Feeling a little awkward when a camera is in front of you? We've all been there! It's never a photographer's expectation that their clients know how to feel as comfortable in front of a camera as a fashion model does; in fact, they expect most people to feel uncomfortable at first — and that's totally okay! The key is to get both the photographer and the model(s) to let that discomfort melt away in the first few minutes. Here are some tips for photographers and models alike to break the initial tension:
1. Bring a portable speaker. Music sets a mood, and adding some upbeat, fun music will make you both feel more comfortable immediately. I keep one in my camera bag at all times, just in case! Photographers, I'd recommend you make the investment in a small one (nowadays, many cost around $25). If you can't buy one, borrow one or ask your client if they have one they don't mind bringing along!
2. Have some good conversation before you start taking photos — especially if you're not already friends. Ask each other about your plans for the day, where you grew up, your favorite guilty pleasure food, or anything else you'd normally ask someone to get to know them better. It's much easier to be comfortable with someone after you feel you better understand who they are and what you both have in common.
This can take place on a separate occasion before the shoot (i.e. meet up for coffee), or set aside a little extra time before the shoot to talk a bit. Large-production shoots will more likely benefit from getting to know each other and both parties' visions well beforehand.
3. Avoid too much silence while shooting. Silence can make the model feel self-conscious, when we want them feeling confident! Photographers, don't be afraid to over-communicate. If you're taking a minute to change your camera settings, checking the lighting, etc., let your client know! Encourage the model that they're doing a great job — it's not easy to stand in front of a camera.
So, what's too much silence? I'd gauge that at more than roughly 15 seconds. If it feels like an awkward pause, it's probably a good time to say something. Keeping communication going takes practice (especially if you're an introvert like me) but it helps a ton once you get the hang of it!
4. Show and tell the model how great their photos are coming out. Give compliments out like candy. The key is to be genuine, and say what feels natural to your personality (i.e. "You look gorgeous!" versus, "yasss queen, work it!") Give your model posing ideas to provide variety. Encourage this to be a dialogue, that you're totally open to their ideas as well. In fact, I've gotten some of my best shots from a collaborative effort with the model!
One of my favorite things is showing them the raw photos every once in a while as they're being taken. Your client will be pleasantly surprised at how great the photos look, thus will feel more comfortable continuing with the shoot.
5. Be candid. Don't be afraid to be silly, corny, or a little out there. The model may likely feel vulnerable in front of the camera, so as the photographer it helps to be a little vulnerable, too. Let your personality shine through while still keeping it professional (my go-to is dad jokes because I honestly love them). Making your client laugh and smile is important! Their genuine happiness and comfort will show on camera. You can even keep a list of mental prompts to have a little more fun, such as: "can you do any impersonations or animal impressions?" or, "do you have any secret talents you can show me?"