Headshot photography is a skill set and it doesn’t exclusively mean that the skills required to deal with a camera. A professional photographer of any kind should have a personality that allows you to be good at what you do. You have to explain what’s happening around you through a photograph and that requires vision, talent, and a personality that brings comfort to the ambiance. You have to make people as comfortable as you can to get the best out of their expressions and features. That is a skill that cannot be taught in any photography course, you have to learn it yourself.
Take the example of a portrait picture like mine, for instance. Most of us know that an excellent portrait photo on your I.D, passport, or driver’s license can really have an effect on the person looking. Now people think that portrait photography is easy, but that’s certainly not the case. It requires effort and dedication like nothing else. You have to make acquaintance with a complete stranger. There is nothing “professional” about it actually; you have to make that person feel as comfortable as relaxed as possible. Yes, there are the skills that go into setting the camera, the lights and the backgrounds, etc. but that is the technical stuff and can be learned easily. The main talent is to get the best out of your customer, and that process takes place over a few steps. Headshot photography, for the most part, requires a psychological skillset rather than a technical one.
Here we discuss the ways to get the best out of your client that I have learned throughout my career.
Stay relaxed and confident
If you love your work dealing with clients and taking portraits etc., you have to stay relaxed and positive. You have to stay professional, take your work seriously and take care of yourself. Good results do not always depend on the client alone.
Get to know your client beforehand
Most headshot photographers, myself included, have the pleasure of working with people that represent business companies or are either in the entertainment business. This gives you a chance to look your client up and do a little research. Not too extensive, just to get an idea of your client’s personality and a few topics to talk about when you meet him so that the communication barrier breaks easily. This gives you extra confidence when you go there for the shoot and you know what to do to make your client forget the pressure of smiling and looking good. You have to get something interesting from the clients who are off work or their hobbies to keep them engaged with you or what you’re saying. You also have to be a good listener and stay curious about what he is trying to say.
Get there early and spend some time with your client
If a client is coming to your setup, then try to carve out a few minutes off your schedule to meet him in advance. This way the studio won’t be so awkward when you both step in for the shoot. Get the formalities out of the way and start connecting with your client. You can also ask your client questions about what he has in mind for the portrait. This way you will also get an idea of where to start from. Break the ice so that your client feels confident that he has come to the right place and believes that the portrait is going to be great.
Talk to your client while you setup
If the person you are portraying wants an excellent picture and has the time to do it, take about 10-15 minutes to get to know them. Engage with your client for a considerable amount of time until you feel they are comfortable and ready to go. Start a conversation while setting your equipment like cameras, lights, stools adjustments or outfit, and hairstyle, etc. Ask your clients questions about their favorite color of the shirt or the kind of lighting they want in their picture. You have to do all of this while having a smile on your face. Ask your clients for permission to adjust their shoulders or remove a crease line from their shirts. This will make them more excited about the picture and will bring out their most natural pose.
Keep your client engaged
Even if you start shooting, don’t rush the shot. Take your time with the camera and the person sitting in front of it. Engage with your client complimenting them and telling them to try different types of their own poses. Then tell them what you want to change about them. This will make the person forget about everything else and concentrate on the portrait being taken. Also keep them engaged with what you are saying by stating a life experience of yours that is similar to theirs, your hobbies and why you started photography, etc. You have to make that client your permanent one after that first meeting. You have to work for your best picture but believe me, getting that perfect portrait is a reward in itself.
Start with poses that might not work:
Most of the time, people are shy and very uncomfortable when told to sit in a professional studio in front of a camera. To make sure that your client is in the most natural pose when you take your best picture, tell the person to sit in a pose that you know is not going to work. This will give them time to relax their shoulders a bit and start getting in the mood. By taking 5-8 minutes with the client, you will start feeling that the client is now more engaged and starting to feel the vibe of the room. Get the awkwardness out of the way first before going for the special one.
Encourage, Encourage And Encourage
You have to keep the client feel better about what they are doing and you will also have to be careful not to fake it. You have to make the person in front of the camera believe what you are saying. Compliment them about their smile and their outfit. Tell them that they are doing excellent for first-timers compared to others. Tell them that their portrait is going to be perfect because of how good they are doing.
As you can see, most of the tips are related to personal connection because is the most powerful tool you can have when working with people. This practice not only works with headshot photography, but it also does with every kind of business nowadays. Just give it a try, don’t jump right on the task, try to connect with your client, friends, or anybody, listen to them and you will see the dramatic change you will get out of it.