As portrait photographers we know that emotion is one of the most important things in a photograph. Emotion is what draws us in. A good photograph can leave you feeling happy, sad, shocked or simply just thinking about what could be going on at that precise moment. It leaves you ‘feeling’ something. For example, take a look at a picture of a person smiling at the camera… you may think ‘that’s pretty girl’ or something else, but guess what? after clicking off the photo you would most likely have forgotten about it. Why? Because there is nothing else to it, it is just a mask. For us photographers, capturing raw emotion is the biggest trigger point for us and our clients. It can bring back so many memories for them, which in turn triggers emotion. Looking back at those photos will make them laugh, cry, it might even brighten their day. This is what clients are looking for – someone to capture the essence of who they are in a natural, genuine way. However it is not always easy to do this. You can say to your client “stand in front of the camera and smile”, but in a lot of cases, that smile is fake, and trust me, it WILL show in your photograph. Especially for kids and sometimes the guys (sorry!). You know that really cheesy, massive grin that kids give you when they are asked to smile? Parents don’t want to see that so much in a photo, they are expecting you to capture something a little more sincere.
Ahh, the amount of times my clients have said to me they want ‘natural’ looking photos, not ‘posed’. Well luckily this is what I am all about! And I’m going to teach you five of my top tips and methods to achieve this. However, please remember that everyone is different, so you will want to improvise when necessary!
Now let’s talk about people…
As I mentioned earlier, everyone is different. Some people are immediately very friendly and chatty, and others may be shy and a little withdrawn. If it is the latter, you will have to work harder on these tips I am about to give you, but in the end it IS worth it.
#1 – Talk, talk & don’t stop talking!
I’m not joking. From the second you meet them, don’t stop talking! Greet everyone in the family, shake their hands, hug them, whatever you need to do. Give them a basic overview of what will happen in the session so they know what to expect. Ask about their day, ask about their week, ask if they are excited, ask what they do as a profession. Talk a bit about yourself, give them some background on you, your kids, your family, tell them something funny you or your kids have done recently, get them laughing, etc etc. All this can be done in the first 5-10 minutes. Be bubbly, be friendly, smile. If you are having a bad day, put it behind you for the hour because your clients WILL sense it. Your clients need to feel like they are comfortable around you because when they are, they will relax. If you’re more of a quiet person (like me), force yourself to talk, talk, talk because if you’re quiet, the client is going to be wondering if something is wrong, or why you’re quiet and not speaking much, and trust me, they will be feeling a little uncomfortable and that will show.
#2 – Get on board with the kids
Before the session find out what the kids like. If they like a certain film or toy and you are luckily enough to have something related lying around your house, bring it along and show the child on the day what you have! They will be ecstatic! If the child is withdrawn at first, this will definitely help. Ask the child what their favourite ice cream is, what their favourite tv program is, chocolate, sweets, lesson in school. Tell them you love their outfit, you love their hair. Keep talking them. Show them it is ok to open up to you.
#3 – Ask your clients about an experience
When you have your clients in front of you, ask them something that might trigger a memory. Ask them what it was like when their child was born, ask them what the most embarrassing thing mum or dad has done, ask how mum and dad met. As they are telling you their stories, they will look at each other and smile, hug, or kiss. Be sure that you are snapping away because these are the moments you want to capture! Why? Because you have triggered a memory, and their smiles, looks and laughter are all natural at this point. So when they look back on this memory/photograph that you have captured, it’s going to look genuine.. and so it will trigger a feeling for them.
#4 – Play games
If you have kids there, play some little games. I like to play the guess the animal game. So I will have my camera ready, have the child in front of me and say to them: “I am thinking of an animal that lives in the ocean, can you guess what it is?!” Kids LOVE this kind of game, and you now have them standing there in front of you being occupied.. with nothing in their hands! Just them. As they list off animals living in the ocean, snap away… this is good for those ‘serious’ shots that I like to get sometimes, or even a ‘thinking’ shot. And when you want the big natural ‘smile’, say that they guessed the animal right.. and then ask them how they knew that. Ask if mum or dad told them? I can guarantee you they will be smiling and saying “nooo, they didn’t tell me!”
#5 – Sit back – let them interact
Explain to your client that you’re going to sit a few feet away and let them interact. This is their ‘us’ time without having a camera shoved in their face. Tell them you want them to tickle the kids, act as though they are at home on the sofa. Lots of cuddles, lots of tickles (this always gets the best smiles!), jokes, stories (even bring a story book!), etc etc. You could also use this time as a mini ‘break’ so they can have a few snacks, some drink etc.
If you are photographing a senior or adult, simply ask them about their day, ask questions, ask about stories, if they have a boyfriend. As they are talking, snap away! When your client is relaxed and comfortable around you, you will find the session will be a blast and easy. Remember to always be friendly, let them feel as though they know you and always explain how the session is going to pan out so they know what to expect.
So there you have it, my 5 tips for drawing genuine emotion. I hope this helped you in some way! If you have any questions or comments please leave it below and I will get back to you.
All photographs copyright Lady Tori Photography. Tori is candid portrait photographer of children, babies, families, couples & maternity. Servicing Cudworth, Barnsley, near main areas such as Doncaster, Sheffield, Wakefield, Rotherham, Huddersfield & Pontefract.