Posing and Shooting
Both photographers and their subjects spend too much time worrying about poses during portrait shoots. Remember, the cover shot of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition depends a lot on the pose, portraits do not.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, which means the focus should be on them. If your subject is using their eyes to keep their balance or to make sure that they are leaning their head six inches to the left like you asked them to, then they aren’t using them to look into the camera. Avoid too much direction especially during shooting. When you set the camera down to change positions, that is the time for direction.
Keep it simple by starting the subject on a stool or chair. If shooting at their home, have them use “their" chair, the one that they consider “home." A subject that is comfortable will take better pictures. If you are in your own semi-pro studio, then have them sit on a normal stool or chair. Tell them to “look up" (not at the camera) and start snapping off frames. Have a look at the LCD on your camera and see what is wrong and then correct it. Stick with simple things like sitting up straight, or head tilting.
By now, your subject should be more relaxed, after all you’ve already taken a bunch of pictures, so now there is nothing to worry about, right?
Ever wonder how those quicky photography places in the mall or toy stores seem to get good shots without having experienced or trained photographers?
The answer is routine.
Every photo session starts with the subject on the same spot and progresses through the same sequence of shots and framing. Then, if there is time, the session will accommodate any creativity on the part of the subject (or their parents). Use the same trick to get great photos from your session.
Start with the subject sitting and looking at the camera. In your mind, progress through a sequence of framing, full body, ¾ body, ½ body, head only, face only. Then, move on to your next post, perhaps sitting looking away. Again, back through the same sequence of framing. By the time you are finished, you’ll have several shots to choose from and you’ll start to see how the subject looks best. A sloucher might look terrible in full body and ¾ body, but dynamic in ½ body. Likewise, someone with a sour expression but friendly posture might look better in full body and terrible in face only.
Always try to leave your instructions open to interpretation. This will allow you a better chance to capture the “real" person you are shooting.
For example, if you tell someone to look down and to the left, you might get a stiff shot. However, if you tell someone to look away from the camera, they might choose to look up and to the left and the shot is “classic Bob" to everyone who sees it.
When In Doubt, Zoom
When you visit friends and family (and even strangers) look at the pictures on their wall. The pictures that seem to be most loved by people are those from events (which is not what you are doing in the studio) and those that are close up face shots, generally with sad or loving looks. After all, these are the expressions that set us apart from other animals. More importantly, these are the expressions that are considered private and genuine. The President may always look confident and assured in public, but his family thinks of him in another way. The same is true for most everyone, so get plenty of close up non-smile, non-proud, non-formal shots. Those will be the ones everyone oohs and ahhs over.
Moving to Professional Digital Photography Portraits
When you feel confident enough to get the shot from anyone, then that is the time to start looking at becoming a full professional photographer. By the time that happens, you should have dozens of great shots for your portfolio, and then the rest is up to you.