As hard as it is to believe, portrait photography is considered to probably the hardest of the many specializations in the profession. That moment of positioning a subject in front of that plastic fake background to sit on an uncomfortable chair and make a smile they would never use in any other setting is legionary and not one that you look forward to. And you can tell the subjects, especially the men, are enjoying this about as much as they like going to the dentist.
For some portraits, you cannot get away from the formal “seating”. But even then, there are ways to relax the subject so the smile you get was one they really wanted to give you.
The optimum portrait is one that is not a portrait. If you can get the subject talking about their favorite subject, interacting with someone they like or love and using their sense of humor, that sparkle in their expression and gleam in their eye is absolute portrait gold to you the photographer.
If you just gently guide the conversation by asking questions then they will begin to get used to hearing the shutter to off and seeing the flash but they may be able to not tense up. Using questions is a great way to help the subject relax as they are more concentrated on the answer than worry about the fact they are in front of the camera. Pro Photographer Peter Hurley is a master at this and has some great online courses you can buy to help you master this art.
Some of the best couple portraits I have captured happened when I got the couple having a loving chat or mild argument with some teasing and that natural personality came out. When you can snap that moment in time, you will have a photograph they will treasure for a lifetime.
Obviously, the key to any photograph is to capture the personality of your subject and as a portrait photography there is a fine line between bringing someone out and overdoing it. The more you do it – the better you get at it - and more confident you will become in asking questions and helping your subject relax.
If you can get the couple to do the portrait at their home, in a restaurant or at some familiar setting, you can get that kind of rapport going much easier. This requires that you, the photographer must be not only a skilled artist with your camera but somewhat of a politician, and psychologist all tied up in one. So polish up some good “charm” that you will use to ease those personality shots out of your subjects.
And perfect that charm for different personalities. You may need to tease that smile out of a child. You may need to get some “man to man” humor out of that burly construction worker or make an off the cuff crack about a politician to get Mr Business Man to chuckle. And for the babies, well, they will almost smile for their mum and almost certainly smile for dad so use them to the hilt.
By combining your skills as a photographer with a generous portion of people charm, you will make memorable portraits that will be better than the uncomfortable, stiff looks that so many accept as ok.
Take the time to pay attention to the details and your customers will be happier and you will enjoy a pride in your work that overcomes the amount you are being paid