Directing vs. Posing - How I Capture Natural Expressions

FACT: You don't achieve those quirky, heart-melting moments through direction like "sit here," "say cheese," or "don't move."

Lifestyle sessions are all about gentle direction and styling to achieve natural, yet flattering images that skip the staged and awkward stuff.

When my clients look back on their images from a session with me, I want them to feel something, to remember something unique about that season of life. 

Also, most people I photograph are not professional models. Shocker. But I like it that way. 

Some people warm right up to the camera while others need a little more reassurance. And how I direct is always influenced by the people I'm with as well as their ages, so it's really important that we talk on the phone or meet in person if possible before your shoot. If I'm working with an outgoing and vivacious senior girl, I'm going to really get creative and get her working it like it's Fashion Week. If I'm working with a more reserved couple and dad is all this was all my wife's idea, a directive tone could come off very harsh and demanding.

There's a very fine line between being confident and in control vs annoyingly bossy. 

I don't want to be annoyingly bossy. I just want you to look good and feel natural. 

And obviously there's no directing a 6 month old so this is more geared toward my family shoots and older kids. :-) 


5 Tips to Direct Instead of Pose

During a shoot, there's a million tiny things to remember while still presenting a calm and collected exterior. These 5 points are all part of my toolbox when it comes to posing: 

1. Don't pose - 

I think of a photoshoot like theatre, and it's my job to set the stage but the actors' (clients') job to perform. Except they can't perform well unless they know where to stand, what to say, etc. And if I throw them on stage before they know any of that, they'll feel like they're standing in front of a crowd in their underwear. 

Before each shoot, I plan out a series of vignettes, like general arrangements and actions I want to capture based on the location, different breakdowns of people, etc. Then, when we're all "on stage," I''ll communicate that vision, directing the clients of how to start, and then let them run with it! It's a much more fun way of capturing expression than "stand here, tilt your chin....aaaaand now laugh." Awkward. 

2. Remind the client of my style and how I achieve it

One look at my portfolio shows that I love capturing candid moments and laughter so I know that my clients like that style as well or they wouldn't have hired me. Once we're at our shoot, I always remember to encourage them to move and engage with one another. My starting points are just that -- starting points. Often if things are looking stiff, I'll insert more specific actions like "everybody squeeze dad!" or "uh oh, surprise tickle for Suzie!!!" or "try taking a few steps away from me and then flip your hair over that shoulder like a shampoo commercial." It can get a little crazy.


3. Show don't tell

If I tell you to walk and then flip your hair over your shoulder like a shampoo commercial, I'm going to do it myself first. A. Somehow, seeing someone else do it makes it seem more fun and less awkward. B. It's way easier to show you which way to turn, how fast to spin, how to turn your shoulder, etc. than you try to explain and troubleshoot it.

I will get down on the blanket and show you how lean at a flattering angle. I'll demonstrate "freeze face" vs. "relaxed face" so you're more aware of your expression. It's like a mini modeling lesson, and also a bit of a workout, but hey, it's efficient. 

4. Positive language 

There's a huge difference between "I love how you just leaned your head on his shoulder, that was beautiful!" and "Put your head on his shoulder." The former is encouraging, engaging, and says, "you're doing a great job, keep doing more of that!". The latter is just dead and offers no energy or involvement between my client and I.

Even if something's not working, I'll keep the positive words flowing and just subtly pivot with either my words, angle, or whole set-up all together. I will never say "oh that wasn't what I was going for," or "that's not working, let's try something else," because it immediately stirs up self-consciousness. I always want my clients to leave a shoot feeling confident and beautiful. 

5. Attitude 

I'm naturally energized by working with my clients so it's not tough to remind myself of this, but sometimes it becomes even more crucial if things start to go south. A cranky kid can turn the attitudes of everyone else pretty quickly, so as the one in charge, it's my job to respond appropriately to the energy, provide solutions, adjust and improvise in whatever the situation, and of course, stay positive.

I am always early, prepared, and ready with a plan. Clients will naturally feed off of the confidence and attitude I project so it's imperative I remind them that I'm a professional and have it all under control! 

Achieving natural, yet flattering expressions can be a challenge but I've learned that it's my responsibility to help those moments unfold and there's a lot that goes into achieving something that looks so effortless! If you've been in front of my lens before, chances are you didn't even realize all this was going on -- which means I'm doing my job!