By Elaine Li Photography (Washington D.C. based photographer)
You are a photographer who is new to the portrait world and wants to know how to put your subjects at ease? You are often struggling to come up with prompts and poses? You are taking pictures for a newly engaged couple who is not used to being in front of the camera? Here are some tips for creating a more relaxed and stress-free experience for your clients
1. Build Trust
In the world of customer service, trust and relationship building is everything. The simple truth is that no one will buy from you or feel comfortable around you if the trust is not formed. How do you build that trust? Well, before your clients even reach out to you, you have been communicating and interacting with them through your social media. Even by just liking and commenting on each other's posts once in a while, your audience will get to know you a little bit more each time. If you are constantly and consistently posting your work, behind-the-scenes, and customer reviews on your platforms, whether it be social media or your website, your clients will know you are a professional and that you are good at what you do.
So what happens next? At this point, they have inquired about your services but have not decided to hire you. The answer is simple, you ask about them. You should be genuinely curious about why they are interested in hiring you: why is this day special, why are they choosing that specific location, how did they meet, when is their big day... what's the catch? People love talking about themselves, and as wedding professionals, we should listen and pay attention to what they say, because what they say will help YOU understand who they are and what type of results they want from the pictures. Before you know it, trust is already built from just chit-chatting and all the storytelling.
2. Clear & Realistic Expectations
Before each shoot, I tell my clients that it WILL be a bit awkward at first. I tell them that this is totally normal, but I also let them know that as we move on, they will feel more and more relaxed. This often makes them feel less self-conscious because they think, "hey, everyone is just as awkward as us when the shoot first starts". In this stage, I also let them know it is okay to talk, to laugh, and to tickle each other during the shoot.
3. Give tons, tons of compliments THROUGHOUT the shoot
I have seen some photographers who do not say anything during a photoshoot, crickets, just crickets, dead silence during a photoshoot. I have also seen photographers who do not say anything but they will praise the models AFTER the shoot. If you are shooting for a professional model who already knows how to pose and how to stretch their body parts to look best on camera, this may not be a problem. But for a couple who just told you they are not a big "Picture person?" You need to be more mindful and give them A LOT of compliments throughout the shoot. There had been countless times where my subject instantly become less stiff and more confident when I told them "that was cute," see? when they feel good about themselves, we don't even have to prompt them to change their pose.
4. Give clear instructions when posing your subjects
This one is a little tricky...English is my second language, so it is not always as easy to convey the poses in my mind verbally. Sometimes I would say, "stick one leg out as you are walking downstairs", and the model would go, stick my foot out? Sideways? Or step one foot down? The less clear your instructions are, the more confused they are, and the more confused they are, the more uncomfortable and frustrated they become. However, there are TONS of resources online. What I have learned is to bring a cheat sheet with me, which contains all the poses and prompts I have in mind for the couple / model.
5. Use props
Props are SO helpful, this is a good attention grabber for both children and adults. It helps to relax them and make them focus on that one object. This could be a bouquet, a fake flower, a flower crown, sparklers, bubble water, or simply a scarf. You may not use the prop throughout the entire shoot, but it could be an useful tool in the earlier stage of the shoot.
6. Give them a sneak peek
After I have taken a couple of pictures, I would show them to my clients. Sometimes they like them, and sometimes they don't, but I don't take it personally, because when they don't like it, it is usually because they don't like that side of their face, how their hair is parted, or pimples on their face... you get what I am saying. When that happens, it is good timing to ask your subject what area they are most insecure about and tell them that you will be mindful when shooting pictures. This way, they feel more comfortable because 1. you genuinely care about them and how they feel, and 2. they will pose at ease knowing that you HAVE GOT THEIR BACK, in both photo shooting and post-editing.
I will write more blog posts that address the different prompts I use to pose my models in the Washington D.C, Northern Virginia, and Maryland areas. The goal is to help couples who feel lost and fellow photographers find tips for their first photoshoot and prepare for the wedding day.
If you are a newly engaged couple who are looking for tips on posing and feeling more comfortable during your engagement session or wedding day, I will post another article and include the link here.