While I always advocate spending some time and getting to know someone a bit before pointing the camera in their faces, oftentimes when we’re traveling, we might have just a few seconds to get a travel portrait we’d like. Looking at the sample photos above, how do you get someone to go from a cold posed shot to a relaxed one in just seconds?
Here are two surefire tips that have helped me when I have very little time but would still like to leave with decent travel portraits. Again, I only use these approaches when I’m absolutely pressed for time but would love to take portraits of someone who intrigues me.
1) Make them uncomfortable
Not in a sinister way but one thing I’ve noticed is that when someone lingers a little too long while taking portraits, people become uncomfortable, their eyes often dart left and right wondering when the photographer will be done already and most people tend to giggle or laugh when they feel uncomfortable. I usually linger about 2-3 extra seconds. Now, taking that one step further (because I don’t want to capture weird uncomfortable giggles), I actually ask them right out if I’m making them uncomfortable while lingering without hitting the shutter. Most people just laugh in response to be polite. A honest laugh. And that’s when I take the shot.
If we don’t speak a common language, instead of asking them, I start laughing myself which in turn relaxes them to the point of either laughing along or at least relaxing the tension along their lips.
2) Confuse them
Again, not in a sinister or contrived way to embarrass them, but asking people random unrelated questions while you’re taking their photos also relaxes them. When the questions come quickly and are unrelated, people tend to first contort their faces in confusion and then laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. It’s that brief moment when they relax that I try to capture.
Again, if we don’t speak a common language, I usually stick to the first tip above.
While making people uncomfortable and confusing them might sound counterintuitive to getting them to relax for a photo, it has actually worked for me almost every time I have to quickly create a portrait within seconds of meeting someone. The goal is not to necessarily have them laughing in a photo but to have them release that guarded tension in their faces they often put up with strangers (in this case, me as the passing photographer), and having them do this within seconds is a huge challenge.
So what do you guys think about these unconventional tips?