While many photographers aspire to work with models from magazines, I love working with non-models!
There is something magical to see a person come out of their shell as you work with them through your portraits.
I love a genuine laugh/ smile and a good expression to me is somewhere in between while packed with energy and confidence. I live for the moment when I am finally able to draw that expression out of my subject because it is a beautiful moment where they trust you enough to show you their true self even though you met them 10 minutes ago.
The easiest way to work with a non-model is to make your subject comfortable enough that they forget that there is a camera in front of them.
Remember that if all you’ve experienced are selfies, it can be overwhelming to be placed in front of a camera with lights while trying your best to crack a smile. So really take your time with them and get them to feel as comfortable as possible.
In other words: more collaboration, less dictator.
1) Body Language
When we are focusing on drawing out an expression from our subjects, sometimes we fail to read what their body is telling us.
Case in point, for the image on the left, my subject’s body screams ‘I AM NERVOUS’ due to her hands and tensed shoulders.
As a general rule of thumb, people do not look good straight on into the camera. Tilting your subject’s shoulders at a slight angle to the camera is always a good way to start.
Non-models almost always do not know how to pose with their hands so folding them or playing with their hair just to stop them from thinking about them and helping them relax.
Getting your subjects to walk back and forth in front of the camera is another trick to use as when your subjects get caught up in the mechanics of walking, it will shake off nerves and they forget that there is a camera in front of them.
Another trick to use would be to tell your subjects to look away from your camera and back at it. It gives them some time to be mentally prepared for the shutter and get used to the sound of it. After a few repetitions, they should no longer be camera shy.
3) Lighten Up
Remember that since your subject is nervous as hell, always put some energy into the room by playing some music or telling a joke!
What you are really trying to capture is the expression after the laughter in which the nervousness goes away. Talk to your subjects; ask them about their favourite food (I’m Singaporean) or tell them to imagine that your camera is their object of desire.
It is ok to be silly to help break the ice because this is all about helping your subject feel comfortable with your camera. Or if you tell really bad jokes like I probably did, you would end up with the images above.
Confidence and trust is something you have to work towards drawing out from your subjects.
Shoot lots of different people, experiment, make mistakes and have fun with it!
I hope my 3 little tips help (:
All images by Jamie Chan for Hair Salon COVO.
Full portrait series here: Portraits for Hair Salon COVO
PS: Bambi Cantrell has one of the best lessons I’ve ever come across in working with non-models.
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