How to shoot people interacting

How to shoot people interacting


Planning the good shot
From my experience creating good stock images is a fine balance between the creative control of the photographer and/or the art director and the creative impulse of the talent. As photogs we always need to know where we are going, what we want next. Otherwise you will be wasting sooo much time standing there trying to come up with the next shot. Here I am refering to the wonders of shootplanning, the secret to calmness and mental tranquility for any succesful photog. In case you are wondering shootplanning means to sit down in a quiet place thinking hard about the storyline for the day – you do your research and creative gymnastics and come up with “A PLAN”. Failing to plan is planning to fail, remember that!

In charge
It is a good idea to remember that the model is there for YOU, just waiting for your directions. We really have to be in charge. Remember that the model does not know what you see through the lens, and more often than not I find the models amazed at what was just captured when I show them the back of the camera.

Instructing the models
I mentioned a balance between the creative control of the photog and the creative impulse of the talent. From my experience with more than 50 stock shoots what I often do is that I instruct the models about the situation they are playing out. And then I ask them to sit there for a minute thinking about how that would be in real life, discuss it with them, and then I “let go”. I instruct the models to joke around with the situation to “play it out”. I get them to play with the words that would have been said in a real life situation. For instance the lady in the picture was joking about firing all the employees and withdrawing all their earnings. You don’t know that when you see the picture, but you do get a feeling of genuine emotion. You sort of let them go their own way hopefully almost forgetting that you are there pointing a huge piece of molded glass towards them, and in return you get to capture real people interaction with other real people. Not nervous wrecks sitting there trying to squeeze out a frozen smile while you stand there with a pool of sweat by you feet shouting “smile, smile … I need happy businesspeople”.

Play it out – but still in control
It is important that you remember to get the models to freeze so that you can record a tack sharp frame. Without the sharpness you might as well take a nap instead. That would be more productive. I ask the models to fluctuate between genuine interaction and “locking the frame”. Say I ask them to “explain something to the others”. The star of the picture might say “Now dear colleagues I am going to give you a huge raise and a Mercedes Benz as bonus for all the hard work”, and then when the emotions come (the others smile or laugh) my models always know they have to freeze for at least 2 clicks on the camera. There is a fine balance here. And you will need a lot of practice before this becomes effortless. And of course you models also need to be serious about the situation.

How do you deal with your models? Experiences, comments, tips, tricks?


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5 Responses to “How to shoot people interacting”

  1. Nice post D, great tips. Further tip if you don’t mind.. repetition can be the key to breaking the ice, or ‘frozen smiles’ you mentioned. This means asking them to do something twice or 3 times often produces a better result, than at first attempt. Some interactions/emotions need to be forced to appear convincing in the end product… repetition could help. Just a thought.

  2. Sometimes what the models talk about while we are shooting makes me have to stop and laugh. At a recent medical shoot I had an Asian doctor/nurse talking to a young black female patient. He was telling her all about her pregnancy. Got lots of good smiles.

  3. Good tips Laflor and from pixdeluxe too.

    Anyone that has carried out a stock shoot with a large group will find this info priceless as I’m sure, at some point, they would of come across models loosing interest and getting bored with repetitive requests from the photographer – like you say “smile smile I need happy business people” doesn’t work after 7 hours of saying it. I found on numerous occasions, in my early days that there is always one model that starts to drift and become distracting to the rest of the group, it’s human nature over long periods of time. This is infuriating for a photographer and results in second rate images.However, only the photographer is to blame for loosing his models. Coming up with a silly story and a little acting not only creates the ‘natural’ smiles we’re looking for in stock but it helps relax a group of people that until a few moments earlier, may have never met each other in their lives before.

    During my travelling years I got a job in the marketing sector in Australia. This required getting into character every day as we would knock hundreds of doors and annoy people to buy something they didn’t need. We were always met with negative and sometimes aggressive responses, understandably. To counter act this negativity our manager always started the day with silly motivational warm up exercises and a lengthy motivational speech. I hated doing these warm ups as bouncing around pretending to be an elephant by using my swinging arm to act as a trunk made me feel a fool at 8am in the morning but the result was always the same – we laughed! The ice was broken and the cobwebs wiped away and we ready for the day.

    I now use something similar to those silly motivation warm ups to get my models relaxed and laughing between themselves before we even start shooting.OK I don’t require my models to be able to act like an elephant but I do expect them to create a story that each person can add to which always ends up with someone making us all laugh. A good motivational speech at the start of the shoot always helps to so each person is aware of what they are being paid to do and the benefits to them if they do it well. I always end a shoot with models wanting to work with me again. The difficulty with this style is in capturing the images sharp when people are naturally laughing and moving – If large apertures and slow shutter speeds are being used in low light and even sometimes when using only flash.Unfortunately, as Pixdeluxe mentioned this requires repetition to get the right usable shot. I insist on repeating a silly story 3 times before i move on which normally results in one useable shot in the end.

    Thanks for the great tips.Both you and pixdeluxe have beautiful disciplined (surprisingly similar styles) work in your portfolios that reflects the tips your offering to other stock photographers. This can only push the standards higher and encourage photographers to improve their own standard of work.

    Good luck and well done.

    P.S Sorry for the lengthy reply.

  4. Hi Dean,
    Thanks for the comment. I think the motivational speech part is very essential. That makes the whole group united and focused on the task at hand. The more we involve the models in what is going to happen, the easier it is for them to understand one’s instructions as the hours pass by.

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