One of the biggest questions I faced when honing my style was how to capture authentic expressions and interaction while still making everyone look good. The answer is mastering the art of the unposed pose.
To clarify, the following are definitions of the word pose:
(v)- assume a particular attitude or position
(n) - a particular way of behaving adopted in order to give others a false impression or to impress others.
While there is certainly a place for posed photographs and many photographers have mastered that genre with incredible taste and skill, my own style leans more toward the idea that I want people to look back on a certain season of their lives and see true personality.
Interestingly enough, however, you can't just throw people in front of a camera and say 'be yourselves!!' and expect to get beautiful, artistic, meaningful photographs.
There needs to be some direction and angle of professional insight. I must, in a sense, set-up those moments and then step back to watch them unfold.
There are a few tips I've discovered that tend to help land that perfect candid effect which I want to share below. One of my favorite things about photography is you can bring the same formula to the table time after time, but when the subjects are different, you always yield different results!
1. Set expectations and permissions.
Whether it's a session for a one year old or a family of 12, I always start with a road map of what to expect during our time together. When we meet on session day, we've already communicated quite a bit beforehand and maybe even met for coffee in person, so we're not strangers. This takes the initial awkwardness off the table immediately and is so important because we enter our shooting time on the same wavelength already.
Still, I'm aware that as beautiful as they are, they are not super models. They are regular people who are not used to being in from of the camera, let alone the star of an hour long photo session. So yea, it can be a little strange at first. Instead of ignoring that truth, I try to acknowledge that we're going to need some "warm up" time -- I let them know there's no pressure to be "on" from the start and while they may feel uncomfortable at first, we're going to just have some fun and let loose and soon they'll ease right into the swing of things like it's no big deal! And guess what -- they do.
With that said, I also give them permission to pull out their inner model a little! Especially young girls, seniors, even moms -- they're looking and feeling great and now's the time to ham it up a little! Sometimes I'll even give them a direction like 'give me your best smoldering over the shoulder look' to which I'll get a dramatic hair flip and pursed lip. Sometimes that look actually really works, and sometimes it's the laughter afterwards that's even better! Basically, it's just fun and fun = a key ingredient to great pics.
2. Provide action-based direction
I explain to clients and remind them throughout that we'll start in a "pose" of sorts that I craft based on directional light, number of people, and other technical aspects, but the idea is to move within the pose. There is no need to hold that pose or feel stiff in any way. Sometimes that's harder than it sounds though because, again, this isn't America's Next Top Model. It's your family in a park. I use verbs to inspire movement that in turn, instigates beautiful interaction. Actions like walking, swaying, whispering, squeezing, surprising-- all give the subject something to do to engage and forget about trying to smile in favor of just reacting.
3. Show don't tell
Words are powerful, but as a photographer, I believe in the power of visuals as well. I always show the subject(s) the initial starting point I'm "posing" them into, and then depending on the situation, give them examples of how they can move within the pose. Whether that's a walk, a twirl, a brush of hair out of the face, whatever-- I give those cues if they need them from behind the camera, but initially showing them what I mean makes it so much easier.
For little kids, they may not get the "move within the pose" concept, but they still need to be shown where to start and are usually excited by a good game of Simon Says or cues that allow them to be silly. (Simon says... hop like a bunny! Simon says twirl like a princess! Show me your best monster face!)
This handsome guy was being a little shy during his shoot, but when I asked to see his best monster face, he gave me this...
Followed by this...
Bonus tip: it pays to shoot through the moment. :-)
4. Shoot close
I shoot with mostly prime lenses which means, among other things, that they don't zoom. (Insert pause for gasp). It's okay, I do this on purpose. These lenses are super crisp and fast, which is great for my speciality - kids and families - and they force me to stay in the action. With primes, I'm able to get close to little kids and interact with them on a personal level, rather than standing super far back and shouting orders at them which can intimidating and annoying.
By remaining close, I'm also able to pick up on little mannerisms to highlight and tweaks to make moving forward. I never miss a moment. Plus, it's vital to encourage people constantly and make them feel not just comfortable, but like rockstars and being close and engaged allows me to participate in the moment.
Sometimes capturing "genuine" moments just requires a little coaching! The art of the nposed pose is one of the most valuable and hard-fought lessons I've learned as a photographer, but once mastered, it's easy to pull authentic expressions out of any subject :-)