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5 Tips for Photographing Camera-Shy Portrait Subjects

The best types of photographs are the ones in which subjects feel comfortable and look natural. But unless your subjects are professional models, you’re likely to stumble upon people who develop a sense of awkwardness the moment the camera is pointed at them.

It can be really tricky capturing a seemingly natural shot or pose if your subject doesn’t feel photogenic or immediately becomes bashful in front of the camera.

The success of a portrait photographer is his or her ability to make their subjects feel at ease during a shoot.

This requires a mental state of confidence that not every person can imitate.

a family walks together in the surf holding hands making the children feel more comfortable in front of the camera

The success of a portrait photographer is his or her ability to make their subjects feel at ease during a shoot.Click To Tweet

Getting the most out of your portrait shoots means making your subjects feel comfortable in front of the lens. Prepare your photography subjects to get the best results with these five photographer-aided secrets.

1. Build a relationship

It’s natural for people to feel more comfortable around those with which they've built a relationship.

It’s important then that as the photographer, you’re able to connect with the subject before the release of your shutter. A better connection with your subject puts them at ease, which will allow them to relax as you shoot.

young model posing while surrounded by trees and flowers

If this is the first time you’re working with a particular individual, take some time away from the camera to talk to them.

Familiarize yourself with who they are to build trust.

This trust will transform your shoot, enabling you to better direct them to the exact poses and angles you require.

2. Communicate

Communication is a powerful tool in creating a relaxing atmosphere and making your subjects feel more comfortable in front of the camera.

bride and groom photographed among the vineyard vines showing fall colors

Good communication is the basis of any form of trust.

Showing them your portfolio is a great way to familiarize them with your work.

Examples from your portfolio ensure your subjects that they’re in good hands, putting them at ease when you’re required to direct them during a shoot.

Likewise, compliment them as you photograph them. Tell them what they’re doing right to boost their confidence. At the same time, direct them when necessary to capture them in the best angle.

young boy having his portrait taken while playing in the leaves on a fall day

It isn’t necessary to commentate during the entire photo shoot. But a little bit of communication will go a long way in making your subjects feel confident and safe in your hands.

3. Teach them tricks

For subjects who are inexperienced in front of the camera, holding a pose will often garner an awkward response. Rather than having them endure uncomfortable poses, give your subjects something to do.

Sometimes it helps to create little backstories to drive the creative process.

young model poses for her portrait photo while sitting with the flowers

Simple tricks to distract your camera shy subject

  • Giving your subjects the ability to slip into an alter-ego allows them to be more expressive, removing the vulnerable feeling many get when standing in front of a lens.
  • Subtle movements also encourage creative expression from your subjects. Keeping the subject moving, even if it's just a subtle head or hand movement will invite variation to your shots.
  • Encouraging your subjects to take up space also builds confidence. Occupying more space is especially useful when working with subjects who are naturally shy or nervous.

Keep your camera shy subjects moving

Even if you don’t have the camera shooting, encourage your subjects to jump and stretch to try and take up more room.

These movements will give them a mental boost which will translate to more natural expressions from your subject.

4. Shoot in comfortable environments

camera shy teen poses for her portrait photo

As a photographer, your role is to direct your subjects in environments that are complementary.

Subjects who are inexperienced may shy away when the harsh light of a photography studio is immediately turned to them.

Rather, aim to shoot in environments where your subject is comfortable.

Careful consideration of your background elements is essential to the success of your pictures.

camera shy young man with a ball plays while having his portrait takencamera shy girl poses in her dress at the beach

Eliminate distracting backgrounds

Shooting in backgrounds with distracting elements or messy ones compromises the composition of your images.

One way to eliminate this problem is to throw your backgrounds out of focus.

A large aperture will introduce blurriness to your background.

The smaller your f-stop or f-number, the wider the lens opening. This will introduce more light that will travel through your lens, blurring your background, allowing the image to center back to your subject.

5. Have fun

The most important thing when photographing camera-shy subjects is to have fun.

Subjects who are enjoying the experience will feel more natural and comfortable in front of the camera.

  • Props are a great way to get your subjects out of their shells, particularly if you’re photographing children. Having a selection of fun pieces to play around with creates a relaxing photography environment. This increases creative, natural expressions from your subjects.
  • Music is also a great way to add some flavor to your shoot. Music can serve to distract your subject. It can also introduce opportunities for you and your subject to have a little dance session. This will loosen them up, which will keep the environment of the shoot light and playful.

happy family poses for their portrait outdoors

Summary

Working with a camera-shy subject has its challenges, but it also has its opportunities.

The tips listed above will ensure you get the most out of your shoot, and more importantly, out of your subjects.

Patience and good communication will go a long way in creating an engaging and fun photography session. Just remember to experiment with each individual subject and as always, have fun!

Author Bio

linda pasfield profile photoLinda Pasfield is best known for her skill to capture emotion on film and expression in an art form. Linda has 20 years of experience photographing weddings, portraiture, and documentary. She is an award-winning photographer and Linda's career has taken her worldwide, photographing for Olim Aid International, Worship Centre and Cross Rds, and numerous other organizations. You can see more of her work on her website, her Instagram feed, and her Facebook page.

You are here: Portrait Photography » 5 Tips for Photographing Camera-Shy Portrait Subjects

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  • Carl Howell

    Shoot in comfortable environments and theres a child posed on railroad tracks. ??? I cant even count how many articles and comments are made on photography groups on social media disparaging this very topic. And heres a pro recommending it? Though im not too concerned about railroad backdrops, having lived near tracks my entire life i know how to look out for myself safely, but teaching a young child that this is a comfortable setting is sort of off putting.

    • I agree and will clarify with Linda about that, but the tracks looks like they are no longer in use to me. But you have a valid point thanks.

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