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At some point throughout life, most people will be photographed professionally and it can be an intimidating proposition. Whether you are sprucing up your online profile and need a head shot or you're in an upcoming wedding, or are planning family portraits, there a many times in life that we find ourselves in front of the camera and are all of a sudden nervous and not quite sure what to do.
Don't worry, as a professional photographer who has photographed hundreds and hundreds of people, I'm here to impart some great basic tips to assuage your fears and better prepare you for having your photo taken.
1. Know that you don't need to be perfect in every shot and RELAX
This is the most important information I can impart to my clients - you don't need to nail every snap. You don't need to be perfect. Know that there will be a whole host of dud photos. Know this, and relax.
Realize that "off" moments of awkwardness will happen in photo shoots
There will be plenty of moments where I'll catch a subject mid-blink or mid-sneeze, or doing something weird with their face, and all those images get tossed right out. So don't put pressure on yourself to be magazine-cover-worthy in every shot. Having a plethora of bad images is all part of the process. When I shoot myself, I might keep only 5 images out of 100 that I take. The point of a portrait shoot isn't to get 100 perfect shots, it's to get that perfect ONE shot.
Let go of that need to be perfect in front of the camera. The camera doesn't care if you're blinking, drooling, or cross-eyed in that one shot. The photographer certainly doesn't care (they've seen it all). Embrace the weird shots that come from off moments and know that they'll happen. If you're able to do this, it will not only help you relax and enjoy the shoot more, it will allow you to have better images because you're more relaxed.
2. Familiarize yourself with your own face
Everyone's face is unique and photographing it is a different process for each person. A certain shot or angle that works for one person, might not work for someone else.
Spending 5 minutes in front of the mirror will put you miles ahead of everyone else when being photographed.
Do you prefer how you look straight on, or with your face slightly turned? Looking at the lens, or looking away? Smile, or no smile? Showing teeth or not showing teeth?
Is there a part of your face you want minimized or mazimized? For instance, tilting one's head down allows the eyes to open further and lengthens the nose; reversely, tilting the head slightly up will minimize the length of the nose but generally reduce the openness of the eyes. "Turtling out" (slightly protruding the head towards the camera) creates more definition in the chin and jawline.
So do a little homework before your shoot, know what angles or looks you prefer, and let your photographer know all of that information at the beginning of your shoot.
3. What should I wear?
Whatever the occasional (engagement shoot, portrait shoot, head shots, etc), wear something you feel comfortable and confident in. If you're feeling confident in what you're wearing, it shows through and that's half the battle right there.
Be mindful of the location you'll be shooting in and whatever the background will be. For example, if I'm shooting an engagement shoot in a park or forest, I'll inform the couple not to wear greens or browns but rather a bold color that will pop from the background.
And as a general rule, avoid strong, contrasting patterns: bold stripes, zebra print, or tee shirts with flaming skulls or distracting script on it.
4. Lean slightly towards the lens.
Everyone I shoot who is not a professional model leans away from the camera - it's natural and everyone does it without even thinking about it.
The natural stance of leaning back creates the impression of apprehension in the image and can make you appear unsure or uneasy. However, leaning towards the lens creates the impression of confidence. It's easy, just remind yourself to shift your weight to the foot closest towards the camera.
Compare the images below - in the first image, Donovan has his weight on his back foot, in the second image, he shifts his weight to his front foot and leans towards the camera.
Boom! Instant confidence.
5. What do I do with my hands?
Everyone asks this and there are several remedies:
Let them drape naturally by your side, with relaxed fingers, or, if seated, let them rest naturally on your knee or thigh. Don't ball up your hand (many people do this unconsciously).
Cross your arms across your chest - this is more of a power pose - great for business photos. Couple this with chin slightly down (forehead towards the lens) and it's a very powerful look.
Hand(s) on hip - A classic pose that flatters in a feminine way, suitable for any occasion. Try one hand or both!
Slide one hand or a thumb into your pant pocket. - a classic GQ look.
Or, my favorite - interact with the environment around you. On stairs? Hand on a railing. In a chair? One hand on the chair arm, the other hand on your leg relaxed. Seated behind a desk? Fold hands in front of you on the desk and lean towards the camera. Or, if your partner is with you in the image, interact with them with one or both hands; arm around the waist or shoulder, hand on their chest, hand clutching their collar - the possibilities are endless.
Now that you've mastered these quick tips you're ready for your photo shoot! It's easy to improve the photos of yourself - stay relaxed, be confident, lean towards the camera, and don't ball up your fist. Keep these in mind next time you are photographed and you will be better prepared and have better results.