Even MORE tips and tricks for natural posing and feeling relaxed around the camera

One of my most popular blog posts to date was this one: my top tips for getting comfortable in front of a camera no matter if it’s your first (or 100th) time posing for photos. I think it’s about time for even more suggestions! Let’s dive right into it, shall we?

  1. play music


Nothing gets the party started better than a playlist of your favorite music. bring a portable stereo or turn on some music on during your in-home session. it will get you moving and give you something else to concentrate on aside from the person with a camera in your face.

2. practice breathing.


Do this intermittently during the session: close your eyes and take a deep breath. Upon exhalation, open your eyes and look at the camera or onto a focal point in the distance. taking a deep breath relaxes your face and cheeks, causing you not to look strained from holding a smile.

3. pretend you have a funny little secret


… like, pretend you just let out a fart that you’ve been holding in. Or think of what you’d rather be doing right at this second. Think about biting into a slice of pizza or what it feels like to jump into ice cold water. Or just imagine the happiest place you could be. Whatever it is, thinking of something funny or enjoyable will make you smile or laugh in a genuine way.

4. if you feel uncomfortable, speak up

“Mom and Dad kissing is so embarassing and making me uncomfortable. Tell them to stop, please.”

“Mom and Dad kissing is so embarassing and making me uncomfortable. Tell them to stop, please.”

I’m not going to lie, I like to push the limits of my clients just to see what works and what they are willing to do. Sometimes I want to try out a certain pose or I’ll take a chance on a prompt. Sometimes i’ll just keep going until someone tells me to stop. I don’t want someone to fall, I never want someone to strain themselves, and I certainly don’t want someone to do something they aren’t comfortable with. So if the pose isn’t you, say so. There are plenty of other prompts and poses that you can do instead.

5. bring a change of shoes


Sometimes doing something as simple as changing your shoes will make all the difference in your level of comfort. If you have enough time, an entire wardrobe change could be the ticket to making you feel refreshed and ready to keep going, especially if you start to get sweaty or uncomfortable.

6. switch up your location


If a change of shoes doesn’t do enough, plan a change of scenery into your session. Going to a different location usually will spark inspiration, add some color, and give you motivation to finish the session on a high note.

7. take a break.


There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to grab a water (or an alcoholic beverage if you need some liquid courage), take a seat, change, pet a kitten, go to the bathroom, do a touch up, or whatever you need to clear your mind for a few minutes before continuing. I’d rather take a 10 minute break than force someone to push through if they need a breather. Even supermodels take breaks on set.

8. find a photographer that matches your vibe.


Knowing your photographer’s style of shooting (not just editing!) is so so important. If you like their work and the feeling the images put off, more than likely they will know how to achieve that with you. However, there is always a disclaimer to this. If a photographer has beautiful photos on their website that you LOVE but they are all, say… super dramatic… but you HATE photos of yourself that are serious, then it might not be a good fit. If you’re usually someone who is ready to strike a pose and work the camera, maybe you won’t want a photographer who features more candid, laughing, silly poses. If you LOVE colorful things, maybe don’t choose the photographer that shoots only black and white images. The absolute best way to figure out if you’ll like the outcome of your photos is to ask the photographer for a sample gallery of the type of session you’re after.

Remember: a website is a portfolio meant to display the best of the best of their work, and will usually only feature a small percentage of what is actually delivered to a client.

9. Have a snack


Bring snacks or plan a location where you can order food. This suggestion is for adults and kids alike. Hangry is a true state of mind and a full belly means a happy face.

10. DON’T Bring a 3rd wheel

Nothing will make you feel more unnatural than Mom standing behind you saying, “Yeah. Kiss her. Kiss her good.”

Nothing will make you feel more unnatural than Mom standing behind you saying, “Yeah. Kiss her. Kiss her good.”

This is important. There is such a thing as “too many cooks” when it comes to photo sessions. You are so much more likely to get comfortable posing and getting cozy in front of a camera without an audience, especially if that audience is someone you know. This is why I discourage parents and friends from tagging along on engagement sessions and watching from the sidelines during first looks. It’s one thing when you feel you have to perform for a camera. Then there’s a totally new added element of pressure when you have someone who potentially has expectations or input on what you should do during a session or moment. The only exception to this rule would be if that person is there specifically to wrangle an animal or child. In which case, be upfront that the photographer is in charge of the session and you are bringing them along to help babysit.

