QUICK NOTE: If you are a client reading this and you see your photo, don’t mistake it for being an awkward person to photograph. I have only shared photos of sessions with no awkward moments so I don’t make anyone feel – well – awkward.
As a portrait photographer, it’s one thing to photograph photogenic people. It’s a whole other beast when you go to photograph awkward people.
You know the type of people who I am talking about.
They show up to a photo session with a look on their face that screams “I do NOT want to be here.”
Or you straight up get the comments like “just so ya know…we are pretty awkward in front of the camera.”
But, maybe it’s even you.
I will admit, I can be kinda awkward with my own photography clients sometimes.
Some clients make my job so easy and we really hit it off right away. Other clients? It’s nothing with them, but the offish mesh of personalities between us that just creates some weird energy.
Talk about an awkward situation to be in, right?
The last thing that you or your clients want are awkward photos. I mean, who wants to look like they are being forced to smile and look like they are having a good time when, in fact, they are not?
Certainly not me. And certainly not any of my clients.
People hire photographers so that they can look their best, not their worst. So, it’s imperative to know how to photograph all types of people. Including the ones who are a bit tricky to get them coaxed to come out of their shell.
It’s important to know how to photograph awkward people.
Our jobs as portrait photographers would be so much easier if everyone knew exactly how to look their best in photos.
It would be a cakewalk if everyone had experience posing themselves and knowing how to create the most flattering angles for their body. But, this is rarely ever the case.
I can probably count on one hand how many times a client has shown up to a session ready to ham it up.
In fact, I am can only recall ONE at this very moment.
So knowing how to pose, communicate, direct, and photograph them is all mixed together & part of the job.
It’s our job to know how to work with people. Even awkward people.
When people hire a photographer, they expect to be taken care of.
I mean, would you pay someone hundreds of dollars to show up to a photo session where YOU were expected to pose yourself, stand in the best light, and not look awkward while the photographer just pressed the shutter?
No. You wouldn’t. Or at least I hope you wouldn’t.
That’s why we must take it upon ourselves as professionals to know how to navigate these tricky waters.
Yes, it might be hard for you socially shy and awkward people, but it’s imperative stuff in order to get the best photos. And for our clients to have the best experience.
Isn’t that the goal at the end of it all anyways? For us to build a solid business reputation by delivering a solid experience and final result to our clients?
Now that you know WHY it’s important to learn how to work with awkward photography clients, let go over 7 ways to help you make things less weird during a photo session.
Let’s keep things even more awkward by seeing how many times I can type the phrase “photograph awkward people” in this post.
Meet them before the photo session
There’s nothing more stressful to a person who isn’t comfortable in front of the camera to “perform” in front of a complete stranger.
I see it all the time, especially when photographing high school seniors (they are unusually self-conscience about posing for photos).
Meeting them BEFORE the session will help break the ice and help you both be more comfortable with one another.
This is why I have the easiest time photographing people and families that I have worked with for years, versus new clients that I have never met.
So, what happens if you can’t meet before the session?
Easy. Give your clients a little time before you start taking photos.
Take a walk to a further away spot to give you a chance to talk, connect, and break the ice.
Once your clients feel a little bit at ease knowing that you are an easy person to talk to, then it will help them become more confident during the session.
(and if you don’t have people skills, just be like me & pretend like you do!)
Obviously you should be planning with your clients ahead of time, but you can take it a step further to avoid any awkwardness during a photo session.
Finding the perfect location with the best light, rehearsing a few jokes or prompts, and refreshing yourself on some poses you’d like to try will make a tremendous difference.
When you can plan ahead and be confident in knowing HOW you want the session to unfold, this will make things even less awkward for your clients.
This should be on your radar for every session, but even more so when you photograph awkward people.
They will see your leadership as comforting and inspiring knowing that they have a confident, experienced photographer taking the reigns.
Less pressure on your clients will lead to better photos, so don’t forget to plan ahead as much as needed!
Yep, you read that one right.
If there is still a tinge of awkwardness after the initial first contact, use this as an opportunity to buy yourself some more time.
