As a photographer, how many times have you had your portrait taken. There is  nothing more uncomfortable and awkward than sitting in front of a camera trying  to evoke a natural smile or a true, heart felt expression. Let’s be honest, the  experience of having your portrait taken can be down right terrifying, yet we  aspire to have our subjects pose and emote in an organic and subtle way that  transcends and captures the embodiment of our subjects personality. Simple  right?

The reality is that the camera makes our subjects self-conscious and hyper  aware of their appearance, with an overall fear of not capturing a single image  that meets their approval. I mean, how many of us truly look in the mirror each  morning thinking, “Wow, I am looking fantastically, good today?” Most of the  time, all we can see are the imperfections and bothersome nuances that melt away  and stifle the perception of our own esthetic. So how does one capture a nice,  natural portrait?

I have read many articles and blog posts concerning this topic. Many focus on  trying to relax your subject either through gentle conversation and personal  connection or simply by breaking out some wine as a medicament to treat the  inhibitions created by the shoot. The truth is that there is no easy recipe to  help overcome this problem. No matter whether you are shooting a model, family  member, or even a close friend, the camera is still the giant 400 pound gorilla  in the room that everyone knows is there regardless of any distractions. So what  can we do?

Aside from normal social graces and pre-planning  for the shoot, I have one simple method that surprisingly works almost every  time. PROPS! It is amazing what magic can happen when you give your subject  something else to interact with while you are shooting. Cuts right through some  of those awkwardly, silent moments when both you and the subject know things are  not working yet no one wants to admit it. Yes, we all experience these  gratingly, uncomfortable situations.

So what kind of props am I talking about? All and any kinds. They can be  silly, beautiful, interesting or even surprisingly strange. These can be fresh  flowers, a costume, a masquerade mask, a piece of interesting fabric, a hat, a  pet, a piece of fruit, sports equipment, a music instrument, a lawn mower, oven  mitts, or even an original, mint in box, Darth Vader action figure from Star  Wars. The reality is that any item that has some meaning to the subject or that  they can relate to will work and don’t be afraid to go way outside the box into  the realm of the disturbingly obscure or insanely cliche. It is amazing how a  simple prop can break the ice and give the subject something with which to  interact, allowing you to capture a few true emotive moments when they have  forgotten about the camera, shed some of the self conscious inhibitions and  helped you create a beautifully expressive portrait.

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