When I first started out in photography, especially portrait photography, one of the biggest issues I had was my own confidence and how that affected the model's comfort. When you're naturally an anxious or shy person, working with people and having to confidently direct them and relay your ideas (to strangers, might I add), can feel like the most alien thing in the world.
It's coming on to five years since I started out in photography, and over those last few years, I've learned a thing or two about helping to make your models feel comfortable and confident (and yes, even if you don't feel that way yourself).
Identifying The Problem
When we're looking at how to make models feel comfortable, the best thing to do is to look at why they might not be comfortable in the first place. Of course, this can be a variety of things, but it's most likely one of two:
- They lack experience
- They don't know you
Understanding these reasonings makes it a lot easier to tackle the issues head-on.
Your Relationship Starts Pre-Shoot
Using communications pre-shoot is a great way to break the ice and make the model feel as though they know you (and it works both ways, too!). If you're casual and confident in your communications, whether it's in your DMs or emails, it can help them to feel as though they know you.
It's also important to be open with your ideas and to create a dialogue where you can exchange your individual thoughts and ideas about the shoot. Send mood boards, or build upon theirs, discuss styling and talk about locations. It'll make it a lot easier when it comes to the actual shoot if everyone is on the same page. (This goes for working with a bigger team, too, such as stylists and HMUAs.)
Finally, it's important to make sure that the model can contact you easily, especially on the day of the shoot. This can help avoid a lot of issues and setbacks, especially in regards to logistics.
Create a Comfortable Atmosphere
Maybe it goes without saying, but creating a comfortable atmosphere is one of the best ways to ensure that both you and your model are comfortable. There are a number of ways you can do this, such as:
- Playing music. I often find that asking the model to choose the artist, or creating a "radio station" from an artist they like, is a good way to do this.
- Create a constant dialogue. Small talk is your friend, and talking about things other than photography or the shoot can make things a lot more comfortable.
- Be confident yourself. And if you're not, fake it 'till you make it.
- Use the first shots to just get the model comfortable and don't put pressure on yourself for them to be the best shots. You could even disguise it as "testing the light".
Be a Director
Offering direction is one of the most useful things you can do to instil confidence in the model. If you can suggest poses or even demonstrate poses, the model will likely thank you. If you don't feel comfortable demonstrating them, having photo references can help to communicate your idea and help the client envision the poses.
When I give directions, I like to ensure that the subject is physically comfortable. If it’s not comfortable for them to physically do a pose then the chances are it won’t translate well in the photo.
It can also be useful to show the model the photographs as you work so that they know what they're looking like and it can (hopefully) settle any insecurities they might have.
When you are suggesting poses, making small changes to each pose can be a useful way of creating diversity and variety in your work without overwhelming the model.
Using props can be a great technique to help avoid awkward hands. Similarly, asking your model to sit down can help them feel more comfortable as there are fewer limbs for them to have to consider.
Watch Your Language
Be positive in your language. Don’t say “you’ve done this wrong” but work on the way you deliver your suggestions. Reframe it. Be reassuring and be vocal when the photos or poses are working well. Positive re-enforcements can work wonders.
I hope you enjoyed this post and that you might have found some use to it! You can connect with my over on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube where I frequently share photography and photography advice. Thanks!