3 Body Language Hacks to Improve Your Portrait Photography

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I’m going to ask you to put your camera down for now. I know it’s a lot to ask, but the secret I’ve discovered to better portrait photography has, in fact, very little to do with your camera.

One of the most common mistakes budding portrait photographers make is to be so focused on getting the technical aspects right, they completely forget about the most important feature of a portrait – the person standing in front of their lens.

I’m not saying that your camera and technique aren’t important, they absolutely are. But even when you have the best technique in the world, you will not have a good portrait if your subject feels, and looks, uncomfortable.

The secret to helping your subject be relaxed and look good in pictures is body language – both yours and their’s.

Body Language

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Body language is how our bodies communicate our feelings and intentions, and it makes up for a majority of how we communicate. Some studies found that as much as 92% of our communication is nonverbal, and experts all agree that, as humans, we rely first on what we see and feel, before believing any spoken word.

Why is this important in portrait photography? Because body language is the language spoken in our portraits.

Within one second of seeing a photograph, we make a snap judgment about the person – or people – in the image, and what our brain relies on to make this judgment is their body language. Big cues like slouched shoulders or crossed arms are obvious, but it’s also the small cues like a fake smile, tense hands, slightly pursed lips, or squinting eyes, that tell our brains on an instinctive level, how that person is feeling. Furthermore, if the feelings are negative, it can ruin your portrait.

So, what can you do? Let’s look at three things you can start doing right now to help your subject settle into relaxed and positive body language.

1. Identify discomfort

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It’s pretty uncomfortable for most people to have their portrait taken, even if they are really looking forward to it. This tension appears mainly through blocking and pacifying cues.

Blocking gestures occur when we put something between ourselves and an uncomfortable situation. Crossed or closed arms are the most obvious signs, but the person may also be holding something like a bag or a laptop in front of them, turning their bodies away from you, and even crossing their legs tightly when standing.

Rubbing or pressure movements are called pacifying gestures. You will observe this when she’s playing with her necklace, rubbing her arms or legs, or he’s playing with his clothes, or squeezing his fingers together. Another place to look for pacifying gestures is the mouth. Lip pressing and licking, and tongue movements pressing inside the cheeks or lips show high levels of stress.

When you see this happening before or during the shoot, your subject is feeling uncomfortable and it’s going to show up in your portraits. Let’s look at how you can help them relax.

2. Show, don’t tell

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People feel uncomfortable during a photo shoot mostly because they don’t know what to do. It’s really stressful to be in front of a lens and be told to pose or act natural. They have no idea what you want from them, and telling them doesn’t help.

A client of mine shared this story with me;

At my last photo shoot, the photographer asked me to smile. So I smiled. “No! Not like that!” he said “you know, relax and smile!” All I could think is “Damn, I’m not relaxed, how do I relax?” which made me stress even more, and the more he was telling me to relax, the less I was! It was horrible! I look like I’m growling in all the photos. I hate them!

So if telling them what to do doesn’t help, what can you do? Show them! People can easily mirror what you want them to do. Ask them to mirror you, and show them exactly the pose you want them to take. Not only this will help them relax, it also allows you to get them into the right body language for the picture. When working with children, you can turn this into an imitation game, and they will be playing along with you in seconds.

Mirroring is a key bonding behavior in human body language. This interaction creates an immediate connection between you and your subject, and allows them to shift their attention away from the lens and focus on you instead.

3. Be in control -even when you’re not

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From the minute you meet your subject, until they walk away from the session, it’s vital that you appear in control by using confident body language, keeping your energy up, using positive words, and never showing any signs of stress – even when you’re freaking out because the settings you’re trying aren’t working.

I know this one is tough when you’re starting out, and you have to think of a million things – camera settings, composition, lighting, backgrounds, etc., and now I’m asking you to also think about what your client’s body is saying! But let’s think about this for a minute. How do you think your subject feels when they are working with a silent, stressed out, and fidgety photographer who is focusing all their attention on the camera or the lights? Not so great right? Guess where that’s going to show up? In your pictures.

They need to know that you’re in control, even when you’re not! This is a, “fake it until you become it” moment in your life. Talk to them. Explain what you’re doing. You might be concerned that they won’t take you seriously, but really, they are just curious about what’s going on. If they feel that you’re in control, that you know what you’re doing, you will keep the connection with them and help them to relax.

The best part is that you’re also going to feel more in control. Recent studies on body language have found that by changing our posture and behavior, we actually change our feelings too. Not only will you appear more confident, you’re actually going to feel more confident.

