My wedding work outside London and in Indonesia has provided me with plenty of experience posing subjects and trying to capture for them one of life’s real milestone moments. And while there are lots of ways to make great portraits, it seems to me essential to follow three simple rules.
1. Do some homework.
I have a “Poses” folder where I save images that catch my eye. I look at images in magazines, blogs, or even other photographers’ websites. Studying them with a critical eye, I try and note where the subject was placed in relation to light and the objects around him or her. I try to imagine how I would get the subject to ease into the pose without actually having to show them.
I never want to show people how to pose because everyone interprets directions differently. If I were to ask ten grooms to kiss their brides on forehead, I would get ten different kisses resulting in ten different pictures. If I were to show them how I’d like them to kiss, I’d end up with a generic kissing pose, which is exactly what I want to avoid.
2. Direct the subject into a pose, but shoot the moment before or after the pose.
This is all about getting a shot that looks natural. Most people tend to freeze when the camera is aimed at them, and the photographer is left with awkward smiles that make people cringe. The trick is to capture the moment before and after a pose.
For this very reason, I like to crack little jokes as I’m snapping away. If my subject looks a bit stiff, I might say in a jokey-stern way, “If you don’t smile I’m going to make you look fat!” It catches them off guard and they’ll laugh out loud.
If I’m photographing couples, I’ll play them off each other. I’ll get them into the pose I want, for example, a hug. Usually the girl is more comfortable in front of the camera, so I might say, “Beautiful smile, Tara! James … you’re OK.” They’ll laugh out loud, and since they’re already in the pose I want them in, this makes for a perfect picture.
It’s all too easy to think about what we’re going to do, but when we’re at a shoot and the subject is looking at us and awaiting direction, it’s easy to forget everything. The most memorable lessons are the ones we learn through our own experience.
A spouse, a friend, even a long-suffering mother can be bribed into modeling. And the less photogenic they think they are, the better. My husband hates the camera. I swear he’s able to smell it. Even when I take it out of my bag as silently as I can from behind him, I see his shoulders tense up. That’s what makes my husband makes a great model.
He challenges me to find newer and better ways of getting a natural laugh out of him, and when it comes to an actual shoot, I remain calm because I know that if I can make my husband laugh for my camera, then I can make anyone laugh.
There are dozens of other tips and tricks to make great portraits, such as using props or getting your subjects to interact with the environment, but for me, these three rules are the backbone of a great portrait session.