Talk to Your Portrait Subject May 26, 2015 – Posted in: Photography – Tags: ,

It’s so easy to become immersed in aperture settings, depth of field, white balance, and exposure, that we forget we’re working with a person on the other side of the lens. Someone who might be wondering during our periods of self-absorbed silence, “What the heck is going on? Does he like the shots? Should I be doing something else?”

The best advice I have to share with portrait photographers is: Talk to your subjects.

Sophia Portrait

At the beginning of the shoot, spend some time chit-chatting. Go over the wardrobe options and complement the person when you find a flattering combination. Don’t forget to acknowledge accessories and shoes — those are often important items in which much care was used to decide what to bring to the session.

Once the shooting begins, verbalize encouragement for expressions and poses that look good. Stop for a second every now and then, put down the camera, and interact with the subject.


“I really like the way the color of your shirt complements your eyes. And don’t forget to shift your weight from one foot to the other. That makes for a nice body line.”

When you capture a photo you like, share it with the model by walking over and letting them look at the LCD screen. Ninety percent of the time, what they see will exceed their expectations. Suddenly they will have more confidence during the rest of the session.

This is one of the primary reasons I like to capture excellent color balance and exposure when I take the shots. Yes, I could fix those RAW files in post production, but that doesn’t help me when I’m sharing pictures on the camera’s LCD.

Nobody wants to hear you say, “It’s going to look a lot better after I work on it for an hour.”

Once the shoot is over, spend a few minutes winding down. Make sure that all of the paperwork is in order. And be sure to let the person know when they might see some of the pictures.

This approach will not only reflect well on you as a photographer, but as a person too.

You can continue to hone your skills by reading The Portrait, 2nd Edition. The confidence you gain by learning more about posing and eliciting the expressions you want will translate into more natural interactions between you and your subject during the session.

And keep an eye out for Picture Perfect Lighting, scheduled for release in February 2016.

Derrick Story is the photography evangelist for Rocky Nook Publishing.