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When it's just you and a subject shooting by yourselves, what tips and tricks are there to keep the mood light and friendly, while simultaneously controlling and directing the subject into good poses? The subject does not have modeling or photography experience, and the environment could be outdoors or indoors in a studio (doesn't matter).

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Well, one can write an entire book on this. Also there isn't a definitive answer. But, as you say, here are some "tips and tricks":

  • make it clear that you're on "their side". That you're helping them to make the shoot good.
  • arrange a little their clothes, their hair, take an invisible piece of dirt (it doesn't need to really exist) from their clothes - this helps to break the distance between you and them
  • talk to them. Make them speak. Jokes. This will help them to be natural.
  • praise them. Say 'Wow!', 'Great!', 'Very good!' etc.
  • do play with them. Make them play.
  • put music. Good music. (Well, what means 'good music', this is another story...)
  • say to them "I'll take now some shoots but don't be afraid, I just check the settings, camera, metering etc. I will take the official shots latter". This will make them more relaxed.
  • give them indications but don't tell them too much how to pose. Rather show them by your example (your body, hands, facial expression etc.)
  • give them something in their hands or show them how to keep them. Usually people doesn't know what to do with their hands.
  • take great care to not be 'boring'. Neither you, neither your session.
  • be innovative. Try to push the envelope on some shots (even if they'll be thrown away - you'll see that these will be one of the best) just in order to keep the things 'interesting', 'fun' etc.
  • have your attention focused on your subject's mood. He is the most important thing, not the camera
  • smile. be professional.
  • be humble.
  • Wow, these are all great tips, exactly what I was looking for. Thanks! – qJake Apr 4 '14 at 15:37
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Nice work, John Thomas. I add only a few:

  • Offer them a tea before starting the actual shooting. Or just sit down a bit with them. Or just show them around. Do not jump into the shooting directly.
  • Offer them water to drink during shooting. Dehydration will show up on your pictures as the model will get uneasy, will feel tired, exhausted. Do not do this excessively though, as you will face other discomfort and lots of bathroom breaks... :-)
  • Have a sense when your model wants you to talk more or less. If you do not get the right balance, you will screw up the mood.
  • Give them an instrument . They can kind of "hide behind" without actually hiding, and they will feel more comfortable. Same goes with clothes that are loose and cover them considerably.
  • Get a friend of the model be present and yourself be transparent. This is a different approach, but works great with kids, insecure people, and if you are insecure yourself, it will help you too to get more practice, and become knowledgeable of the action, your tools and get more control over what is happening.
  • Handle a pro like a pro. They have been studying poses for ages for themselves and figured out transitions between them. Do not pose a pro if you do not know how to pose! Neither pose a natural talent. You will piss them off, or will make them uncomfortable. Go with the flow, be very alert, shoot a billion, and you will have very nice pictures.
  • In general, if you do not know model work, use a studio where you can shoot in bursts (the flash heads support it). You will have higher chance to capture a great photo. Do not do long bursts though as the face expression will get tense or the eyes watery.

Good luck!

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