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Getting Comfortable in Front of the Camera

I have been back living in Toronto now almost a year and a half and I still find myself fascinated when photographing architecture and cityscapes. I believe, as I have mentioned in the past, that each city I visit, I find myself inspired by different elements. When I first began shooting, when I was living in Paris, I would mostly shoot the sunsetting, the Seine and recognizable landmarks.  Eventually I became fascinated on photographing candid images of people. I have always been moved by images of people captured in their natural state. Once people are aware the camera is pointed at them they change their demeanour immediately.

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This past summer I came across a fellow Instagram photographer, Irvine James whose portraits extremely fascinated me and told a story. I had the opportunity to shoot with him and instantaneously learned how different it was shooting people versus photographing motionless subjects.

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I am accustomed to finding my subject, situating my tripod and setting my camera to achieve the hopefully perfect exposure.  With people you have to constantly move around and change your camera settings according to the lighting bouncing off your subject.  When shooting a lifeless subject, the same elements are required but the subject never has the ability to get tired, restless and lose interest.

Just recently I had the opportunity to shoot with both Irvine James and Kally Minikakis in a studio.  Each of us are comfortable shooting different subjects in various settings and we thought we could learn from one another new skills and techniques.


This particular photoshoot was a way to see how it felt in front of the camera as well as standing behind the camera.  I realized when I was taking the other’s pictures I suddenly became quiet behind the camera.  I would focus on the best angles and the camera settings.  I would tend to forget it was necessary to communicate with the person modelling. It is easy to forget the model does not likely know your vision.

Kally and Irvine have shot together another time and as an exercise the photographer would state an emotion and the subject would do their best to show that emotion using their facial expressions.  We figured it was an amusing way to loosen up, laugh a little and become more comfortable posing in front of the camera.

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All the images were captured using Irvine’s Nikon D7000 mostly using a 50mm lens. We all used Irvine’s camera because the lighting was set up to trigger the lighting only using a Nikon.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test out my Sony A7 in the studio that day.  Using a camera that I was unfamiliar with also posed a challenge.  I only have experience shooting with a Canon 70D and I just recently had to become acquainted with the Sony features.

Learning how to set up the lighting and working with people as subjects was a whole new learning experience for me.  There is definitely a learning curve when you are adjusting to shooting in a studio as opposed to primarily shooting outdoors.  I felt as if I were an amateur and like I am starting all over again trying to learn the elements to be able to capture a shareable indoor portrait.

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The three of us are all accustomed to standing behind the lens so standing on the other side of the camera as the subject can become intimidating fast!  Obviously the more comfortable you are with the photographer the more likely you are to loosen up when posing. This was a good learning experience knowing how to talk to your model and give them direction as well as concentrate on all the pertinent elements necessary to produce a great image.

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Another way to lower your inhibitions with a lens pointed at you is to add props to the shoot.  We incorporated such items like sunglasses, hats, jewelry, clothing and even chewing gum. Adding props into the shoot helps the subject forget a little that there is a camera lens directed at them and gives the subject the ability to concentrate on the prop rather than the camera.  Therefore, being able to capture them in a more relaxed mood.

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Irvine and Kally had pulled inspirational images that they were hoping to emulate.  We spent a total of five hours this particular day in the studio which we rented for $135 for the first four hours.  It was an additional $35 for an extra hour which we added on half way through the shoot because we realized that lack of time was going to be an issue.  No matter how much I plan anything creative whether it be snapping photos, designing or writing for iLHP I can never gage an accurate completion time.  There are always more things you can do to improve your work and therefore tweaking it to near perfection can be impossible with any sort of time restraint.

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Things do not always go as planned as often as we like in many situations and that is when improvisation comes into play.  There is always trial and error until you reach the goal you are wishing to achieve.

The experience for all of us is a good tool for future shoots when using a model to help us reach our vision.  As the photographer we need to be aware of how to balance time between finding what works best by communicating and directing the model as well as operating the camera. Having the subject trust you and become vulnerable is a lot more challenging than I would have anticipated.  By standing in as a model it allowed us to see how the model requires direction and how important it is for both to have a mutual understanding and respect for the other.

There is no better time then these chilly Great White Canadian North winters to learn all the basic elements to shoot a great portrait.

Until next time,


Don’t forget to check out my Instagram, Facebook and Flickr and gallery!

All images taken by Irvine James, Kally Minikakus and myself Alyssa Black.