How to Put Posing and Expression into Action
Let's talk about this key ingredient. We talk about natural, we talk about genuine, we talk about authentic. What we're talking about is expressiveness. How does it feel? And oftentimes, there's several things that you can do as the photographer to really make sure that you're getting your subjects, their natural expressiveness, to come out as comfortably as possible. When you start any photo shoot, especially with people you don't know from anywhere, they just booked a session, you're going out, you're doing a shoot, to expect that they're gonna show up and be all them, right in front of you, right away, it doesn't happen. You have to invite them to be all them, and then you have to make them feel very comfortable and loosen them up, and you can do it by a few different strategies. One of the strategies is to just respond to what you see. If you see a dynamic, if you see the way someone teases somebody, if you see the way they can knock each other over, a brother and sister for instan...
ce, you can then use that and bring it back. You heard earlier where I said for somebody to get Eva unstuck, because this is all the time with children. And then they just stay. And then you have to, like, physically shake them or say something, or have somebody else say something to them. That's one thing I like to do a lot is basically get help. (laughs) Let go, basically let go of any set ideas of what you went out to do in the first place. If you're going out with a specific shot list, and that is what you're going to achieve one way or the other, you're gonna leave a lot of great stuff on the table. You're gonna be so focused on trying to get what you see that you're gonna miss what's happening in front of you. And so when I go out, I start, you probably saw me, I stopped, I go, "Hmm, what am I gonna do with you?" I didn't know what I was gonna do, but I'm gonna say let's put you all together, and then let's work from here. Let's start warming up, let's start getting into more shoots that I feel are more active posing, but let's at least start by giving you the rules, and see where we are. So that kind of letting go of that, and clearly, any sense of dignity. If you can kind of just forget about you looking like anything that has dignity, you're gonna get a lot better expressions, you're gonna get a lot more interaction, you're gonna get a lot more natural kind of interchange, which makes for amazing portraits. Keep your subjects with you, by whatever means necessary. With younger children, this is actually a physical thing. How do I get you back in the frame? There's a lot of chasing, there's a lot of moving, there's a lot of going into position where you try to get them to come to you. Emotionally, or spiritually, or presence-wise, it's about calling someone back and refreshing them.
Tamara, I've got a couple questions from various people. Meredith Zinner Photography, two others, "What do you do with children that don't want "to be held or don't like to stand still?" "How do you take pictures of family where there are "toddlers and keep the toddler's attention to where "you can get the picture you want?" Is this something we're gonna go into?
So, first of all, hi, Meredith. Secondly, in terms of, what was the first part? The second part was you keep toddlers, and what was the first one?
What do you do with children that don't want to be held, or don't like to stand still?
Yes, okay, so definitely the tactile thing is big. Like some children love to be mushed, and like that little puppy, right? Like, I don't know what that puppy, actually it probably doesn't want to be held that much. (laughs) But some children just love that, and really thrive on it, and others just need a little space, that's just how their built, you know? And what I do is I make sure I set up a pose that better reflects that. There's definitely children that, the way they blossom is to give them a little room. So not every child has to be held. Not every toddler has to be held, in fact, some of the better portraits are when they are very much being themselves, and we regroup everybody else around them into a position that makes it work. So the one that often is the most problematic is usually the one that you start with. Let's start with you, so that's why so often it's dads. (laughs) So but you're starting with the one that you feel might have the most resistance. You might have the most, kind of, I tell you this, but you're gonna do the complete opposite or ignore me, that kind of relationship with, and you just kind of go with anything I can get from you is great, but let's try to make this easier. In terms of the other question about toddlers who won't stay, I do a whole bunch of natural trapping, where we're actually creating physical barriers. I have, in our studio we have just the simple foam board that you can set up to be kind of an art board to reflect wall back. I will physically contain children in there, and then you kind of turn it into a game. I actually show that in The Posing Playbook. And I have the, on-location, I will find, if I'm in a big open field, I will try to move everything into a bit of a corner. And then, literally, just kind of keep people in that space, because if it's wide open, I'm just lost. So those are just some techniques that we can use. I mentioned to using reinforcements as needed, if I know that there's a certain dynamic between members of the family, then I can use them to help me. I'll show you a clip of that in a second, where I get dad to go in and fix something for me. This next clip I'm about to show you is, when I'm talking about setting up a posing, and I'm talking about working on lighting, and I'm talking about keeping the energy moving the whole time I'm going, this next clip, I think, is a pretty good example of how all of that's coming together, within a minute. So for this next thing, you're warmed up?
