Advice: Posing natural shots

I get a lot of questions from photographers and so I opened a Formspring account where I’ve been answering for everyone to see. But lately, I’ve gotten a little behind and got a Facebook email from a photographer who had a question that I’ve gotten occasionally before. So I thought I’d answer it here so it could benefit others who may have had the same questions.

Here’s my first “blogged” question from a fellow photographer, Ashley from Grand Rapids, Michigan! (PS, my fiancee is from Grand Rapids!)

Michelle and Ryan's Engagement Session

Hi Kristen! I absolutely love your photography! I am a new photographer, I have been doing this for about 6-7 months and I wanted to see if I could maybe ask you for some advice since you are the kind of photographer I aspire to be like!

I think I have a good feel for actually taking photographs, but I have a lot of trouble with working one on one with the people I am taking pictures of. I am kind of shy, probably why I like being behind the camera instead of in front of it, and I have trouble knowing what to say to people to get them to look a certain way or do something for a photo, and I get nervous telling them what to do all the time.

I love your work, and all of your photos of couples look SO natural, no matter what they are doing, and I was wondering if you have any advice when it comes to getting people into those poses? Should I just tell them to pose a certain way? Or tell them to lean in close to each other? Or do you think it is better to just let them do whatever they want and then take photos of them?? I want to capture natural looking images, but I have found so far, that people just don’t naturally fall into each others arms and give each other loving looks for a picture, unless I tell them too. But I don’t know if this is right to do all the time. Any help you might be able to provide would be awesome and I would be SO grateful.

Ashley, Grand Rapids, MI

Thanks, for the great question, Ashley! I’m glad that you’re able to see the natural emotion from my couples! It’s one of the things that I love the best about being a photographer. There’s such a beautiful energy between 2 people in love, and it’s sometimes difficult to know when to direct, and when to sit back and let things happen. All in all, it’s a delicate balance, but I think it can be accomplished easily with a few little tips. I’m going to answer this more along the lines of engagement shoots, but the same would apply for weddings, trash the dress sessions, portraits, etc.

Christine and Micah's Engagement Session

I am extremely shy – especially around people I don’t know! It might seem completely crazy that I chose this field as my profession, but I love small intimate gatherings and feel like nothing is better than spending the day with good friends!  I work ahead of time to make sure I feel like my clients are good friends – which helps me to be more comfortable during their session! Getting to know them through consultations, emails, phone calls and even Facebook, has helped me to bond with my clients before we shoot. When I feel like I’m out with friends, it feels like second nature to joke around with them, and they feel more comfortable being “smoochy” in front of me!

First of all, be confident in yourself and your abilities as a photographer! Your clients will look to you for direction and guidance, but you’re already ahead of the game! Remember that they hired you based on your creative vision, and so you should feel great about working together with them! Not every client is a natural in front of the camera, but your job is to be a natural behind it! Just like kids can sense tension, and animals can smell fear – clients can feel uncertainty!

I always try a couple little “go to” shots first, to break the ice and get a sense of their comfort level in front of the camera. I won’t move them around too much – just reposition them and give lots of little direction (chin up, look at her, ok, now look at me, give her a little kiss). Once I’m feeling a little more comfortable with the way they naturally pose, I’ll move to a new location and get a little more creative. If I can tell from that first set that my couple is naturally a little more stiff, I’ll make sure I’m giving a lot of direction and start cracking a lot of jokes! But if they seem to flow in to every pose, I’ll step back a little and let them be! Usually, they start to warm up after a bit and become more natural and relaxed.

Faye and Derek's Couples Session

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Try to offer slightly longer engagement sessions than normal. I find my favorite shots are towards the middle and end of the shoot, when everyone is more at ease.

2. Encourage different wardrobe and location changes (if you’re able) – same reason as above

3. Don’t forget to connect with your client! You’ll become more creatively involved in the session – producing more emotional images!

4. Always keep an asylum of “inspiration” shots – a great place? On your phone! Take a quick peek if you’re feeling stuck! Some great places for inspiration are fashion magazines, and yes, even other photographers. Remember, there’s a delicate line between being inspired and copying – but a pose here and there shouldn’t ruffle any feathers – and just like in American Idol – find a way to make it your own!

5. Pose, but don’t over-direct, your clients. Once you set up the pose, keep snapping pictures. The best shots are the ones that happen after they think you’re done shooting!

6. Don’t be afraid to try new things! If it’s not working, who cares? It may lead to something that will! I’ve never been afraid to say, “Ok, this isn’t working” and move on to something else. My clients usually appreciate the honesty, and we get a good laugh about it!

I hope that helps! Good luck and let me know how it goes!