The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is the best-known masterpiece of art in the world, and one of its most distinctive traits is her subtle smile. To help her maintain that famous smile while he was doing the painting, it is believed that Leonardo hired entertainers to keep Mona Lisa in a good mood, as, allegedly, she was a rather difficult woman. Apparently, during Leonardo’s time, they didn’t have smartphones or funny YouTube videos that he could have used to amuse her to keep her in a good mood.
Photographs were also not very popular back then – because the camera had not yet been invented – but the same challenge Leonardo had with his model is the same one photographers often find themselves dealing with today. Here are a few tips to help you relax your model while you do your thing.
I have found that nothing can make someone as secure, and therefore relaxed, as the knowledge that they are working with a professional. Think about it, how do you feel when you know you are in safe hands, that the person you are dealing with is a big deal or is someone who can make a big difference in your life? This is something that works in any trade, not just photography. But since the subject here is photography, let’s stay focused.
Ensure that your model knows whom she is dealing with. If possible, introduce yourself before you meet and let them see some of your best works. If you can’t meet before the shoot such that you meet during the shoot, do the same. Introduce yourself first and show them samples of your best works to establish that they are dealing with a professional.
Having let them know whom they are dealing with, the other steps will be much easier. They will be able to trust your judgment and follow your directions easily.
Set up a Pre-shoot Date
The first time you meet with someone can be nerve-wracking, even for the best of us. Professional models still deal with anxieties, and the same is true for professional photographers. Meeting with your model before the shoot – assuming it is the first time you are working with him or her – will make things much better for both of you during the actual shoot.
It will give the both of you a chance to break the ice; get a feel of each other’s personality, and it is the best time for you to introduce yourself and show your model some of your work and what they should look forward to.
The Mona Lisa
I call this step the Mona Lisa because of the story at the beginning of the article. Like Leonardo da Vinci, consider some props or distractions that can help your model to relax. Music or a white noise machine is great for this purpose.
During the pre-shoot date, you can ask your model about their favorite music and request them to bring it with them on the D-day. If for some reason the model couldn’t bring her favorite music with her, a white noise machine can help her relax during the shoot. Remember to check with her what makes her feel most relaxed when you set up the white noise machine.
Furthermore, if your model starts fidgeting helplessly due to anxiety, giving her something to hold like a lollipop, umbrella, phone, Japanese fans, flowers, or other interesting objects will help.
Maintain a Positive Vibe
Always stay positive even when things are not going so well. Fortunately (or is it unfortunately?), the shoot is in your hands; it is within your control. You have the power to make it successful or unsuccessful. The model’s mood is entirely in your hands. If you feel a shot wasn’t that great, don’t make it so obvious with words like “Oops,” “Uh oh,” “damn it,” “WTF,” or “F***.” Don’t even let it show in your facial expressions (frowns, rolling eyes, pouting). Maintain your composure and try again while encouraging your model to do better.
Show Them They Are Doing Great
One of the most effective ways of maintaining a good positive atmosphere during the shoot is to show your models some of the great shots you’ve taken. Do this during breaks, while preparing for another shoot. When they see the results of your magical camera skills, they will be more relaxed and at home and will be more willing to work with you to make more masterpieces.
Walk the Talk – Talk the Talk
You are the professional, and it should show. Your skills and experience should make it possible for you to start and maintain a beautiful but not overwhelming conversation during the shoot.
There are photographers out there who are great at conversing and can talk during an entire shoot, even if it lasts several hours or days. However, not all photographers can do this or are good at this. In fact, talking can sometimes make things worse for some artists as they may end up spoiling the mood of the model by saying something inappropriate.
If you can hold a conversation for long and are good at it, use this during the shoot to keep your model engaged and connected to the shooting process. However, if you are not much of a talker, learn a few skills to keep your model engaged during the shoot. You don’t have to be an excellent public speaker or storyteller. Just learn techniques like saying “Yes!” “That’s great,” and how to direct your model to various poses.
I know a photographer who doesn’t say much during his shooting sessions, but he has an excellent rapport with his models. He doesn’t even talk much. His body language and how he carries himself is just warming and calming. You can learn a few body language skills to help your models relax if you are not inclined to much talking.
A Note on Touching
Touching can’t be avoided during shoots. You’ll have to touch someone at some point. It won’t happen in every shoot, but it will happen. You must learn when and how to touch. When to touch is more important though as the touch will mostly involve you adjusting a thing or two here and there. The only rule you should remember is to ask for permission. Never touch any of your models without their explicit consent. If you are ever not sure whether to touch or not, asking for permission will never fail you.
Having your model’s trust is the key to helping them relax during the shoot. They will be able to easily follow your directions and place their fate in your hands. This is a valuable skill to cultivate, and the above tips will help you build that trust.