What’s next

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This is really just the very beginning of how body language can help you with your portrait photography. The choice of body language cues you’re going to use in your portraits will also have a huge impact on the feeling and quality of your images, and your relationships with your subjects.

Understanding body language is not just an option if you want to be a portrait photographer, it’s a vital skill; as vital as breathing is to a singer, or taste is to a chef. You will not be able to consistently create beautiful portraits of people, or create a fun experience for them if you ignore it.

The good news is that this is a skill you are born with, and have unconsciously practiced since your youngest age. However, most of us simply don’t pay attention to it because nonverbal communication is not part of our training curriculum, at school or later. Just like a musician will be more alert to sounds through practice, and a chef to taste through experience, I’m confident that you will soon become attuned to your subjects body language if you put in a little work.

Soon you will have mastered an amazing skill that will not only be useful in your work as a photographer, but also in everyday life.

Do you have another other tips about body language? Please share in the comments below along with any images demonstrating body language in your portraits.

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The post 3 Body Language Hacks to Improve Your Portrait Photography by Dee Libine appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Canon EOS Rebel T5 18MP DSLR w/ 18-55mm Lens $238 at Canon

Ends today. Canon has the refurbished Canon EOS Rebel T5 18MP Digital SLR Camera with Canon 18-55mm IS II Lens for $280 – 15% off with coupon code JACKOLANTERN [Exp 10/31] = $238 with free shipping. includes Rebel Gadget Bag with purchase.

Amazon has refurbs for $350+.

  • 18.0 MP CMOS sensor, DIGIC 4 Image Processor, ISO 1100 – 12,800
  • 9-point AF system, 500-shot battery life, 3.0″ fixed LCD display
  • 1/4000 to 30 sec. shutter speed, 1,920 x 1,080 video resolution

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  • Supporting Your Off-Camera Flash – Tripods, Monopods or Light Stands?

    I’ve generally been a natural light photographer. I understand natural light and love its variability. Normally it’s enough to get some beautiful photographs; many photographers stop here and go no further.

    Constantly critical of my own photographs, I realized that I was at the mercy of natural light, searching and modifying, but rarely creating or directing. That’s why I chose to learn how to use flash those years ago. To get full control, it’s essential to put the flashes where you want them, and for this, you need to support them. This article will talk about the options available to you for holding your speedlights and off-camera flash.

    Off Camera Flash

    Off-camera flash

    Human Light Stands

    Using a human light stand is one of the easiest ways to support an off-camera flash and is often overlooked. If you can get someone to hold your flash, you get what’s effectively a voice activated light stand (VAL). It’s easier to change lighting setups this way, especially if your subject is moving. There’s also less hassle on windy days. That said, most people won’t know how to position the lighting modifier and it will tend to drift as you’re shooting. Another photographer or an experienced photography assistant will be very useful.

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    Handheld

    Hand holding is quite simply, having either you, or an assistant hold the flash. It’s perfectly possible to do this yourself if you feel comfortable taking pictures with one hand, and it gives you a lot of control. Or hand the flash to someone else and let them know where to point it.

    Monopod Boom

    Again, you can do this yourself, and it helps if you have the monopod touching the ground because it means that your arm doesn’t feel as tired while holding a larger softbox or beauty dish. Or your photography assistant (or family member, friend, or passer-by) can boom, or hold the flash up, to light your subject from a higher angle. This gives you a lot of control and if you look at photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Joey L, you’ll see that their assistants are often using this approach.

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    It can be heavy so make sure you pause for breaks. I use a long aluminium Benro monopod that allows me to attach a flash to either end. It’s cheaper than the Gitzo alternative, but do bear in mind that there seems to be no after-sales support. Carbon-fibre is lighter, but not essential.

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    Off-camera flash

    Tripods

    I’ve been using my tripods to support my off-camera flashes for a long time. First because I already have them, and secondly because they are perfect for uneven ground. Generally they don’t get the flash high enough, but they are stable, especially if you weight them down by hanging a heavy camera bag from the center column.

    Small, Lightweight Tripod

    This is my go-to option when I’m travelling light and won’t have an assistant. The idea is that the tripod is so small and light, that I can wear it on my belt and largely forget about it. Of course it doubles as a tripod, which I’d normally want to have with me anyway. It’s flimsy by itself and needs to be weighted down with a camera bag. It’s also far too small for most purposes, so it needs to be up on tables and so, to get more height. But you’re more likely to actually carry it, so that’s a good thing. I use a 1kg Sirui tripod that I’m pretty happy with, especially for the price, with an equally small and light ball-head.