11. shake it like a polaroid picture


Before you move into another pose, shake out your hips, roll your shoulders, and then come to rest on one hip or the other if you’re standing. If one of your knees is slightly bent, you’ll look more relaxed on camera than if both knees are locked. And it’s also just fun and helps everyone loosen up.

I hope these give you some fresh prompts to use during your next session (or selfie!). I’d love to know what works for you and what doesn’t. Leave me a note in the comments if you have more suggestions that have helped you bring out your inner model!

How I Found My "Niche"


I wasn't ever one of those artists that had an exact career trajectory. I knew what I liked and I knew what I didn't like, but I never said to myself, "I know I want to be a ____." I didn't even know for sure if I wanted to be a photographer at all. I kind of just thought being a photographer sounded cool.

When I was in school, I was really into studio fashion work and portraiture. My senior thesis project was based around a fictional world of characters from songs by the Beatles, such as Eleanor Rigby, Lady Madonna, and the Taxman. I did everything from the makeup to the lighting.

And I loved it.

"Taxman" 2008

"Taxman" 2008

When I started shooting weddings in 2012, I thought this love of fantasy would turn into me attracting couples that only did theme weddings, which is so niche I didn't even know where to start marketing to those cool people.

So instead, I started to encourage my friends to play dress up. And by "encourage" I really mean "force." I knew I needed a portfolio to reflect the type of photos I wanted to eventually be paid to take.

The first mock engagement session I ever did was a play off the movie Moonrise Kingdom. The movie had just come out at that point, so the idea was still new and exciting (but now, I think I've seen a million Moonrise Kingdom engagement sessions).

I swear this was original in 2012

I swear this was original in 2012

Now I know that these types of "mock sessions" are really just called "styled shoots" in the industry.

Once I started getting busier, my clients began looking to me for suggestions on what to do for their engagement session. Honestly, I just wanted them to have fun. And I wanted to have fun, too. I knew my job would get really tedious really quickly if every shoot had the same prom poses with the same location.

And then it clicked.

Everyone is unique in their own way, right? Maybe my clients  don't like playing dress up, but there is certainly at least SOMETHING they like to do. Maybe they don't normally go to parks and hold hands and do corny things while skipping through the grass into the sunset. I honestly don't know if I'd want to meet the person that does this in their spare time.

So I started to telling my clients, when it comes to planning your engagement session:

I was open to any and all suggestions. No idea was too weird.

Then, it happened. One of my couples loved the idea of doing something that was totally "them." They didn't want to gaze into each other's eyes on the beach at sunset. They didn't want sunset at all, they wanted to get tattoos together at night.

They still gazed into each other's eyes, though. It was an engagement session, after all.

They still gazed into each other's eyes, though. It was an engagement session, after all.

That shoot was challenging and fun, from figuring out the lighting to getting to know my clients, (who are now dear friends of mine and just had their first baby!).

I was hooked. And thus began my career-long obsession with doing anything my couple felt would be "fun." 

I photographed couples going on perfect dates. I started working with props.

I went on a road trip all the way up the coast to Big Sur.

And on our way home we stopped at In n' Out.

Some couples really went all in.

...while others chose to stay at home and make s'mores.

And these two just wanted to embrace in the snack aisle.

That's the most romantic place I know, too.

That's the most romantic place I know, too.

It's really rare that engagement sessions get published anywhere. Weddings are where it's at. No one wants to see 20 photos of people who they don't know making out, they just want to know about the things. So trust me, I'm literally only doing these because I think they are fun for everyone and they help me really get to know the people I work with. 

So, there you have it. My niche. I have no idea how it will look 5 years from now, but I know I'm going to meet a ton of people with incredible imaginations and I'll have a lot of fun along the way.

And I can still play dress up whenever I want to.

And I can still play dress up whenever I want to.

the best business (and life) advice i ever got... from michael phelps

Olympian Michael Phelps to date has 28 medals, 23 of which are gold medals. He is not a business owner. But I recently heard a story about why Phelps is so consistently successful, and it has become the single most helpful piece of advice that I bring with me (along with my camera bag) to every gig.

Everyone has heard of "The Secret," right? If you can believe in it, you can do it? Well, whoever wrote that crap should've talked to Michael Phelps. This is the real "secret":

The key to success isn't visualizing what should go right. The key to success is visualizing what could go wrong, and having a plan of action.

