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Design & Style

9 Tips For Working With Camera-Shy Subjects

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

If you’ve ever sat for a professional headshot or portrait, you know that it can sometimes feel awkward or overly formal. Photographer’s call this phenomenon camera shyness. As a portrait photographer, understanding why many people exhibit camera shyness and what you can do to help them relax will enable you to make better portraits and capture the essence of your subject.

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9 Tips For Photographing Camera-Shy Subjects

Learning how to deal with camera shy subjects is an important part of becoming a good portrait photographers. Seasoned photographers develop their own signature style that they rely on to coax camera shy subjects out of their shell and take more lively, authentic portrait photographs and headshots. As you start to develop your own style, here are some tips to consider when dealing with camera shy subjects:

  1. Build a rapport: How you conduct yourself is going to affect the shoot. Talking alone with the subject before things start is the best way to establish a fruitful rapport. If you’ve already established a relationship and rapport, when the shoot gets going, you can go back to your role as observer.
  2. Communicate: If you want something from your subject, make sure to communicate with them. It’s easy to get frustrated when your subject is not posing in a way that helps you get the best shot, but it’s important to keep in mind that many of your clients are getting portraits taken for the first time and are most likely out of their comfort zone. Remember to ask for what you want in a friendly way. Giving positive feedback can also help camera-shy subjects come out of their shell.
  3. Take your time: Portrait photographers generally have the luxury of being able to take their time and make sure they get the best shots. Taking your time and exhibiting patience can also help put camera-shy people at ease.
  4. Build trust: As a photographer, it’s your job to build trust with your subjects. Getting a beautiful headshot doesn’t just depend on lighting and camera angles, it also hinges on you having a relaxed subject who appears natural and calm in your photographs.
  5. Set clear expectations: Unless you’re shooting a professional model, chances are your subject hasn’t done much portrait photography. Explain how a typical photo shoot works, how long it will last and give some general tips on what facial expressions and poses show up best on film.
  6. Be professional: Putting your subject at ease is important but being overly familiar or casual can backfire. If you’re shooting in a different country, make sure you’re familiar with local customs and etiquette. Fashion photographers often have to travel to and from shoots in exotic locales. You could be in NYC one day before hopping on a plane to France or Italy the next. Regardless of whether you’re doing a photo shoot for a British supermodel in London or a family photo shoot in suburban Ohio, it’s important to be professional and observe proper etiquette.
  7. Direction and distraction: Make sure to balance any direction you give your subject with distraction that might put them more at ease. After you give clear and concise directions, engaging in casual conversation can help people relax and drop out of a shy pose and ease into a more authentic, real-life stance.
  8. Shoot in comfortable environments: If you’re shooting indoors, make sure to keep the photography studio clean and inviting and as cool as possible. For outdoor sessions, try to make sure the photography environment is as comfortable as possible or take frequent breaks if your subject is in an uncomfortable pose or setting.
  9. Have fun: Ask your clients if they have a playlist or album they’d like to play while shooting. Invite a family member or close friend to come along. Don’t be afraid to crack jokes either. A naturally funny portrait photographer can go a long way in helping a subject feel comfortable and at ease.

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