5 Portrait Tips…

I teach and demonstrate flash and portraiture so see a lot of different approaches, good and bad, from the delegates.

The main thing to remember about portraits is that the thing you are photographing is alive and can be “manipulated” by your actions.

So these 5 tips are not technical – but are about how to interact with the sitter. You can apply them to all people you photograph, though if you’re paying a model, it may be less important – but you will definitely get better results and have a great time if you follow these.


Talk to them – a lot!

Ever had an uncomfortable silence on a date?

Imagine how bad that silence is if you’re nervous and being photographed…

If you talk, talk about anything, you are taking their mind of the situation – you’re helping them relax.


Don’t look at the back of your camera all the time

You need get the lights right and checking this on camera is fine.

But once you’ve got the lights right, try to take, say, 20 shots before you look at the camera again.

The reason for this is “rapport”. It’s a term used in NLP which basically means you are both “in the zone”, communicating on different level.

This happens in Photography when you start to shoot – talking, saying “wow that looks amazing”, moving around, looking through the lens… building their confidence, making them laugh, get them saying “prunes…. whatever you do….


You look at the back of the camera, and the rapport baloon bursts…

Only do it when a natural end comes to that phase of the shoot. You hit rate will sky-rocket


Give/Get feedback constantly

You can plan outfits, locations, lights and everything else meticulously, I recommend you do, but if it’s not working you need to give feedback on how to change things. It maybe their seating position, stance etc.

That’s all part of “posing” and is on page 1 of  “how to take portraits”

You can get a great 2-way feedback going if you show the sitter shots on camera – usually at the start of each “set up”, it’s good to follow this

  1. Set the lights up and test
  2. Take 2-3 test shots
  3. Show the sitter – get feedback and change
  4. Show sitter – thumbs up
  5. Shoot and don’t look at the camera back for a while

I’ve struggled to explain what’s wrong many times.

If you “show” them on camera what’s wrong, the message is 1000 times clearer.

So go over, say how amazing they are, then point out what’s wrong – maybe those shades look wrong, or their hair is out of place… showing them helps explain.


Even better, they can see themselves and tell you what they don’t like.

The answer is “Ah yeah, great point, what would you change?”

It takes the guess work out of it – get them to tell you, then you can get it right for them.


Ask open questions

Another soft skill to get people talking is the “open question”

Put simply, it’s any question without and “yes” or “no” answer.

Few examples

  • “What do you do?”
  • What’s your role in the company?
  • What’s your favourite shade of grey? – bit left field, but see the reaction 😉
  • What’s your dream holiday location?

It’s a little like the things barbers ask you…

But asking questions can cause different facial expressions… and that’s what we’re capturing in a portrait session. If you want a serious face, then as something serious… sad, ask something sad… (not often you want that really).

When you ask the question, have the camera in position and focussed – you may only have 1/4 second to capture the reaction…


Read their body language

You get used to this after a while, looking for signs of what they are enjoying and what they are uncomfortable with is a make or break skill.

For example, I shoot on location a lot so get passers by looking in. With performers, dancers & musicians, you’ll see that they usually don’t really react negatively to this – but with a more shy person, you’ll see them tense up or even walk away.

Be mindful of this

You only get great shots when they relax… so move on if this happens.

Another thing with location is watching for when they’re getting bored. They’ll look down, not be so engaged and generally have a disconnected feel. What they’re telling you is that they’ve run out of ideas in that location, or are genuinely bored.

It signals that you either need to move to a new location to refuel their ideas tank, or it’s a wrap, and you pack up there and then – before they get really bored!



So there are a few tips to help you help your sitters relax and enjoy the experience

Photography is fun – and if your sitters are not enjoying it, then remember the 5 points above and get talking to them !

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