You're good. For this next thing, we're gonna do a switcheroo, and we're gonna switch your hair, because I want the look of this to be kind of a little more flowy, right? So say goodbye to these ridiculously gorgeous french braids. French braids?
Arevois. Shake it out. Plus, I love the pink tips, right?
Now you can really see the pink.
Your hair's all wavy.
Alright, oh my gosh, so pretty! You do. So we're gonna do something like this, do you see, oh sorry.
Do you see how she's up, like straddling?
Yep? I know she's--
No, we can do it, we're gonna get, and then we're gonna adjust, we're gonna adjust. Oh yeah, you wanna see, right, come here.
Yeah, you wanna see what you're doing? That's you.
Here, do you need to see it closer? Here let me help you.
You see it?
Okay, good! Ready? So jump up on mama.
One, two, three.
Yes, excellent! (laughs) Alright, let's get this, alright. Beautifulness! You're in here, no no no, you're in here too. So this is your job, ready?
My mom can't hold out for that long. (Mom laughs)
Yes she can, she's so strong, she walks every day.
I can hold out longer, I can give her piggy-back rides.
You are like this, but you're down here, right? Just do it, just do it.
Alright, wait wait wait, see where you are? Look at this, you went over here. But that's, like, 40 feet in front of them. You wanna be here. And you see this knee? This is an obstacle for you, isn't it?
So what if you came this way, and held on like that? And, wait, no no! (laughs)
Are you hiding behind me?
She's doing this, she's like. And just like this, you're gonna be here, see? Do you see the difference?
Alright, so instead of squeezing with all your might, you're gonna softly squeeze, and instead of your head going that way, it's gonna go this way, you see that? Do you see the difference? Alright, and let's put this like this, so that works. Mom, you have this one hair, I'm just gonna cut it, later, when I don't need to anymore. I'm gonna pull your hair back, and we're gonna be, the one thing I'm gonna think about is your eye line is kinda gonna be at her, like that, so what we don't want is the eyes all up. They don't need to be perfectly, like cheek to eye, et cetera, but we do want it a little bit more like that. See? Do you see the difference?
Line up our eyes?
No we don't want your eyes lined up, no. If you see her eye go anywhere near your eye, you just say, "Get lost, eye." I was talking to you, too. Alright, beautiful. And then I'm gonna step back here. So imagine you're like this, and you're just gonna be like that, yes! Very good. And then I'm gonna shoot this, and then, okay, the lighting is awesome.
The pose is awesome. Virginia does not even look like she's sweating, I don't know how that's happening. The only shift I wanna make is, Eva, do me a favor, don't smile for a second. Everybody just be soft, like no smiling. You're not mad, you're not furious, and you're very, Eva you're totally smiling! (laughs) We're gonna softly, softly not smile. And then, can you track me, if I go here, can you adjust to me? Yes! Good. You're gonna have to, like, daddy where are you? Can you come here for a second? I'm gonna use you as a refresher. Can you go in there, and just take her by the face, and say, "Snap out of it!"?
Okay. Ready? Eva! (claps) Snap out of it!
(laughs) Excellent snapping! Oh, that was brilliant, Eric! That was brilliant desnapping! I'm gonna go this way, and we're gonna do one more, and then we're gonna give you a break. Okay, and this time, do me a favor, snap both of them.
