How I take natural looking images in a portrait session
“If I pose people in front of my camera it looks staged. So the less I direct them, the more natural the photos will turn out, right???”
Yes, I admit, these were my thoughts on photographing people before I started professional portrait photography but I also think that this is a quite common myth. Let me tell you why it is a complete misconception: First of all, being observed by another person and photographed while standing somewhere trying to hold still and be normal and also being horribly aware of every part of your face and body is certainly not a natural situation. It is not relaxing, it is not fun. That leads to second: It is not your fault if you can’t behave natural in front of the camera, because it is not natural to behave natural in front of the camera, or:
It is totally natural to not be natural.
It all comes down to the photographer’s ability to make you feel comfortable and relaxed. It is the photographer’s responsibility, not yours.
How do I as a photographer get natural images? The most logical way is to create a natural situation. A natural situation in this case is created through interaction. There are two people, the person behind and the person in front of the camera. Looking at a person and taking images of them is an act of interaction. A highly personal one too. As pointed out earlier I am really not creating a natural situation by telling my clients to ignore the camera and pretend it isn’t there. That, for me, means staging a picture. So how do I create a natural situation during a photoshoot? I let a photoshoot just be what it is: One person taking pictures of another person. It is really that simple. Let’s stop pretending the camera isn’t part of it and let’s start to use it as a tool for interaction and connection.
If there are two or more people in front of my camera I have two options to create interaction: My first option is to connect my clients with the camera. I do this by telling them exactly how they need to stand and where their arms and hands should be until the last detail from head to toe is where I want it. Then, during the next step, I make them look straight into the camera. I connect them with my camera by asking them to look into its lens like it would be someone’s eyes, again and again and again and again until they are not afraid of it anymore. Until it becomes a habit, a natural thing. The second option is to connect the people in front of my lens with each other: Literally connect, by creating body contact. In an engagement session that could be through holding hands, hugs and kisses, holding each other and looking at each other. This is something especially couples do anyway when there are no cameras around. Again, I have created a natural situation.
The third option is to create natural poses through movement. It can help to relax, but also to create a natural or even fun looking photo. If I have only one person in front of my camera, the same rules apply. The only difference is that instead of connecting my subject to another person, I connect my subject to another subject. That second subject could as well be an object, like a prop (sunglasses, flower bouquets, etc.), as well as the surrounding environment (trees, rocks, waves, lakes, the ground, leaves, even the weather! You get the idea…)
I just keep asking my clients patiently for these things until I get a great shot of them. Sometimes, when that doesn’t work, which thankfully rarely happens, I try and make a joke to relax people. Not that my jokes would be funny at all but I hope that me attempting to make a joke is funny, at least a little bit. 😉
At first the whole “natural images through detailed posing” concept sounds pretty contradictory but if you think about it more, it totally makes sense.