As ubiquitous as phone cameras are, I don’t know anyone who can remain completely unphased with a big camera pointed at their face. That means we could all use a little help when it comes to relaxing in front of the camera.
It’s intense to be professionally photographed. Especially when taking documentary-style photos. Without all the posing, dressing up, or performing, you are being totally exposed for who you around your family. That can feel intimidating.
So what is the secret to get everyone – especially parents – to relax in front of the camera?
There are two key things that I learned while working as a filmmaking director in my previous life. Believe it or not, even professional actors can have a hard time relaxing on-camera. In almost any acting class, regardless of the approach, the first step is always learning how to relax and be in the moment.
These simple techniques are the secret to relaxing in front of the camera.
By putting all of your attention on someone else – namely, your child or partner – you will not have space to think about how you might look on camera in this moment.
It sounds simple, but it works if you really do it. Look at your child. If you have a newborn, then memorize their features, take in all the little details. Notice their smell, the tiny creases on their hands and fingers, their eyes fluttering as they sleep.
If your child is older, make yourself 100% available to them. If they want to tell you a story, then listen. If they want to draw a picture, then join them.
By staying present in the moment with your family, you can avoid being in your head and spiraling into a state of anxiety or self-consciousness.
If the act of noticing, as I suggested above, feels too abstract, then place your focus on an activity.
This can be anything. With newborns, it can be swaddling them, singing to them, or feeding them.
With toddlers or young kids, you can read together, bake, do a puzzle, play a game… The activity doesn’t matter too much as far as the photos are concerned. What matters is picking something that is engaging and will make them happy. By actually doing something together (rather than pretending or just going through the motions,) your attention will be fully in the moment, making it much harder for you to be in your head about how you look.
When selecting outfits, make sure to pick something you’re comfortable in. Not just something that looks good. If you feel physically constricted by your outfit, it’s going to keep drawing your attention to your body. You might be constantly adjusting yourself. This will work against the idea of looking and feeling relaxed on-camera.
Thank about what you’ll be doing during your photo session.
For a newborn session, you might be nursing your baby, sitting on the ground, laying down or sitting in bed. Imagine going through those motions in your outfit of choice and make sure it feels good.
For family sessions with younger kids, you will be running around with them, picking them up, sitting on the ground, throwing them in the air, and who knows what else! Make sure your outfit doesn’t limit any of those movements.
The ultimate goal is to find a balance between acting naturally in front of the camera while also doing your part to create a joyful feel in your photos.
When I have to tell a parent, “Mind your face,” I actually take it as a good sign that they are not worried about performing for the camera. But if their resting face is a little more serious (like mine,) then I might remind them to soften it up.
It helps to maintain a positive attitude and simply delight in the company of your family. Hopefully by going back to step #1 and focusing on your child, that will happen automatically. If not, pretend like they are the most beautiful, sweet, wonderful thing you’ve even seen. Does that sound doable?
Something to note: It is MUCH easier to make adjustments once you’re in a more relaxed state. So if you’re struggling with self-consciousness during your photo session, the priority should be getting yourself to relax. Nothing more.
Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer for a break if you are struggling. There’s no need to white-knuckle your way through a session. It’s better to take a moment to collect yourself than to try and push through, especially if things feel a little chaotic (which they probably will at some point.)
As a photographer, I try to be sensitive to how everyone is feeling. A little confession: many times during a session when I ask for a moment (to look at the photos, have a sip of water, etc.) what I’m really doing is giving the family a break. It takes a lot of energy to be in front of the camera for so long.
But if this goes unnoticed, I encourage you to ask for a couple of minutes to yourself. It can make all the difference. Especially because the photos will only feel as good to you as your experience during the session.
©marjorie cohen photography | los angeles photographer