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    Big, Heavy Tripod

    As I began to use larger lighting modifiers, like huge octoboxes and parabolic umbrellas, I needed a heftier support for them. I happened to have an enormous old tripod which has been excellent. It weighs a lot by itself, and is definitely bulky, but is easily carried with its broad shoulder strap. It’s perfect for uneven ground, and can be made more stable by hanging the camera bag from it. I use one of Manfrotto’s largest tripods which gets the flash over my head (I’m 6’2″). It’s old, and very durable.

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    Proper Light Stands

    And then there are dedicated light stands, designed for the purpose of supporting off-camera flashes. I started using these when I wanted to get the flashes higher above the subjects. Some are light and flimsy, and others heavy and stable. Some stack together, and others are designed precisely for travel. They seem to break regularly in transit, or just being used on set. They do get the flashes high off the ground, but they don’t seem particularly stable because they’re tricky to weight down with the camera bag, and as soon as the ground is uneven, they’re a pain to use and won’t work on a steep slope.

    Off Camera Flash

    Supporting Larger Flash Modifiers

    Light Stands

    These come in several shapes and sizes. Generally all the legs open at the same angle so they only work on fairly flat ground. Smaller light stands meant for travelling are a good solution, though they can be flimsy. Larger light stands can get the flash very high off the camera. Balanced properly, they can be used with a boom pole to get the flash over your subject.

     

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    C (entury) Stand

    My most recent acquisition, and now my go-to light stand unless I’m travelling light, is the C-Stand or Century Stand. It’s an old design from Hollywood film studios, and very well engineered. It weighs a lot which is inconvenient if you’re walking to your shooting location, but helpful because it means the stand is more stable in use. The legs are also made so that it’s very easy to weight them down using sand bags. I personally use a lead diving weight belt for ballast. Importantly, one of the legs can move along the central column, which means that you can use the stand on uneven ground and on stairs. It’s not quite as versatile on uneven ground as the huge tripod, but it’s much taller; up to 3 meters (9.8 feet). It’s cumbersome to pack because it’s an L-shape, but when it’s on location, it’s perfect. The included boom is very useful, and can handle hanging backdrops too. I use the C-Stand from Pixapro which is well made enough to outlast me. It’s designed to make it a pleasure to use. Though not a pleasure to carry!

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    You can see the various light modifiers in the video below, as well as see them used on location.

    Any questions, let me know in the comments below. Do you have any other creative solutions for holding off-camera flash?

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    The post Supporting Your Off-Camera Flash – Tripods, Monopods or Light Stands? by Ben Evans appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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    Flirting with Danger – 29 Oct 2015 – Flickr


    A Jackson’s Chameleon spies a hover-fly.

    Trick or treat? This fly might be thinking he is tricky but may very well end up being the treat. Happy Halloween, Flickr Friends!

    Jackson’s chameleons are sometimes called three-horned chameleons because males possess three brown horns (shown here): one on the nose (the rostral horn) and one above each superior orbital ridge above the eyes (preocular horns), somewhat reminiscent of the ceratopsid dinosaur genus Triceratops. The coloring is usually bright green, with some individual animals having traces of blue and yellow, but like all chameleons, they change color quickly depending on mood, health, and temperature.

    This image was taken near the Kekaulike Highway in Maui, Hawaii. Though not native to Hawaii, these Chameleons run (perhaps a misnomer as they are extremely slow) rampant in this part of the island; presumably because they were accidentally released (as pets) but have grown in number as the climate is perfect for their habitat and reproduction. Finding these creatures is a huge delight as you can carefully pick them up and they will sit on your arm (as this one did for me).

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    Canon EOS Rebel T5i 18MP DSLR w/ 18-55mm Lens + Printer $399 at eBay

    eBay with BuyDig.com has the Canon EOS Rebel T5i 18MP 3.0″ DSLR with 18-55mm Lens & Canon Pixma Pro-100 Printer for $749 – $350 rebate [Exp 10/31] = $399 with free shipping. Also includes Canon photo paper, Compact Deluxe Gadget Bag, and 32GB Secure Digital SD Memory Card.

  • 18MP CMOS (APS-C), Full HD video, Vari-angle 3″ LCD, live view
  • 9-Point AF, ISO 100-12800 expandable to 25600, 5.0 frames/sec

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