I have heard that there are specific indirect questions that can be used to get people to be more natural in front of a camera. Many people, who have many expressions to offer, when put in front of a camera seems to produce one or two standard "camera expressions" which they are accustomed to.

Are there any guidelines for helping models get into the feeling of the scene?

Direct transmission seems to bring anxiety. I find that the classic "hold that position" or "don't move a muscle" to be the most counterproductive statements invented. What should I say or do instead?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you clarify the purpose you're shooting? You did say models, so is this fashion or commercial? Or is this more about portrait/wedding clients, i.e. not professional models? Your question sounds more like you're working with regular people, not professionals. \$\endgroup\$
    – jfklein13
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 18:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jfklein13, not professional models. Regular people, yes. Fashion more than commercial. Lots of people in natural scenery or clubs. Displays of their style and the landscape/culture. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vass
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is really getting at the fine art of "rapport" with subjects. It's a big area, and the best advice I can give (which is not really directly answering your question) is to seek out successful, seasoned portrait professionals and watch them work, or obtain videos that show them working with their clients. \$\endgroup\$
    – jfklein13
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 16:54

4 Answers 4


One trick I picked up from Zack Arias is to get the person to "move in" to the expression; you time your snap right to get the expression at the right moment.

For instance, he'll have the model close her eyes, and then have her open them. Between the time she's in the resting state of eyes-closed and the posed-looking state when she's conscious of the camera, there's a brief moment of natural expression. Get good enough with your own timing and you can capture that.

It's the motion that's the key. "Freeze" leads to conscious stiffness and anxiety, as you mention. Our brains are not used to holding body parts in still position; we're always moving.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I have been using your technique alot now. It is so great. The rapport and laughing is to warm them up for the 'motion'. That is the key. Laughing with them and smiling is only good for a subset of scenes really. Sometimes I want them in thought or other moods. Thanks a ton!! \$\endgroup\$
    – Vass
    Commented Oct 9, 2011 at 7:40

I think you're referring to a candid expression. Some normal subjects (not models) are good at posing, or taking direction, and some are not. I think it's always a good thing to build a quick rapport with any subject you shoot, whether they're a trained model who can pull a look at will or someone who is just a regular Joe.

If you want a natural expression, they really need to be in a state of mind where they're not thinking about the shoot itself. If you talk to them in a way that makes them comfortable, but also explain that you may ask them to "hold a position", they should be able to do it well enough.

Transparency is probably the biggest factor in directing someone. If you need them to stand in the beam of a specific light, just quickly explain why and maybe a sentence or two about how it will make the photo better. If you work a specific way (slow and calculated or fast), just let them know so that they're ready.

Not to mention constant approval of the poses they are making. A lot of portrait photographers will say, "great", "fantastic", "got it, wonderful" every second or third snap just to keep the communication there and to encourage the subject.


A few quick tips

  • Keep encouraging the model
  • Make lots of eye contact
  • Smile. Lots. (If you want to get smiles back)
  • As you are working, show the model some of the images on the back of your camera so he/she knows what the output looks like
  • Make the expression you want to see on the model's face
  • Think what emotion / situation / person / etc. would cause the expression you're after
    • So say things like "Imagine your mother just walked up behind me"
  • If you want the model to face a certain way, move so you can say "face me" "stay like that"
  • Get a friend to help by getting the models to pose while you snap the photos - or the other way round
  • Never touch a model without asking (includes rearranging hair or clothes)
  • Keep it professional
  • Always be positive and affirming
  • If the model has a suggestion, try it - you'll get their buy-in on your ideas
  • If you have time, try not giving too much direction - just throw out a suggestion and see if the model does something with it

With models that aren't professionals it's crucial to build up a rapport otherwise they tend to be too affected by the camera to get any kind of natural expression. I always find laughter the best way to do this if you can make the model laugh it goes a long way to breaking the ice and relaxing them. True emotions can only be seen when the model is comfortable and in no way stressed by the situation. Great shots are the ones that capture emotion so getting someone to freeze is a disaster and will cause any natural emotion in a models face to be instantly lost. Get the model to pose but not to freeze, take lots of shots the more you take the more comfortable a model will become with the camera. Remember very often the best shot won't be the one perfectly posed, it's the one in between poses.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for making them laugh. You can't go wrong (goes for most situations, not just photography!) \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 9:24

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