forward to for weeks, only to think, “Oh my God, I look so awkward.”

Instead, we want people to get their galleries and think “This is perfect! You’ve captured the essence of us! I LOVE how John laughs like that!! I LOVE the way I look in this one!” I mean, if people love the way they look in a photo, it’s going to end up framed, hung, reposted, tagged, you name it. If people hate the way they look in an image (even one with great lighting and a good background taken with the most expensive lens you own), it will never see the light of day.

So let’s step this out.

  1. Let them know who you are, what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish. I always come out and say “Being in front of the camera is really awkward.” Right there, there is a big sigh of relief. I can almost hear them thinking, “Oh, good, she KNOWS this is uncomfortable!” Like, yes, friend, everyone is on the same page here. There’s no use in lying… being in front of a camera is intimating and weird and a little awkward. You can say “My goal here is to never leave you hanging. I’m never going to tell you “OK NOW BE CUTE!” and put you on the spot. Instead, we’re going to do some things that are super easy and that you probably do already.” Let them in on your process, it will put them at ease and ensure them that you have their back.
  2. Allow them to be a real couple or a real family. Never have I ever seen a couple peek out around a tree smiling at each other. Never have I ever seen a couple stick up their ring fingers and hold them out while kissing. What I HAVE seen are couples walking together, hand in hand, enjoying their time together. I HAVE seen couples whisper an inside joke into the others ear and burst out laughing. I HAVE seen guys who kiss their girl sweetly on the temple while she smiles. Giving people a direction of movement allows them to be themselves and let their own personalities show through while still making sure they are doing something that looks good. It’s them, just curated a bit.
  3. Give lots of affirmation. When it’s cute, tell them!!! “You guys rocked that!” Good things! On the flip side, I also tell them when it’s NOT working. I know some people would advise against this but I feel like I don’t want them to think “She probably tells everyone they’re cute.” YES! I DO! BUT ONLY WHEN THEY’RE ACTUALLY CUTE! To prove it, I’ll also tell them when it’s not cute!! And I don’t do it in a mean way, I say, “This one isn’t catching for me, let’s try something else.” or “I’m not loving this background, let’s try something else.” Be genuine, be honest, don’t just think “Oh God, I picked this background and now I hate it but I can’t say so or they’ll think I don’t know what I’m doing.” Girl, no. They will think that you’re picky enough to say “ew this looks bad, let’s get outta here before I have to deliver a gallery we both hate.”
  4. I give the line “It feels weird but it looks cute!” ALL. THE. TIME. Because honestly, things like nose nuzzling feels so dumb, but on camera it looks surprisingly cute! Same thing with asking someone to give you a fake laugh. There have been plenty of times when I’m shooting a wedding after shooting their engagement session months before, and the couple will beat me to it and say “It feels weird but it looks cute!!!!” Cause it’s true!
  5. Okay that’s all well and good at a session, but what about a wedding when you’re supposed to be getting candids of lots of people? Okay, to every bridal party, I also introduce myself and let them know what I’m doing. I say something along the lines of “Hey friends! Happy wedding day!” I ask how everyone is feeling, if anyone needs anything, etc. Then I say “I don’t want to make John and Jane’s wedding day a photo shoot, so I want to give you all lots of space to have fun without a camera in your face, BUT I also know they want lots of candids. SO if you feel my camera ON you at any point during the day, turn to the person next to you and laugh. And then I’ll go away.” 10 times out of 10 this gets a laugh and a sort of truce between us. “Ok homegirl, I’ll laugh, you take your pic and then you leave me be.” And in return, I totally agree and do just that. Is it “candid cheating”? Sure… and I call it that. But how much better is that than standing there, camera pointed at someone while they think “This is so weird, ugh, what do they want??? Go away… I hate this!” Because who wouldn’t? Think if you looked up RIGHT NOW and saw someone pointing a camera at you?!?!!? Noooope. Be real, be genuine, and people will embrace you.

Day 98 is currently reserved for any questions you have throughout the 100 days. To submit a question, please click here!¬† If you’re interested in supporting this project, please share, PIN and comment! Any other questions, comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at denise(at)denisekaris(dot)com

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris