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7 Simple Tips for Photographing People: Capture Genuine Emotions

Portrait photo of a restaurant chef. Tips for photographing people

Ah, photographing people. A rhythmic exchange between the photographer and their portrait subjects. It’s an art form that brings out the humanity in each of us, an experience that I personally hold very close to my heart. 

Even if most of the time I do the photographing, I’ve been in plenty of situations where I was the one that had to be in front of the camera. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, that experience can be unnerving for many. 

That little lens directed at you almost feels like a predator’s stare. So this article will be about how to get comfortable in front of a camera.

7 Tips for Photographing People

As photographers, it’s important to know how to make people feel comfortable. Posing people can be delicate, especially if they’re not models, but when done right, the result is an authentic connection.

And trust me, there is no greater joy than to be a part of such a journey. So here are some photoshoot tips for models and “regular people”:

#1. Keep Things Unscripted as Much as You Can

A great photograph often captures the authenticity and naturalness of a moment. To accomplish this, it’s best to let the photo shoot unfold organically as much as possible. 

Instead of dictating every pose and expression, give your subjects the freedom to be themselves. Unscripted photographs can reveal the genuine personality and emotions of your subjects. 

photographing shy person

For example, consider a family photo session. Let them to interact naturally with each other: play, laugh, hug. This will result in sincere and dynamic images that truly capture the essence of their relationship rather than a stiff and formal group shot.

Picture a child’s photo session: Rather than asking them to sit still and smile, you could allow them to play freely in their favorite outdoor setting. By capturing them in their element – perhaps picking flowers or simply laughing, you’re more likely to get beautifully candid images representing their spirit.

Portrait photo of a young boy playing with his plane toy

#2. Talk to Your Model About Something They’re Passionate About

Take the time to get to know your subject. Conversations about passions, interests, or hobbies can draw out a person’s genuine expressions and emotions. These authentic, unguarded moments can add a deeper dimension to your photographs. 

Example:  If you’re photographing a musician, talk to them about their music, their inspirations, or even their favorite concert experiences. The animation and emotion coming through when they’re engrossed in discussing their love for music can make for deeply expressive portraits. 

Alternatively, you could ask them to play an instrument during the shoot. Their immersion in the music might reveal a captivating intensity that might not surface during a typical pose.

Portrait photo of a young woman playing guitar in her room with a lot of plants.

#3. Be Patient – Always

Remember that not everyone is comfortable in front of a camera immediately. It might take time for your subject to loosen up and express themselves naturally. Instead of rushing the process, allow for these moments of adjustment.

A wedding photographer, for example, might need to wait for the bride and groom to become accustomed to the camera’s presence before capturing the most tender and romantic moments.

Another scenario would be photographing a shy teenager for their senior photos. Instead of insisting on immediate smiles and poses, allow them to adjust to the camera. Make a few jokes, let them listen to their favorite music, or even allow them to bring a friend along for moral support. 

Your patience could potentially help them grow comfortable enough to reveal their true personality.

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#4. Schedule Plenty of Time

We know preparing for the photoshoot is crucial for everything to go smoothly. One aspect of this is establishing how much time your session will take. In the case of portraits, always leave some extra space.

If you rush a photo shoot, your subject might feel stressed and uncomfortable, which will likely show in the photos. By allocating enough time for each session, you are not only ensuring that your subject feels relaxed but also that you have ample opportunities to capture the best shots. 

Dramatic portrait of a young woman in black sunglasses

#5. Use Words of Affirmation

Things photographers say to models are very impactful. The way you communicate with your model can significantly impact their comfort level. Use straightforward language, encouragement, and validation to help them relax. 

You might share your own experiences or emotions to make them feel less alone. This could be as simple as saying, “I understand how you feel. The first time I was in front of a camera, I was also nervous, but this is a judgment-free zone. It’s just you and me here.”

Also, a reassuring phrase like “Your smile is really beautiful in these shots” can help boost their confidence.

#6. Take Breaks to Unwind

Especially during more extended photoshoots, taking breaks can benefit you and your subject. It allows everyone to relax, have a casual chat, or even share a cup of tea.

For instance, during a day-long fashion photoshoot, periodic breaks can help maintain the model’s energy and morale while allowing you to review your shots and plan your next move.

fashion photoshoot

#7. Let Your Model Pick the Time of the Day to Take the Photos

This point is crucial for comfort and convenience. By allowing your subject to choose the time, you are accommodating their schedule. 

Moreover, they might choose a time when they feel most energetic and comfortable, which could positively influence the outcome. Some people have more energy in the morning, while others feel their best in the afternoon or evening.

For example, a morning person might be more lively and enthusiastic for a sunrise shoot, resulting in more vibrant and energetic images.


The photography subject is the main focus or central point of interest that attracts the viewer’s attention to the image. It can be anything from a person, an object, a landscape, an architectural element, or even an abstract pattern. How a photographer composes the shot, uses lighting, and focuses the lens can draw attention to the subject and influence how the viewer perceives the photograph.

Posing like a model often requires practice, self-confidence, and an understanding of your body. But let’s get more specific:

  • Practice in front of a mirror

  • Master the ‘three-quarters’ pose: Instead of facing the camera straight-on, turn your body three-quarters of the way towards it. 

  • Use your body to create interesting shapes: Use your arms, legs, and body to create dynamic shapes.

  • Be natural and relaxed: Don’t be too rigid or forced. 

  • Consider your surroundings: for example, if you’re at the beach, a more relaxed pose would fit better than a formal pose.

Making people comfortable in a conversation involves empathy, active listening, and positive reinforcement. Here are some strategies:

  • Be attentive and listen: Show genuine interest in what the other person is saying.
  • Use body language: Maintain eye contact, nod in understanding, and use open body language.
  • Validate feelings and perspectives: Acknowledge their thoughts, feelings, and opinions, even if you don’t agree.
  • Use a friendly and relaxed tone: This can help the other person feel more at ease.
  • Ask open-ended questions: Encourage them to share more about themselves and their experiences.

Saying “cheese” for pictures is common because the word encourages a smile-like expression. However, it can sometimes produce artificial-looking smiles. Instead, try to evoke genuine emotions or reactions. You can say something funny to elicit a natural laugh, ask them to think about something they love, or just ask them to “smile”. Other fun phrases include “Say ‘whiskey'”. It’s all about creating an environment where the subjects feel comfortable.

Final Thoughts

Camera-shy people might think of themselves as the lone wolf in a world of self-assured, camera-friendly individuals. However, that feeling isn’t that unique. 

Being uneasy in front of a camera makes you human, with all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. The jitters, awkward silences, and unintentional grimaces – they’re just part and parcel of the journey of conquering camera shyness.

And sometimes, those very authentic emotions will make your subject relatable and lovable on camera!

Camera shyness is a part of our human heritage. It’s okay to feel nervous, it’s okay to feel scared. But we can face our fears, conquer our dragons, and tell our stories with courage and authenticity.

To focus more on your subject and make them feel at ease, feel free perfect your other skills by consulting our OhMyCamera resources! So you can focus on what matters.


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Aleksandrs Karevs

Aleksandrs Karevs

Hi, my name is Aleksandrs and I am a full-stack digital marketer passionate about digital photography. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V. Read full story here.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author


Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author


Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

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