Most people think that the reason why some people have great pictures and others do not is a question of being photogenic. In truth, some people have an easier time getting good pictures, but that doesn’t mean other people just are not photogenic. There are lots upon lots of tricks to make people look their best, and it’s your job as a photographer to get them there. You have to tell the subject what to do, how to look, what emotion to express and so on. The problem can be getting there, because no two subjects are the same, and what works on one person may not work as well on the next. The more tricks you know, and the better you know what they can do for a subject, the better the shots you can give them.
For the model:
If you are going to get your picture taken and you are wondering “is there anything I can do and be aware of beforehand to make the shots easier and better?”, then the answer is “yes”. Instead of making a long part in this article about things like this, I’m going to direct you to an article by Jen Brook that gives a few really useful pointers
Never actually say “smile”:
Asking your subject to smile will usually result in something that is not very “natural looking”. People will concentrate on the smile and result in something that doesn’t look like what they normally look like. This is because very few people truly know what they look like when they smile normally. They don’t know how to really force a natural smile. To help get around this, joke around with the subject, have him/her make slightly awkward faces and take pictures of this.
Usually this will make the subject feel strange and amused. And what is the usual reaction that follows this? A warm, heartfelt, natural smile.
It is however important to note that some people tend to think this reaction is not flattering to them and will try to look away. They just don’t want what they believe to be an “over exaggerated smile” and may try to suppress the smile drawn out by your awesome jokes. This attempt to suppress the smile is almost guaranteed to make them look awkward, so try to make them relax and tell them to just let loose and laugh all they want. Sneak in a few shots here and there and just give it a go and see what happens. It is definitely worth a try! If you just can’t get a natural, good look from your subject then let it go and don’t put all your efforts on this one trick.
Alright, on to posing the subjects. From here on comes tips that will make people who don’t have much experience in front of the camera feel a bit awkward. To them, the poses will feel awkward and alien. They won’t believe at first that actually doing these things will help them look better and so they may be reluctant to make the moves you want to the same degree you want them. The thing is however that while the subject may feel that the move they are making are exaggerated and awkward, they usually aren’t. To fix this, simply show them the pictures you’ve taken so far and explain what you feel is lacking. They will remember how they felt when doing the poses and understand that they are in fact not overdoing it as they felt they were.
There is another good side effect of doing poses and moves that the subject may find complicated. They put so much focus into doing what you tell them and reaching that particular pose, that they often forget about being awkward. These are the moments you strike and get your golden shot!
Direct angle to the camera is a no-no:
Nobody wants to look as big as they possibly can in a portrait. The exception being perhaps some sort of sports star or action hero who are supposed to look as buff as humanly possible. One of the widest parts of the human body are the shoulders. For this reason you can often make a person appear slimmer by simply angling them ca 45 degrees away from the camera. Depending on the look you want it is often also a good idea to have them put their shoulders in different heights as well. Some consider it to be a masculine look to have the shoulder closest to the camera lower than the opposite, and vice versa for a feminine look. My personal opinion is that lowering the shoulder closest to the camera works well for both men and women, while raising the shoulder closest to the camera mostly works best for women only. And again, as with everything else, there are exceptions.
The second widest part of the human body is the hips. You might think “yeah, well if the subject is already positioned at a 45 degree angle then that’s already taken care of”. You’re not wrong, but there is even more you can do, and it’s easy too. Simply have the subject slightly bend the knee closest to the camera and move it halfway in front the other knee. This will make the hips “pop” and give the subject a nice hour glass shape.
Experiment with head tilt:
Depending on the subject, many people look good when doing some sort of head tilt. There is no one specific angle of tilt that works for everyone however, so you just need to experiment with it. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Have you ever heard people saying they prefer to be taken a picture of from their “good side”? It’s not bullshit. People really do have a “good side”. It is your job as a photographer to discover this side and capture it. Some look their best when more of one side of the face is shown, but as a general rule you don’t want their eyes to have too much white on one side of the pupil. It’s a difficult mix of angles and so many things to consider.
One helpful tip is to use your hands to help signal to the subject what you want. Make the subject follow your hand and your moves instead of just simply saying “move your head slightly”. Don’t just tell the subject, show them.
Photographer Peter Hurley has a 20 minute video where he’s taking headshots of an actor and talks about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. I find it to be very helpful so here it is:
Accentuate the jaw line:
Everybody looks better with a strong, well marked jawline, but very few people have a truly double-chin-less jaw. There are several tricks to this. One trick is to give off a stronger light from above the subject to create more shadow underneath the jaw, thus accentuating the jaw. This trick is however a bit constricting, and you always run a risk of getting shadows at the eyes of the subject, which isn’t good either. Another trick is to take the picture from above the subject, forcing the subject to look more upwards. This works, but this is also a trick almost every girl who is overly fond of posting “selfies” on Facebook do.
The trick I usually do, and I do this with almost everyone now, regardless of if they have a double chin or not, is a move photographer Peter Hurley (yes, the same guy as in the previous video) teaches. I could write about it, but just watch the video and we’ll all save some time!
Since we’ve already had two very educational videos from Peter Hurley why not make it a hat-trick? Another thing he talks about is a move he calls the “Squinch”. It’s not completely a squint, but just a slight move towards squinting. It’s supposed to make the subject just in generally look more confident and therefore better, and it does work in a very subtle way. And in photography, anything subtle that makes an good impact is a very good thing. Have a look at the video for a better explanation of what the squinch really is.