As a portrait photographer – yes I consider boudoir photography to be a subset of portraiture (my clients just happen to be wearing a little less than your average portrait client) – I am often asked about how I get the emotion that I do in some of my images. This is not something that comes easy to every photographer (and certainly has not always been as easy for me), there are no camera settings for subject comfort and no sure fire way to get what you need from your subject.
You need to be able to read your client, pick up on their cues, and know how to interact with them to let their guard down. Most people don’t like getting their picture taken, or more accurately, most people are really uncomfortable with having their picture taken because they are very self-conscious about their appearance. Your job as the photographer is to get them out of this mindset, to reveal the person under their insecure shell. This is especially important in my work as a boudoir photographer because there is very little I can do with wardrobe to make up for a stone-faced client.
The eyes are the gateway to the soul, and we are very good at sensing discomfort through someone’s eyes, so no one is going to find the boudoir images I take sexy if the client looks like a deer in the headlights. So getting my clients comfortable is key. Today I wanted to talk about some of the ways that I find I am able to get my clients more comfortable with the shoot, which in turn help me get truer emotion and way less dead eye. Obviously, I use these tips for boudoir, but they are not boudoir specific, and could likely be helpful in regular portraiture as well.
Talk to them and hold a conversation about nothing to do with photography or the shoot. I am always asking about spouses, families, favorite activities, hobbies, sports, etc. The idea here is to get your client thinking and talking about something other than images and what is going on right then.
You should start doing this before the shoot even begins. Maybe while they are doing their makeup or unpacking their wardrobe from the car. Get them comfortable with you, and get some ideas about topics to bring up during the shoot.
Demonstrate Poses. This one works particularly well for me in boudoir because of the hilarity of a man doing some of the posing that I am asking my clients or models to do. If your client is laughing because of how ridiculous you look they don’t have time to think about how they look doing it, and if they are laughing, they are not thinking about themselves.
This also has the benefit of preventing that awkward issue of your client not understanding what you want them to do if you verbally ask them to do a certain pose. We have all been in that situation, where you ask your client to do something, and they don’t quite get it or totally misunderstand you – it’s awkward and jarring for them. Demonstrating makes it easy as they can see for themselves exactly what you are going for.
Let your client choose the soundtrack. I always have music running in the background while I shoot, this helps prevent awkward silences while shooting. In a perfect world, we would just talk the entire session, but it just doesn’t happen that way. Inevitably there is that moment where neither you nor your client will have anything to say on the current topic and will both fall silent.
If there is no music playing it can be dead silent, and pretty awkward, but if music is playing there is no silence. As well, if the music is chosen by the client, then they are more likely to be calmed and ‘feel’ the music. This will help them get their guard down and not think so much about what they look like, allowing you to get more genuine emotion out of them.
Movement and Breathing. Another great technique for getting your clients to give some emotion (or appear to in the image) is to use movement and breathing in your posing. Rather than having them get into a standard static pose, give them a movement or a range of movements that you would like them to repeat for you. This gets the client out of their head and helps them to focus on the movement, rather than the act of being photographed. I often find that integrating movement into my poses helps loosen the ladies up and helps me achieve more emotional imagery.
Aside from movement, I also often have my clients part their mouth slightly and take long and deep breaths. This helps create a sense of tension and anticipation in the shot. This doesn’t work for every image, but for what I am going for in my work it can help much of the time.
These aren’t earth shattering tips or anything, but for those struggling with getting real emotion and feeling in your images, start with these and work from there. It will help.