Michael Phelps trains every day. He's an Olympian, duh. But you see, all Olympians practice. Nothing about practicing makes Michael Phelps special or different from any other athlete. The difference is Michael Phelps takes his practice to the next level. He uses visualization techniques before, during, and after practice. He visualizes the perfect race. He visualizes how it feels if everything goes right.

And then he starts to visualize things going wrong.

One of these visualizations included a common issue that swimmers face: goggles filling with water. I swam competitively in high school and I know first-hand that if you are blind, it's nearly impossible to win a race. You can't see the line at the bottom of the pool to stay on course. You can't see the lane dividers. You can't see, period. 

So, Phelps would practice in the dark. He memorized approximately how many strokes it took to get from one end of the pool to the other. And he'd visualize these blind stokes every day before and after practices.

In 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps's goggles filled with water when he dove into the pool during the 200m Butterfly. So he counted his strokes, and he finished the race blind. And he won gold.

OK, so now you're saying,

but I need you to just sit right back down and be patient because I'm about to drop some serious knowledge on you. 

Picture this:

I attended a rehearsal for a wedding I recently photographed, and during the entire run-through of the ceremony I noticed a family-member recording video on her iPhone. This normally wouldn't be an issue, but this guest in particular was way up in the bride and groom's personal space. I'm talking closely hovering around the couple and circling them like a hawk through the entire rehearsal. Had it been the actual wedding day, she would've been blocking the bride and groom in every. single. one. of my photos.

Not really the most romantic memories to have. I was hired to do a job, and something (in this case, someone) was literally standing in my way of success.

This could not happen on the next day during the wedding. But what was the most professional way to handle this? It's time to use the Phelps method. Or, as I like to refer to it:

W.W.M.P.D.? what would michael phelps do?

*This is a photo of me doing my job, no matter what the day throws at me. Photo by  Victoria Gold Photography

*This is a photo of me doing my job, no matter what the day throws at me. Photo by Victoria Gold Photography

So what WOULD Michael Phelps do to prepare for this? Would he risk insulting her by pulling her aside and kindly asking her to sit down? Is she the type of person to not listen, even if she was asked politely? 

It's not my job to tell someone they can't take their own photos during a loved one's wedding day (I can talk more about my opinions on "unplugged" weddings another day). But for all I knew at the time, if I didn't do something, it had great potential to interfere with my job and jeopardize the success of the wedding photos. 

So I decided I would sleep on it and before I went to sleep, I visualized it happening during the ceremony. And I came up with a game plan.


step one:  be aware of the potential issue and do what you can to prevent it from happening before anything actually happens.

Phelps practiced in the dark, so you should too (metaphorically). In  my situation, in an effort to stay professional and not insult any guests, I pulled the officiant aside on the day of the wedding before the ceremony and asked her to make a tiny announcement to guests as they take their seats : stay seated during the ceremony and to keep clear of the center aisle if they wanted to take a photo. I knew if I at LEAST had the aisle clear of guests, I'd get all the necessary photos for the bride and groom. And if they stayed seated, I'd have even more angles and opportunities for other photos, too.

Step Two: Figure out your damage control.

Say you do everything to prevent the dreaded thing from happening, and it still happens. What are you going to do?

Look, you can only control so much. You cannot control what other people do. But if you want to be a professional, you need to know how you are going to handle a tough situation when it's thrown at you. 

I thought, if worse comes to worse I could always maneuver or politely tap a shoulder to remind them there is a professional there that is paid to get "the shot." The worst case scenario would be physically pushing someone out of the way (which I have done and am not afraid to do. I'm watching you, Uncle Bob).

Fortunately, my prevention tactic worked. The officiant politely reminded everyone to stay clear of the aisle for the photographers, and everyone stayed seated. I even think the announcement reminded guests that they were there to witness and be included in photos! 

Step Three: be a total badass on the reg and don't be sorry about it.

You can apply this worst-case-scenario technique to anything: A big presentation. Asking your boss for a raise. Traveling somewhere new. Your wedding day. Visualize the possibilities of what could go wrong, think of ways to prevent it, and then think of your back up plan. E-mail your presentation file to yourself, just in case you forget the USB. Figure out where you'd need to go if you lost your passport abroad. Get a tent in case the weather predicts rain during your outdoor wedding day.

It's also an important practice to help face our fears. What is the worst-case scenario? Lose your job? Will you die?  (If you are likely to die, maybe it's not worth it to begin with).

What are some solutions or ways to avoid those possibilities? What's the back-up plan? 

And most importantly, even if things don't go according to any plan...


Until next week,