Updated: Feb 12, 2019
I'm often asked, why do people lose their ability to look natural when they are getting their picture taken? Why do we suddenly become unable to stand or sit naturally? Why do we not know what to do with our hands? I'm reminded of that funny scene from Talladega Nights:
Why do we lose the ability to function normally? Why do portraits often look like this:
Did these people suddenly forget how to sit comfortably? Do they suddenly not know how to relax? Are they going through life looking awkward and weird?
Here's the secret:
Their subconscious mind knows how to pose their body naturally, their conscious mind does not.
Why is this? Well, if you think about it, when you go about your day, you are not consciously thinking about how to stand or sit or what to do with your hands. Your muscle memory takes care of all of that. The good news is that you've spent your entire life up to this point trying not to look awkward and stupid. It's something you've practiced every day. Your muscle memory is an expert at not making you look weird.
The challenge is when you consciously pose. Your conscious mind (frontal lobe) has very little practice knowing how to position your limbs in a natural way. So, when you are focusing on how to pose your body, you suddenly become awkward.
This is also true with simple facial expressions. Obviously, anyone knows how to smile...until you intentionally try to smile using your frontal lobe. This is when a person starts to choke because his frontal lobe has little experience figuring out to smile - it's always your muscle memory that does the smiling. This is why babies don't fake smile - they only smile when their subconscious tells them too...
So, as a photographer, you must be an expert at using your subject's muscle memory or subconscious when posing. They must feel comfortable and relaxed. Their minds need to be NOT focusing on how to pose. Your role is to distract them from the fact that they are getting their portrait taken - allowing their subconscious to take control of their bodies and expressions.
Again, the good news is that everyone already knows how to pose in a way that is natural for them. In a future post, I'll explain exactly how to help them stay in their muscle memory during the entire session. Until then, understand it's your responsibility to help you subjects stay natural and comfortable. If you say, "That person was so awkward! He/She was impossible to make look natural!" - understand that the problem is yours - you weren't very good at helping them feel like themselves.
Learn more at learn.fotomethod.com.