I consider myself a lifestyle/documentary photographer, which means that at events like weddings I try and let everything happen naturally. I rarely interfere with anything during a wedding. That's because the emotion is already there, and anything I do will interrupt that.
But for any other session (engagement, portrait, family) it is harder for my subjects to feel as natural as they would feel around 100 of their closest friends and family. As the photographer, I have to become the person they can let loose around. But HOW do I do that with complete strangers? It's not always easy, but here is a little guide of my techniques and tricks for getting natural and "unposed" photos.
1. When in doubt, Liquid Courage
If there's anything I know about starting a session off on the right foot, it's alcohol. I encourage all my clients to take a little sip of whiskey or have a glass of wine or something before the session starts. I don't necessarily want you to be drunk, but buzzed enough to take the edge off and make you kinda giggly. Now, if you don't drink, I recommend doing anything else that relaxes you before the session: take a bubble bath, go for a walk, smell a candle, do 100 jumping jacks, go to an aquarium, ride a llama. Anything to get the nerves out.
2. Make your partner laugh
Whisper gross things into his/her ear. Blow a raspberry on their cheek. Make a farting noise with your mouth at the most intimate part of the session. Recall an embarrassing story about the other person. If you are doing a portrait session alone, see tip #1.
3. Props are your friend
Props are a great answer to an age-old question:
Props may seem cheesy or overdone, but they don't always have to be "cutesy." A prop could be anything from a bouquet of flowers to a glass of beer to a balloon. Can you hold it in your hands? Is it not another human? It's a prop.
4. Bring along your pet (for distraction)
Speaking of props, pets are like an in-between category of human meets prop. They are cute, they are fun to be around, and they are a great distraction from mostly anything in life, so why not have them tag along to the session? Animals aren't always easy to work with, though, so if you go this route, invite a friend along to watch your fuzziest family member when you want certain "humans only" photos. Also keep in mind, certain locations do not allow animals at all, so always make sure to run the idea past your photographer (or if you're a photographer reading this, double check the pet policies of the location) before bringing Baxter (or a horse named Saxon) along.
5. Choose a location that feels "like home"
I think I speak for all photographers when I say this: Just because you see something on Pinterest does not mean that's what you are "supposed to do" for a photo session. The location where you choose to shoot makes all the difference in your comfort level and will show on-camera. For example, if you love photos of other people on the beach but you never go to the beach, maybe you should reconsider. Otherwise, the sand in your butt crack may be more noticeable and distracting in a bad way. Think outside of the box! Do you like to go to the movies? Ask your photographer if it's possible to take a little cinematic adventure. Do you like museums? The arcade? Or would you rather not leave your bed? The more comfortable you are, the better, in my opinion.
6. Wear an outfit you feel confident in
This kind of goes along with tip #5 of the importance of feeling comfortable. Set yourself up for success by wearing something you feel like a total babe/gent in. Consider a few things: If you don't usually wear low cut clothes, wearing something that shows off more cleavage may make you constantly feel like you need to adjust your top. Or, if you never wear suits, maybe hiking up that trail in a suit won't be the best option. What can you wear that you won't feel the need to constantly adjust or worry about getting dirty? Base your outfit choice on the location and what you plan to do during the session. If there is a lot of walking involved, consider bringing a change of shoes. Or better yet, bring an extra outfit to change into for another look (or in case of a wardrobe malfunction).
7. It's OK to be silly.
I encourage silliness (if you like those moody, serious photos, I'm probably not your gal). These days, we need as much silliness as we can possibly get. We all need reasons to laugh. So don't be afraid to joke around and have fun at your photo session. Chase your kids around and tickle them. Drink that glass of beer without using your hands. If you're in public, people will be watching you anyway (you have a photographer following you around, after all). Be weird. It's fun.
8. Don't stand still. Ever.
Try this: put a timer on your phone for 30-60 seconds and try standing still in a pose and keep a smile until the timer goes off. How does your face feel after that? How about your body? Do you feel like you started to tense up after the first few seconds? Do you feel like your cheeks are strained? I have been doing this (and have been human) long enough to know that standing still and holding poses is not only BORING but it shows on your face if you feel strained at all. So, take your photographer's direction but add a little movement. Play tug of war with each other by alternating pulling away and squeezing your partner close. Dance around a little. Shake out your arms and legs in between shots. Alternate which hip you relax your weight on. Little movements make all the difference.
9. schedule your session around the light
OK, I'm going all photo nerd on you with this tip, and maybe it seems obvious. But it's an important one. No one wants to wake up at 5am for a sunrise session (especially me). But if you want to have an empty beach or deserted streets with beautiful golden light, sunrise may be your best bet. An outdoor session planned mid day will not get you great results if your location has zero shade. Do you want to be squinting the whole time? Or even worse, sweating your ass off? No one likes sweaty armpits, especially in photos. If you opt for an outdoor session, consider booking it at sunrise or within the last 2 hours before sunset. If you're already spending the cash on the session, why not set yourself for the most fabulous photos ever?
10. do something fun
This one is a little vague, but it's also important and goes along with tip #5. If you aren't having fun, why the hell are you doing this in the first place? If you're having trouble thinking of locations, think instead of what you would do on a perfect date. Or if you had the day off to do anything with your family, where would you go? As a photographer, I like giving this tip in trade of location suggestions. You are unique and you have your own hobbies and places that bring a smile to your face just by being there (hello, Disney Land!). Run ideas and brainstorm what you want to DO during your session. Interaction with your partner and your location is the recipe for an amazing session.
11. Choose a photographer who you like just as much as a person as you do their work
Have you ever been on a really bad first date? Or tried to sit through an uncomfortable interview? That's how I relate working with a photographer whose personality you don't jive with. Sure, their work may be beautiful, but would you want to spend time with them outside of a photo session? Would they fit in around your friends? Hop on a video chat or ask to meet up with potential photographers in-person before you decide on hiring them. If you can't get through a 10-minute conversation with them, how are you going to get through an hour plus photo session? Or even worse, a ten-hour wedding day? Your photographer is the one vendor who is paid to be in your face more than anyone else. Make sure you like them. If you don't like your photographer...
I hope these tips help! Let me know if I forgot anything or what you think would be the perfect photo session!
Until next time.