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by Cyril Le Roux in Photography Tips
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How to get the best expressions for portrait photography

This week, we are introducing Cyril Le Roux, who, in addition to working at PhotoBox as a Senior Product Manager, is also one of the ‘resident’ photographers running his own photography business in West London. Starting with this blog post about getting the most from your subjects during portrait sessions, Cyril will be giving you regular tips on how you can become a better photographer, so please bookmark this page if you have not already done so!

Cyril: When taking portraits, it’s often difficult to get natural expressions from subjects. Unless they’re natural born actors or models, many people tend to be self-conscious in front of the camera. Asking them to ‘smile’ only makes things worse, which is why you rarely hear professional photographers say it to non-professional subjects. The fantastic results they get is not so much due to their equipment but to the way they direct their subject. You’ll find below some of their secrets that I am happily sharing with you…

Portrait Photography 1, Lift

1. Get people to talk

When you start, tell your friend or family member not to worry about what they look like right now because you’re just testing the settings of the camera. Observe the expressions you’d like to capture while they talk. Once you have one or two expressions from them, drive the conversation back to the subject or emotion that you identified and shoot when you see what you liked.

2. Encourage

Give a lot of positive feedback early on in the session, especially if you’re not getting good results. Make people feel good about themselves and the results will improve dramatically. Compliment them on their outfit, a nice piece of jewellery or the efforts they’re putting into it. Your subject will relax and look more natural.

Portrait 5, Happy Couple

3. Use props

Props have a powerful effect on people. People get a boost of confidence with objects that represent a craft or a passion, something that they’re proud of. Props work even when they’re not in the shot. Just talking about what they represent will bring up the passion in the person you are photographing.

Portrait, Guitar

4. Shoot the reaction

This technique is a favourite of mine. Many great photographers, like New York Photographer Peter Hurley, use it extensively. Ask your subject to do very difficult expressions and shoot the reaction when they break out of character. For instance, ask them for a quizzical look, one of empathy and one of ambivalence. Play along by shooting all these expressions. However, the one you really want to shoot is the point at which they give up switching from emotion to emotion.

How to get the best expressions for portrait photography

5. And eventually… Shoot with your heart!

John Free, a renowned street photographer, encourages waiting for the moment and shooting when the emotion is right. This implies being ready for it. Never take your finger off the trigger while your subject is with you.

These are my top 5 tips. Have you ever tried them? If so, how did it go? What techniques are you using when taking portraits? We’d love to hear more from you!

Images by: © Creative Imaging (top), Cyril Le Roux, Ohako Photography (2nd and 3rd photo), and Lies Through a Lens (bottom).

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