If you’ve worked in a portrait studio before chances are when a client enters the first thing mentioned is they want natural photos. I’ve always found this a vague request; and can be quite difficult to determine exactly what is meant by the word ‘natural,’ as it can mean different things to different people. Not an easy task when faced with a busy schedule and limited time in each session.
In my experience the majority of people that are concerned with taking natural shots is due to their nervousness. They feel uncomfortable in front of the camera and despise the idea of being twisted into odd shapes and positions. Whereas most people are happy to follow the photographer’s expertise, others are more resistant to relinquishing control. In these cases tensions can be built between the needs and wants of the subject, and the visions of the photographer; who knows that by using different poses and working certain angles can lead to a more flattering result. Sometimes however once the session is under way and the subject relaxes the photographer is free to resume shaping and posing to get the desirable effect. In a lot of cases towards the end of a shoot I’ve had the sitter creating or requesting poses that in my eyes we’re very un-natural.
It is a massive part of the process to make the subject feel at ease, a self-conscious model will instantly look uncomfortable in the final picture. But in cases where you know you’re not going to win I try not pose much at all. So I would instruct to sit or stand but nothing too specific such as angling shoulders, arms; shaping legs and hands. Then a photographer relies on other tools such as lighting and composition to flatter the subject keeping the subjects pose much the same as how they would sit in everyday life, and in doing so obtaining a more natural feel; which can create something very beautiful and full of personality.
I also think another way to gain a natural look is to distract attention away from the camera by devising activities to engage with. This is especially useful with family photos, bring out games, props and bubbles; anything in your arsenal that will help. Or have them interact with each other by means of piggy back, jumping and any other spontaneous actions where the subjects are having fun and don’t have time to be too self-aware; this ensure you get those natural expressions. Choosing a more relaxed location if this is an option is a great way to relax the subject, maybe pick a familiar setting either indoors or outside.
I often I prepare for those between moments, sometimes having your camera poised for those glimpses a self-conscious model relaxes after the shot has been taken can be vital. Don’t be scared to take many shots in the hopes of getting the perfect one. Occasionally when a client breaks out into nervous laughter it is the time to strike potentially this could be the finest most natural shot of the session.
The term ‘natural’ can be translated as ‘to feel comfortable in front of the lens.’ For others it is a term of stylistic choice. Some simple just mean a flattering photograph. Through communicating with the client it is important that the photographer uses their knowledge and expertise to determine how to proceed. Treat each subject as an individual, be confident in your approach to sustain trust through-out, tailoring to their needs and compromising where necessary in order to maximise the greatest result.