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How To Beat Camera Shyness For Awesome Portraits

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

“I really don’t like having my photo taken”

As a photographer I hear these words a lot. Because, while the under 25s seemingly can’t get enough of having their photo taken (usually by themselves), a lot of the rest of us aren’t quite so keen. So how do you make someone feel at ease who really doesn’t like their picture taken?

Here are some techniques I use

1. Talk to your client so they feel relaxed. I’d do this anyway, because one of my favourite parts of the job is meeting new people, especially ones with different backgrounds, interests and skills than mine. I’m basically a budget Louis Theroux. With a camera. I’m genuinely interested in the work my clients do, but even if you’re not you should still be asking your client questions about what they do. If nothing else it may inform your shot selection. Until you chat to someone you’re merely a professional doing a job, and the less you say as you snap off photos, the less comfortable they’re likely to feel. You’re essentially a dentist, but with a camera instead of a drill.

2. Don’t have your client pose too much (if you can afford to employ an assistant to pose for shots while you sort out the composition and lighting, do so). If you’re doing a workplace shoot, a lot of your shots should feature your client doing their work. Put a long lens on (50mm or more), let them do their thing, and get out of their face as much as you can. The closer they come to forgetting you’re there, the more natural your shots will look.

3. When they do need to pose, don’t have them stare down the lens for too long. Have them look at something else, like in the shot below, where I had Kate (of Skullduggery Ceramics) look at the skeleton (because even a fleshless body is less daunting to look at than the lens of a camera). If you want some shots where they need to look down the lens, have them do it at the last second: don’t make them stare down the camera for minutes at a time.

Paul Oscar Photography

4. Give your subject something to hold. Nothing feels or looks more awkward than someone with their arms down by their side and most of the prop-less ways of avoiding this look a little unnatural, or perhaps make the wrong statement. Arms folded? A bit defensive maybe. Hands on hips? A bit Miss World 1987. So have your subject hold something that is relevant to them; that helps tell their story, and if it’s something they can interact with all the better. Here's painter Lucy McElroy doing just that.

5. Give feedback. Tell the client how good the last shot looked. Let them see it. Nothing is going to make them less comfortable than you snapping off a shot, looking at the back of the camera and saying nothing.

6. Real smiles are better than fake ones. If you have your client talk about their work, at some point the chances are they’ll smile (or laugh) for real. Try and capture these moments. I try and avoid directly asking people to smile if I can, but nine times out of 10 the smiling pics are the best ones, so if you can capture real smiles, do, but if you can’t apologetically ask the subject to flash you a grin. Here's some natural giggles from painter Lucie Wake

Are you camera shy? Do you think these tips would help you? Feel free to drop your own tips in the comments!

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