How to Help Your Clients Look Their Best

So…let’s be honest…what are the odds that your client is a former model? Probably slim ;). Back when I was shooting countless weddings, engagements and portraits, a big part of my job was not to simply just capture, but to also make every day people feel comfortable enough in front of the lens so I could direct and coach them towards taking their best photos yet. There are many factors that go into making clients look their best, which aren’t completely outlined in this article, but here are a handful of some of the absolutely key elements that have continued to help me capture the absolute best out each and every client, or model for that matter.

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Lens Choices, Distance and Angles

Since I’ve had the opportunity to be on the other side of the lens as a model, it’s really helped me to identify highly overlooked issues that many photographers who I’ve worked with don’t catch onto. As a photographer myself, I can see the image of me afterward and identify why I don’t like the way I look in the shot.

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One of the issues that I notice is LENS DISTORTION. What I mean by lens distortion is the lack of compression due to either the lens choice, distance, angle, or all of the above.

Basically at a certain point, you’ll notice that the closer you get to your client with your lens, the less compressed, more emphasized and distorted the client’s facial features and body will appear. A quick way to test this out for yourself is to take your camera phone, use the front facing selfie camera, and slowly bring it closer and closer to your nose. Now you tell me, do you look better or worse the closer you get? Lol. You can quickly see how distance to the lens distorts and makes features appear much larger or out of proportion compared to your actual appearance.

A way to combat lens distortion can be very dependent on your lens of choice. A telephoto lens for example, between 70-200mm, is going to give you a very compressed look due to the required distance you have to be positioned from the subject. This will represent a client or subject much more accurately in terms of how they actually look in real life; which is due to next to no facial/body appearance distortion or emphasis.

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Of course the staple 50mm portrait lens is still an excellent choice for a compressed look, but even with this lens you have to be mindful of distance since it’s wide enough to require getting in a bit closer to get a tight crop of the face, which is why I would choose to put on an 85mm or 70-200mm lens if I’m going to take something tighter such as a headshot. If you instead chose something like a 24mm, notice in comparison to a longer lens just how overemphasized, slightly spherical and distorted their features and body become due to the minimal distance required.

Angles are also absolutely crucial to identify with your client within the first few minutes of shooting them. I immediately like to do a 360 of sorts around the client as I take the initial shots until I stumble across the most flattering perspective on their face and body. And with the body in particular, be mindful to not make the mistake of standing fully upright and then tipping your lens at a downward angle when shooting full length shots.

This will make the client appear much shorter and squattier. Instead shoot at their waist level, this will compress and equally distribute what’s being seen through the lens. If you squat a tad lower it will also make your client appear a bit taller, which everyone typically leans to favoring unless they’re the basketball or volleyball types and don’t need the extra height bump ;).

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With the face, more often than not, having their chin just ever so slightly down while either shooting straight on or from slightly above will accent the jawline and flatter the face more. Hence why every girl on instagram’s selfies are shot from up above with their arm stretched in the air. It tends to give the effect of thinning out the face. Shhh…I just might be guilty of the same thing with my instagram selfies, but hey it’s my job, so cut me some slack ok? 😉

Complimentary Coaching and Engaging

Again, clients are typically not models, so if you’re a silent Bob photographer type while you shoot, your client is likely second-guessing everything they attempt or have no clue what to do. But I assure you, this still applies to working with models as well. Everyone wants to be communicated to in a shoot, to have a gauge of some sort to vibe off of.

So our job as photographers is not just the capturing process alone. If you want a strong shot, you have to engage your subject and help bring out genuine expressions, reactions and body language and movement. One of the best ways to get this ball rolling is to continually compliment or praise them with basics like “that’s great! Perfect. You’re making this too easy. Good, good!”

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Avoid saying anything negative WHATSOEVER. This will immediately plant a seed of insecurity and you will lose them because their confidence was likely rattled. Just focus on the positives only. And if something isn’t working, just simply move on and say “great, now let’s try this next.”