Hey, Ella. (claps) (Girl yelps)
Excellent desnapping! Oh, that's brilliant, drop your shoulder, Ella, drop your shoulder, yeah! Great, good! (laughs) Do you see the benefit of getting reinforcements, having him go and do that? I could've, like, left my position, run up there, and done that, or I could've asked an assistant to go up and do that, but neither one would've had the same expressions, I mean, she might've responded to me after a certain amount of time of being playful, so because everyone wants to play with the stranger for a while until they're done, you know? But I wouldn't have been back in position to get the snap second I needed, especially shooting from that far away. And, not necessarily would I have had the same sort of thing with an assistant. The other thing I found is that, when I do ask maybe an assistant to do that, oftentimes the subject, their eyes will go back with the assistant, whereas they kind of know to go back after the parent leaves the scene, it's really interesting. Especially when they're a little older. You saw me tell Ella to drop her shoulder, right? Did you see how high up it got? So normal, high up that it got. The other thing that you probably didn't see, 'cause the camera was on them, but when they moved, she went like this, and then I'm across from her, and I go like, I just physically did this to her, I didn't say a word, and then she went back like that. 'Cause she now knew what to do, we talked about it a couple times, and all I have to do is a physical hint, like a visual hint, and then they'll do it. And then of course, what I'm going for here, when I talk about framing, is that kind of classic triangular composition where they are in that lovely triangle and we have the benefit of the way they turned, that house behind them also being a triangle, so that kind of lovely, off-centered double triangle, which works out really well in terms of posing a family. Let's talk about, like, obviously when you see that, it's playful, it's fun, the kids are, I can be physical in terms of like, move here, move here, I talk about that ahead of time with the parents, I say, is it okay, I've washed my hands, but I might move a chin, or this or that, and if there's a reason why it's not okay, like if it's something that bothers a child, it's great to know that upfront, so it's a nice little conversation to have. But in the case where, specifically, no matter what you're doing, there's some level of anxiety, or nerves, or fear, have you ever had that experience with subjects? I certainly have. And sometimes it can be just one little factor that you don't know about, so it's helpful to kind of explore, and have a conversation ahead of time. Other times, it's something to do with what you're trying to do, that they're just uncomfortable with it. Let me show you this, just kind of from a storyboard perspective. I had this family, we're just out, and I'm putting them all together, you see this little girl in the middle is just distracted, she's not comfortable, she's not happy. I had them all up on a fence, and I'm thinking about them, I'm about to start posing them, I'm about to start moving mom and dad in a way that I think is more flattering. But she's not really having any of it. Everybody else is responding, the brother's responding, the sister's responding, she's looking at me, but what does she look like?
I'm terrified! I'll make this face, 'cause I think that's what you're asking for, but this is not gonna change up here in my eyes. Which is often, obviously, where you see the full expression, is in the eyes. You could have her smiling, right now, and still have her eyes exactly like that, and I see sometimes photographs like that, and that's not what we want. So I said, "Okay, what are you most nervous about right now? "What's bothering you?" And it was because she was up on a fence, and she was afraid she was gonna fall. And I said, "I've got your family so tight and close to you, "everybody get a lot tighter to her, and let's practice "a fall, there's no way you're gonna fall, "but let's just all lean forward a little bit." We do that, and then it's like, you get that kind of extra element, that trust rushing in. Like, okay, you've got me. And then I repose everybody and we get the shot. (audience awws) And it's back in her eyes. But sometimes you just gotta say, "Okay, what if "the worst thing did happen, who would be there for you?" And if you also see, we reshuffled them so they were really close on her, so she knew that they had her. Things like that is when you're photographing families, and not only are you doing all the technical things right, like the lighting, the composition, the posing, but you're also having these experiences where you really get who they are to each other, it's such a privilege, I always feel like it's such an honor to kind of peek into that with families.