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5 Ways to Keep Portraiture Natural on the Wedding Day

One of the best compliments I receive from potential clients is that my photographs feel natural and aren’t forced. That’s music to my ears because I consider myself a storyteller first and foremost.

Probably 90% of my wedding photography days are spent covering the action in a photojournalist manner. At the end of the day, however, I gravitate towards portraits. It has always given me great pleasure to have clients who tell me “we’re so unphotogenic,” and then deliver images that truly wow them!  Let’s face it, if you can make someone look good, you’ve just earned another advocate for your work. Seriously, who doesn’t want to look amazing on their wedding day?

How do you keep things natural? How do you make people feel comfortable enough to be themselves in front of the lens? That’s the real art. 

The technical aspects of lighting, composition, posing can all be learned. Making a connection with someone and capturing that…that’s the trick!

To a certain extent, some of this comes down to plain-old “people skills” and some people are born with heaps of it. However, I do think there are ways to hone these skills and improve the way that you interact with clients to elicit more natural reactions and forge deeper trust.

Develop Good Habits

I believe there are a few key habits that will help your clients feel more comfortable in front of the lens. Most of them revolve around confidence and trust. You’ve got to project confidence in what you’re doing, or the client will doubt what they are doing. When your client starts doubting themselves, they’ve lost trust in you.

1. Talk, talk, talk.

When there’s a camera pointed at you, silence can make your mind run wild. “Do I look horrible? Does he see that zit? Does this jacket make me look fat?” Having a conversation with your client takes their mind off of the fact that they’ve got a camera in their face (somewhat). Talking relaxes them and hopefully helps break down barriers. Try to avoid the deadly silence that comes while chimping. When you’re staring at that screen and not saying anything positive, the client’s mind goes to the worst places. We’re ALL vulnerable.

2. Flatter, flatter, flatter.

Who doesn’t love getting a compliment? When someone looks good, or something is working, absolutely let your client know! The more your clients feel good about themselves, the more they will relax in front of the camera. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go all Austin Powers on them: “yeah baby, yeah!” A simple, “wow, you look stunning” or “awesome guys” will suffice. But here’s the deal: You have to mean it. It has to be 100% sincere. I’m sure when my brides get a compliment from me they think I say it to everyone…and I probably do. But I mean it. What bride isn’t gorgeous on her wedding day?

3. Show excitement for your work.

This one goes right back to the idea of projecting confidence. When I take a picture I’m pumped about, I’m all smiles. I show the bridesmaids, I show the bride, I show the Mom. Boom! You’re in like Flynn. I love what I do, and when I capture a really great image I want my clients to know.  This builds their trust in your ability and gives you greater access to your clients. Clients know that your ultimate goal is to make them look good.

4. Work what works, abandon what doesn’t. 

Over the years I’ve gotten better at reading people’s faces and making slight adjustments that help flatter them. One thing that I used to do (and I notice more novice photographers doing) is committing to an idea that is destined to fail from the start. For example, let’s say you climb up on a chair to get a shot of the bride looking up. Sometimes this isn’t best angle for someone. Instead of staying up there and beating the dead horse, just snap a few frames, say “great!” and move on to something else. When you find that angle that works…work the hell out of it! Don’t kick yourself the next day during the cull when all those shots are out of focus because you rushed.

5. Move fast and with conviction.

Not surprisingly, this ties directly back to the idea of building confidence. Act like you’ve been there a million times. Your confidence builds trust.  However, don’t confuse moving fast with rushing. Moving fast means moving with purpose. Plan ideas in your head before the shoot, then execute. Don’t bumble around looking for good spots or fiddle with your camera.

Obviously these five habits aren’t rocket science, and I’m sure most people do them instinctually, but I think it’s always helpful to reflect and improve our habits.

At the end of the day, remember this: our goal is to make people feel comfortable. When clients are comfortable being themselves, we’ve got a much better shot at capturing who they really are!

About Ned Jackson
Ned Jackson is a Boston based photographer who has been photographing weddings in New England since 2003, building his business organically by focusing on strong client relationships and creating classic, clean and timeless imagery.  Originally a teacher, Ned enjoys connecting with the photography community and sharing ideas with peers around the country.  Ned is a featured photographer of Pinhole Pro, a member of The Best of Wedding Photography and has been a speaker at the Pictage PartnerCon and InspireBoston.  He lives North of Boston with his wife Amanda, son Nate and their dog Jake.
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!