Undertaking a professional photo shoot for the first time can be nerve-racking for most. The good news is that the anticipation is usually far worse than the actual event itself. For this reason, I've created a list of tips and advice that will help address the most common issues that tend to arise.
Project energy through your eyes. This technique is basically a micro squint with the eyes. One of the most famous squinters of all times was actor Clint Eastwood. While he may claim it was due to having light sensitive eyes, there is no mistaking the strength and intensity of his gaze. Once you’ve got the basic physical aspect of this technique down pat, you’ll then be ready to move to the next stage and turn it into an energetic technique. While the full ‘Clint Eastwood’ will definitely get you a seat on the bus, you can simply adjust it accordingly.
‘Smile through your eyes’ is a term you will often hear in both portrait and fashion photography. The reason why photographers including myself will say this is to avoid what’s known as a fake simile. Fake smiles are generated when the subject is engaging with their mouth and not their emotions. This is often the case with portraits because the subject can get caught up in their mind trying to create a smile with their mouth, rather than letting it come from their heart. While in some situations, for example, a model working on a fashion shoot, this would be impossible to maintain during a full day of shooting. The technique of projecting a smile through the eyes can work extremely well. If you struggle with the concept of moving energy out through your eyes, try instead to simply visualize your eyes smiling.
Keep your chin down. It’s a strange phenomenon, but when faced with a professional camera for the first time, 8 out of 10 new people tend to raise their chin in the air. Simply meet the camera at eye level the same way you would if you were sitting opposite a friend.
Avoid pointing your elbows and knees directly at the camera. This creates foreshortening. If your aim is to look slimmer, turn your body slightly 3/4 to the camera. Women may also wish to cross one leg in front of the other which will help taper the line of the body.
‘Find your light’ is a term originally used for actors in the film industry. It involves searching out the key light (most dominate light) on-set or on-location. A well positioned downward facing key light can be your best friend, as it will enhance your cheek bones and bring out your eyes.
Be proactive. A photo shoot is always a team effort. If you are working with a professional photographer, you will receive the right amount of on-camera direction which will give you the confidence to let go and create some great images. Part of this process though requires you, as a subject to move from passive to proactive. This is very much a mental shift. Often I’ll get people to use visualization, or to react to a variety of scenarios. Adopting a playful and open attitude will allow a photographer to capture a greater range of images. Making 'mistakes' is part of learning, and anything that does n’t work can simply be deleted later.
Look through the lens, not at it. If all you see when you are looking down the camera lens is an inanimate object, it will limit your ability to help create a good portrait. Instead, imagine that you're looking into the eyes of a friend or a partner.
Project confidence. While it’s understandable that you’ll be nervous, the saying ‘fake it til you make it’ could not be more relevant. Be mindful of your body language, and avoid doing things like fidgeting with your hands, hiding your hands behind your back or tilting your head off to one side (unless the shoot requires you to look submissive).
Having spent many years working in front of the camera, one of the things I personally found helped me get over my initial nerves and self doubt was the thought that I had a job to do, and to not do it to the best of my ability would be letting down the crew, the photographer, the editor… the list goes on. Whether you are posing for a corporate headshot or a fashion catalog, approaching your photo shoot from this perspective can really help make a difference.