Keeping them comfortable and giving them a sense of momentum the entire time is important as well. Don’t let them sit in one place or position for too long, it will get stale and stiff really quick, along with their expression. Get them to move by moving around them as you search for angles. As they’ll likely feel more engaged and likely to move with you. And with that you’ll likely catch them in the moment of a natural reaction or unintentional pose that translates so much better to camera. And that’s when you can say, “Oh! this is great, actually hold that really quick.”

Also long before I got into the modeling industry, I still got into the habit of showing the client what I had in my mind position-wise. It can be painful to expect a client to somehow read your mind or even catch the verbal cues to pull off what you envisioned, so just cut to the chase and show them yourself with your own body/face.

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Shooting For Their Unique Personality

Something to keep in mind in terms of the big picture would be to make sure that the vibe, direction and poses that you’re concentrating on reflect their personality best. And the only way to get an idea of that is to actually talk to them before and during the shoot itself.

So for example, if you sense that they’re a more outgoing and big personality type, you’ll likely want to spend more time on getting big smiles, a sense of movement, and laughter shots, with less focus on an excess of “damn I look good” GQ or beauty shots. Of course everyone still wants a couple of those shots of themselves, but unless your shoot is with a model for a certain concept or predetermined vibe that the model is required to take on, your goal is instead to capture the person themselves in a portrait.

And on the other end, if the client is very introverted and shy, don’t be obnoxious and try to make them get too far outside of their comfort zone, just run with their energy while also bringing your own and again continually compliment them respectfully and they’ll likely open up just enough to get exactly what you need that communicates their personality through the final images.

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Posing

Clients, or should I say us humans in general, aren’t typically aware of our posture or the most flattering way to position our faces and bodies for photos. It’s up to us as photographers to step in and find a balance of coaching and not overdoing posing so that it’s as natural as possible without losing the person’s personality in the process. Instead of holding still, tweaking and setting them in stone, what we really want is flow and freedom on their part to make it their own to some degree. I prefer to tell the client that I will “direct them” vs “pose them”. I believe this communicates a less intimidating and more relaxed mindset when going into the shoot.

Some basics that can make a tremendous difference are gender-based and easy to remember. Women typically will want to appear as slim as possible, while also aiming to flatter the shape of the female figure and portray femininity. A simple go-to is to have them simply face their body itself completely sideways to the camera and then turn their face to the lens while slightly twisting the upper torso (not the legs/hips though), and then lightly bending the knee of the closest leg to the lens, with their weight on their back foot. This will slim them and also accent the natural curvature of the female figure without overdoing anything. Also have them slightly bring their elbow away from their body, as otherwise the arm may appear flattened out and will make the arm appear much broader.

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For men, they typically want to appear confident, masculine and cool, so the logic is opposite of the female positioning. Which means most posed shots I’ve done have the male facing forward with his body, broad shouldered, feet shoulder width apart, weight on either foot.

Another tip would be engaging the hands. A random hanging hand or arm just looks awkward, so with men have them put it in their pocket, or even just casually hook their thumb on the pant pocket. Or have them cross their arms, place them on their waist. With women they can put hands on their hips, lightly resting on mid-thigh, or both up and tousling with their hair.

The point is to just get in the mindset of doing SOMETHING with their hands. So if it’s a couple, rest the hands respectively on the other person. Couples will usually find a natural option in this regard if you just let them be after simply saying “ok now grab each other and get in close like you like each other”. This always works and loosens up the vibe even for couples who are a bit shy with PDA (for the uninformed, that’s public displays of affection). 🙂

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Styling

Clothing choices can really make or break a shoot sometimes. Often times clients will look to us as photographers for suggestions on what to wear, so take full advantage of this! Suggest that they choose colors or shades that compliment their eye color, avoid loud graphics or distracting patterns, stick with solids, and most importantly push them in the direction of form-fitting styles that flatter their specific body shape. Of course certain clients may not own or put much priority on how they dress, but if you emphasize just how great your suggestions will make them look they’ll most likely go out and buy what they may not have, because most people are already slightly uneasy about taking photos and how they may look.

Helping our clients look their very best is one of our most important jobs as a photographer. Utilizing these tips will help you to not only build your client’s confidence, but will enable you to get the very best photos!