I love candid photography. Whether it’s street photography or travel photography, I’m obsessed with all of it. Partially because it requires absolutely no direction. You don’t have to tell anyone what to do; you just have to be in the right place at the right time.
In a photo session, we all want to avoid contrived, overly-posed photos. Sometimes, it feels like a safe fallback when you know you need to deliver. That’s an excuse, of course. Great images don’t come out of safe fallbacks.
There is a happy medium between these two extremes. I’ve been thinking of things to say to my clients before a session to get both of us in a mindset that encourages a more relaxed experience.
1. Give it time; it’s a process.
If you are imagining that getting your photo taken is like in school where you sit on the stool, they get you into position and then snap the photo is done, you’re going to miss out on a lot of wonderful photos. Taking photos is a process. A collaboration. There isn’t a set start and stop time.
Every moment is an opportunity to capture something, so let go of the mentality that “now we’re taking a photo” and “now we’re not taking a photo”. If you embrace a more fluid mindset, you’ll create more and more authentic moments that can replace contrived photos.
2. Be open to play.
Sometimes, it’s a wacky idea that sparks something great. Sometimes, it’s the laugh of relief after you’ve done something silly that makes the favorite photo. Sometimes, it’s the walk to a destination that makes the perfect scene.
To have a great session, both the photographer and the client need to practice a sense of openness to what happens. If something isn’t feeling right, add a twist that makes it feel better for you. Be an active participant in your session, and help the photographer get to know you, the real you. Make it your own. And play!
3. Be in the moment.
One reason why candid photos are some of the best is because the person being photographed is completely in the moment. They aren’t worried about their hair, all the ways they hate how they look in photos, etc. It can be very hard to turn off those voices, so maybe it’s time to give them something else to talk about.
Take a deep breath and try to be completely present. This is crossing into some meditative, mindfulness juju. Zen out and focus on what’s going on around you.
Focus on the way your partner’s hand is wrapped around you, holding you close. Focus on the feel of fabric or texture under your hands. Feel your body and your posture. Feel how your neck and shoulders are positioned and focus on releasing tension. Look at the other person and really try to see them - mentally list off all the features that make up their face, focus on the color of their eyes.
Don’t work too hard; just think of it as a relaxation exercise. The more you can pull yourself out of your head and put yourself into your body, in the moment, the more relaxed you’ll be.
4. Be affectionate; it’s a celebration.
Photos can only capture what’s on the outside. If you keep your feelings reserved, now is the time to bring them out.
Think of the way you hug someone you love when they’re about to leave for a long trip or move to a different part of the country. Think of the way you squeeze their hand on their wedding day or squeeze their shoulder in affection on the day they land a big promotion. These are all moments when we feel permission to give extra affection to those we love. Having a photo session should be another one of these moments because it is the emotion that makes the photo timeless and treasured.
When you’re laughing and talking with each other and the urge strikes to touch a shoulder or wrap an arm around them, do it! Enjoy it! Tap into that part of you that is maybe afraid of being overly affectionate, and, instead, embrace it for an hour. Just an hour.
If you’re not touchy, then simply think about your feelings for each other and bring those to thoughts to the front of your mind. You’ll automatically look interested in what the other person has to say. Your genuine affection will show on your face when you look at them.
I think of each of these tips as an element of an ideal photo session. They may not happen all at once, but they all add to a better experience. It’s a lot more about people than about photos. :)
…. Post script ….
Beautiful images are a collaboration. The photographer needs to be just as open as the people they are photographing. More so, even. Often, I fall short because I’m afraid. Afraid to give it time, afraid to play, afraid to be in the moment, and afraid to tap into an affection for the people I’m photographing - all the things I listed above.
If I’m asking any clients to face their nerves, I must start with my own. Sharing this post is a first step. I wouldn’t have dreamed of giving tips (what do I know?) or sharing feelings about my work in such an open space.
Here’s to more tiny steps and, hopefully, better art.