I do this very nonchalantly by “setting up my camera.” I tell my clients to stand in a certain way and somewhat loosely pose them while I get my settings straight.
I tell them “don’t pay any attention to me, I’m just testing the light & my settings.”
This is a golden way to start off the session because normally during this time, awkward people will open up to each other or to their companion that they brought to the session (like tweens and seniors).
What I have observed over the years is that they whisper jokes among themselves and this leads to GENUINE expressions – and they don’t even realize what I am doing is completely intentional!
Then I’ll tell them that’s great and it’s time to move on to the next location and they will be shocked/amazed and it always helps to lighten the mood.
Show them what to do
I will admit that I am not the best at giving directions to others, so this really helps me and my clients to create better photos.
If I give them a pose or a prompt that I want them to do, I will generally do it myself first – especially if they are showing any type of apprehension or confusion.
This will be especially important if you’re telling them something they aren’t 100% comfortable with at first. Like doing the catwalk and flipping their hair (high school seniors) or turning their face to one another and letting out a giant, fake laugh.
Get over yourself and do the prompt first. I am willing to bet that if you do, they will feel less awkward and will be more happy and confident to do it themselves.
It’s easier to act like a goofball when someone else did it first, right?
This is especially true when you photography awkward people.
Use prompts to help photograph awkward people
Posing can be awkward, so why not try out some prompts instead?
Photography prompts are suggestions made by you – the photographer – to get the best & most natural expressions from your kids and clients while taking their photos.
Ditch the one-liner; “say cheese” and use prompts instead.
Prompts work extremely well when you are working with awkward people or large groups that you just don’t know how to handle.
Giving them an “assignment” is much easier than telling them to smile and look at you – and many prompts will help bring out the BEST expressions in your clients.
Not only are prompts easy to use and get great results, they make the entire experience much more relaxed and fun (which will in turn lead to more referrals and better business reputation).
Have fun during your photo sessions
Awkwardness happens when you are either not having a good time or that you have no idea what you’re doing – right?
There might not be a way to help your clients feel like they don’t know what they are doing (aside from the tips mentioned above). But, you can help ease the “pain” by making your photo sessions fun!
If you’re working with young families, this might look like having them play games or chase each other to get that blood pumping.
If it’s couples you’re working with, it could be that you have them interact with each other playfully while you attach a longer lens and snap from afar.
If you happen to be working with solo subjects like seniors, tweens, and kids, using prompts and interacting with them 1-1 will help create a more fun & relaxed atmosphere.
Read next: How to photograph shy kids to get the best results
Whoever you are working with, try to plan ahead and think of ways to make your sessions more fun!
Encourage them along the way
Awkward people in front of the camera are only awkward for one reason: they don’t know what they are doing.
Not only that, but they don’t feel confident doing what they feel like they *should* be doing to get the best photos.
The remedy to this?
Encourage them! Give them feedback! Show – and tell – them that they are rocking it!
Now, if you don’t feel quite comfortable dishing out the compliments like “yeah baby, that’s what I’m talking about” or “Gorgeous, GORGEOUS!!!!!” then try a more subtle, yet just as effective, approach.
Because let’s face it, you might also be a little awkward as a photographer.
I won’t lie, I am kinda introverted. Okay, a lot introverted. So, it takes me a little bit of courage to voice encouraging words in the middle of a session, but it makes all the difference.
Something like “wow, this is a beautiful shot!” or “This one’s making the Instagram grid” usually is enough to put a smile on their face and let down a wall or two.
Once you start spewing the compliments, I tell ya, any awkward person starts to show their real personality.
It might feel kinda funny, but dishing out compliments REALLY DOES WORK.
And if it doesn’t come natural & makes you start to feel a little bit awkward yourself? Well then, you know what they say: fake it ’til ya make it.
Like with anything else, learning how to photograph awkward people gets easier with time and practice.
Once you do something enough time, you will have the confidence to tackle any type of photo session with any type of person!
Want to become a more confident photographer? Check out this post.
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