Have you ever wondered how other photographers are able to capture so many candid moments in their portrait photography? We’re about to let you in on the secret world of photography prompts, and you’re never going to look back!

Everyone has a style of portrait photography that appeals to them. The amazing thing is, there is no right or wrong way to shoot. Many photographers like perfectly posed shots, with no hair out of place. Then you have the rest of us, who love the look of those candid moments. You know, the ones where it looks like a photographer snuck a photo before the subject realized there was a camera near them. Yet we all find the beauty of both kinds of photography!

7 ways to improve your posing

What are portrait photography prompts?

fun family portrait

A prompt is a move to action. Its an instruction, to set in motion. In photography the definition holds true, it’s an instruction to get your clients moving. How is this different from a pose? A pose implies the subject is still, where as a prompt is meant to get your subject moving. Photography prompts are meant to be somewhat vague so your subjects can interpret this instruction in their own way. Your subjects have the freedom to move and act in ways that are more natural to them. This of course leads to more natural looking photographs.

A pose would be to “stand right here. Pick up your daughter and place her on your left hip. Now I want you to look into her eyes and smile at her”. Where as a prompt would be to “pick up your daughter and try to get her to laugh for me”. A mom might interpret that as a cue to tickle her daughter, or speak in a super silly voice that get’s her daughter giggling. Whatever mom decides to do, you get close to the same end goal: mom looking at her daughter with smiles on both their faces and not looking at the camera. 

What many photographers like so much about prompts is the sincerity and authenticity of client expressions. They’re showing exactly what they feel in that moment which is incredibly powerful sometimes. When you’re able to capture joy and laughter on your client’s faces, you know they had a fun photo session with you. This keeps them coming back to you as much as your beautiful work does.

How do you get rid of camera consciousness?

family portrait silhouette

The best way to minimize self or camera consciousness is to give clients photography prompts! It gives them something to think about while you’re photographing them to distract them from your camera. In the example above mom is thinking about what she needs to do; the best way to get her daughter to smile. She is also thinking about how cute her daughter looks in this outfit, how she loves the sound of her daughter’s laugh, and how lovely her smile is. She’s also thinking she needs to hold her daughter a little tighter because her daughter tips her head back sometimes when she laughs and she doesn’t want to drop her. 

So much is going through mom’s head that she forgets for a minute that someone is taking her photo. Even if mom sees the camera, she’s focusing so much of her attention on her daughter that she’s unable to think too much about herself. Another thing that makes people self conscious is not knowing what to do with their hands and feet. They’re thinking what do I do with my hands? When you give them an activity to do they stop overthinking their body and relax!

One more thing you can do to help ease client’s self consciousness it to tell them how good they’re doing during their photos. Don’t keep saying the same thing all the time, switch up your compliments. “You guys are doing great!” “I’m dancing with excitement over these photos, you guys are going to LOVE these pictures!” “It’s like you’re reading my mind Frank, you’re doing everything I want before I can even ask!” “I can’t wait for you to see this photo Melissa, you look incredible!” 

3 ways to make posing more relaxed.

How do you make people look natural in front of the camera

family photo using prompt

As mentioned above, complements are the way to go to ease your clients of self consciousness. Pair that with photography prompts and BAM! – there’s your natural shot! If you’re not loving the outcome of a photo, don’t let it show around your clients. Tell them how amazing they’re doing, take a few shots, then try a different angle or move on to a different prompt. Keep talking to your clients to keep them feeling comfortable, or even encourage them to talk to each other. This keeps their mind distracted from the camera. I reiterate all this because as soon as your clients become self conscious, no matter what they are doing, the photo won’t look natural.

Your prompts should encourage your clients to interact with one another. Photos of clients not looking directly at the camera will look the most natural. It’s probably safe to add a few shots of them looking at the camera too, as these shots most often end up being the Christmas card shot. Your client’s families will love seeing a traditional shot of everyone looking at the camera.

10 best photography prompts for families

dad throwing sun up in the air

Being a family photographer, I have a bunch of family prompts memorized. There are some excellent Facebook community groups like Promptography where photographers will share both photos and the prompts they used to get a photo. Here at Cole’s Classroom, our members share their stunning photos as well, and the community is so kind and caring that anyone will share the prompt they used to capture their photo when you ask! Without further adieu my favourite family prompts:

  1. I want you all to run/walk/skip towards me while holding hands
  2. Mom, can you do the airplane with Penny (aka hold child above your head)?
  3. Dad, can you crouch down? Johnny, I want you to run towards dad and tackle him to the ground!
  4. Everyone sit on the ground in one big pile and give lots of snuggles!
  5. Dad, can you take Penny’s hand and help her spin around like a ballerina?
  6. Johnny, can you whisper in mom’s ear what your favourite food is?
  7. I want everyone to look at the person who has the loudest farts! *only use this one if you feel they would like that kind of humor. Most families find it hilarious.
  8. Mom and dad, stay right here and watch the kids. Johnny and Penny, on the count of three, run and try to catch me first!
  9. Dad, can you bear hug Penny and Johnny at the same time?!
  10. Johnny and Penny, can you both kiss mom on the cheeks at the same time? 

Most importantly, have fun!

mom and son photograph

Photography prompts are not only for family photos. With some further research you can find photography prompts for everything from boudoir to headshots to child portrait photography. Clients feed off your energy, so make your prompts match the mood you’re going for. Since most clients are looking for smiling faces in their photos, make your prompts fun! Be excited and encourage their energy. Laugh with your clients, tell them how amazing the photos are coming out and you’re going to love the photos as much as your clients! 

Looking for more ways to keep your clients coming back? Read our tips here!

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