How to make your subject(s) feel comfortable while being photographed

It can be tricky to make your subjects feel comfortable, relaxed or even sexy while they are being photographed.  

Not only are you the photographer, but also the coach and confidence builder

Your feedback and communication is key to a clients experience and the outcome of your photographs.

Here are some tricks to help your clients relax and produce a natural look. .


The initial engagement

The start of my sessions are all about the chit-chat.  

This helps break the ice.  

Immediately I ask the client to come sit, place them in a beautiful scene and sit down with them.  It's more intimidating to jump into a photo shoot standing because the client doesn't know what to do with their body yet or what you expect from them.  

Sitting will take the tension off both of you and create a positive first impression.  

I ask simple questions about who they are, what they love to do all while I am clicking away.  

Many clients who are not experienced with having professional photos think they need to sit still & pose with the "cheeeeseee" grin.

I make sure the first thing I say is "its ok to talk while I shoot".  

The reaction after a question is going to be a true one.  You as the photographer should never come into a session shy.  Be fun, sassy, silly & very expressive while photographing a subject.  

If they can hear you praising and loving what you do, they too will love the experience.

Be engaged in who your client is.  Building the relationship at this time builds the trust you will need later during your session.  Ask questions.  Get interested. .

How To Make Your Subject(s) Feel Comfortable While Being Photographed


This above photo was taken the first 5 minutes of the session where I asked a few questions about what Raquel wanted to do after graduation and how much fun she was going to have going into this world as an adult. .


The duck lips NO-NO

It's common for someone without model experience to put tension in their facial expressions.  

It's important to remember that negative communication will not be beneficial during a photo session.  

Rather than telling a client "no don't do that",  put a positive spin on it by simply saying "that's beautiful, now lets take that one step further and slightly part the lips and release all the tension in them."  

Immediately they will feel the pursed muscles in their lip and know they were holding them tight.  Important:  when they follow your direction its up to you to make sure you praise it so that they feel and know they are more beautiful the way you directed them.  This is when you get overly excited.  

Scream "OMG, you're a model!"  

It probably sounds strange to hear me work because I show extreme excitement and reassurance.  

I am yelling things like:   "omg, that's amazing", "you did it perfect", "are you sure you haven't done this before".  

Now they will never forget how to hold their mouth. .

How To Make Your Subject(s) Feel Comfortable While Being Photographed

How To Make Your Subject(s) Feel Comfortable While Being Photographed.

The model stare

A simple stare can easily come off as a confused or scared look if not done correctly.  To make this an inviting and beautiful stare you will remind your subject of the soft lips and to release all tension in their forehead.  

The tension in the forehead is what makes them appear scared or stunned.  It is important to direct them to feel and pay attention to the release of these muscles.  This gives them an understanding of what to do and what you mean when you say "give me a soft face" later in the session.  

Remember communication and praise are the key to directing your client and getting the look you want.  Let them know how beautiful they look, get excited!  The more you praise and reassure, the more confidence they will give you.  "Love it" "YES" "Thats so beautiful" - all encouraging words that make people want to do it again. .

How to pose clients in your photography business

How to pose clients in your photography business.

The laugh

If my client has brought someone along with them I announce to the group "ok mom, your job is to do a little jig when necessary" ... this will make just about anyone laugh even before mom busts out the M.C. Hammer!  

The threat of seeing mom dance in the street is sure to get a great reaction. The same can be true for couples.  Ask that they have a little dance competition and request certain moves such as the Cabbage Patch, now of course if they don't know how to do it you better get your jiggy on and show hows its done.  

The reaction will be priceless, start snapping away.  Later when you want to evoke a cute laugh again you can bring up how "Bobby" rocked the Moon Walk like no one else.  Be fun and your clients will have fun! Both of the below photos were possible because mom was off doing her little twist while I shot the natural laugh. .


How to pose clients in your photography business

How to pose clients in your photography business.

A beautiful smile

Creating the soft and warm smile is as simple as a question.  

"What makes you smile?"  

This is why creating the relationship early on was important.  Now you are their friend, you have gave them so much praise, they feel comfortable opening up.  When you ask a person what makes them smile they generally will go to a place and an honest facial expression will happen.  

If this is a couple session, ask them to describe the sweetest thing their partner has done for them.  Ask that they tell the story.  Remember, a client talking during a session creates natural reactions and this is what you want.  

How to pose clients in your photography business.

The couple

If you are doing an engagement session getting a romantic kiss is key.  Many times people can feel very uncomfortable doing this in front of a camera.  Ask them to practice their wedding kiss.  

Having him pick her up while he kisses her will make them both forget about your shutter and more about the moment.  

You will also get some sweet giggles during this one which kills two birds with one stone.  Usually the romance that happens before they lean into the kiss is the best photo of that pose.

Marie Masse says:

When shooting 2 (or more) people together for a 'look at the camera and smile' shot, often their expression is a less-than-thrilled, forced smile. To get a natural smile I will say, "ok, now smile like you like each other!" This works every time and sometimes I get the bonus of genuine giggles.

To get genuine smiles/laughter (also works with a child and parent) while they are looking at each other, make them play the staring game to see who blinks first. This always ends in laughter!


Focusing On Props

When I have an uncooperative child or just want some natural facial expressions, I will give the child something to do. I love love love having them read a book.

This calms them down and you can snap away while they are looking at the book. It's an easy way to capture their eyelashes and details they may otherwise be too busy or refusing to give you.

There are tons of great shots you can grab- the child can read/look at the book while on mom and dad's lap or have mom and dad in the background watching the child (or kissing).

Get your focus ready with the child facing natural light (to grab the catch light for sparkly eyes) and as he/she is reading just say, "hey ____" and you will get a calm, natural glance that is sure to be a money shot! - tip by Marie Masse

How to pose clients in your photography business.

Using props can also help calm an adult and take the attention away from the camera.

. How to pose clients in your photography business

How to pose clients in your photography business.

Natural Movement

Natural movement is always a beautiful thing to capture while on a session.  Posing can be very redundant and the loss of flow can create a less than interesting photo.  

Finding an area where your subjects can play together will bring life to your photos.  A rain puddle, a swing set, the possibilities are endless. This also will lighten the mood and allow your subjects to feel comfortable in front of the camera, almost not even noticing you are there.

 How to pose clients in your photography business


  • Julie

    Great article, perfect timing (apparently I missed it the first time, but sure needed this right NOW), took notes and will put them to use this weekend!!! Thanks for all that you do!!!

  • Sherry Rosen

    Stacie, this is a GREAT article! It makes me happy to know that I do a lot of the things you suggest, and and looking forward to using some new suggestions. I love, love, love this article!

  • Stacie Jensen

    Yay! I love to hear that :) xx&o

  • Marie

    WHAT?! How did I MISS that you posted this?! I was reading your latest featured photographer post and started snooping around your site (btw, it looks even better than the last time I was on here & I didn’t even think that was possible- it was so amazing already!). Anyway, great article ;) What a big help & I’m dying to get out & use some of these tips as I shoot!!!

  • Jenn Canfield Photography

    I HATE the parents that say “Say Cheese” no matter how much I ask them not to! :) These are great tips…I just posted something like this on my facebook…it’s so much better to get a REAL smile!

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