If there’s one lesson I learned early in the process of shooting portraits, it was that people always order the photo of everyone looking at the camera smiling and you HAVE to get that shot. Whether it’s for the christmas family card, the big wedding print on the wall or the engagement announcement… they always pick that one.
BUT I did however learn something else interesting. If you poll the same subjects years later when they’re looking through their pictures… guess which ones make them cry? Guess which ones make them laugh out loud or smile really big? How about sitting at a wedding and seeing which were selected to portray their lives. That’s right. The ones where hardly anyone is looking and there is human interaction happening. The ones of people communicating through touch or eye contact. The ones that make people remember how someone made them feel in that moment…. how they loved and touched and spoke.
Why Photos of People Are Better When They’re Interacting and Connecting
The magic happens when people look away from the camera. Why? In short because those photos are GENUINE. When you take photos of people looking at the camera, you’re essentially taking a photo of their reaction to YOU. If you can draw out their personality and capture a genuine expression… that’s a gift! We don’t instantly bond with everyone we meet however, and that’s the reason there are so many disingenuous smiles that appear in professional portraiture (I’ll cover how to get a real smile in another post) .
Here’s the thing though… nobody has to work on the nuances of their expression when they look at their baby. Or their spouse of 40 years. Or their new bride. THOSE interactions and expressions, for the most part, COME NATURALLY. And you should be capitalizing on that. It will add variety to your session as well as making your life easier. Somehow people relax… the pretentious smiles and posing disappear and a real picture emerges. Ultimately sessions where I encourage more interaction become sessions where the people interact better with me.
Encouraging People to Connect and Move
If your sessions are lacking personality, depth or variety… I suggest telling people to look at each other after you’ve clicked the “looking at the camera shot”.One of my biggest tricks especially with children is asking one child about something on the other child, for instance “Hey Lydia, what’s on your baby brother’s hat?”.
Practical Ways to Help People Interact During a Photo Session
If it still feels stiff start moving the situation. For instance, make a bride and groom walk away from you and then tell them to walk back while looking at each other. If you’re taking family photos and little kids are involved, have Dad throw them into the air and spin them around. Create situations where people can look at each other rather than you. Here are some practical “commands” that I give to make movement and interaction happen between people:
Don’t Feel Silly Giving Orders, People Want Direction!
Take this to heart. PLEASE. Don’t feel ridiculous giving out these directives. People feel the MOST awkward when they are left hanging. Have a cheat list of ideas with you to use in case you start to fumble… and even if they seem a little disgruntled by it (occasionally dad’s don’t like to cooperate)… they’ll soon relax and enjoy it. Don’t worry if the result feels a big chaotic… chaos sometimes produces the most beautiful pictures. And I have had people on many occasions tell me “I was dreading having our photos taken, but this was SO much fun!”. The main point is to get them jiving with each other, and the rest will fall into place.
Back off and Give People Their Space
I always have “far off” shots in my photo shoots. Firstly because I love a big wide landscape with tiny people in it, but also because it gives people a breather from me and the freedom to interact with eachother. Stand a good distance away, tell them you’re setting your camera up for the next shot and just to relax. Sometimes the BEST moments happen when they think you aren’t watching and clicking.
Keep Clicking… And Expect the Unexpected
If there’s one thing I can stress on this post… it’s to keep clicking. Sometimes people interact in the most beautiful way before your session starts… in between sets, and perhaps even occasionally after it ends. Always be ready to click. You have nothing to lose right? If you hate the picture… delete it. But don’t risk losing the sweet candid moments that happen when people aren’t looking at the camera. So many people wait till everything is “just right” and miss a lot of the gems that fall between the cracks of those moments.
Solo Portraits Even Work With This Technique
I was taking this photo of my husband’s grandmother holding her mother’s portrait when she looked out the door to see why the dogs were barking. The resulting portrait is one of my favorite pictures, and it’s something you can reproduce with your portraits. She is not interacting with another human, but instead her own thoughts seem visible in this picture.
Show Me Your Favorite Photos of People Interacting & An Assignment For Your Next Shoot
On your next shoot, plan a game or activity that will encourage your clients to interact with each other. I’d love to see your favorite pictures that you took or were taken of you where your human interaction is visible. Post a comment with a link below. 🙂
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Photos May Not be Used for Any Purpose Without the Written Permission of the Photographer, Sarah Neal, and the Subjects Included in the Photo.