Assuming this is PORTRAIT photography (where you have one on one time with no event distractions):
For very natural expressions, the thing I do is aim to make the subject feel SAFE (always). I mean: EMOTIONALLY SAFE. You must demonstrate that you are not judging them and make an effort to understand and appreciate their issues around taking photos. People are more open around people who they feel safe with. Make this a priority. People smile in an unnatural way or pose unnaturally because they haven’t created a relaxed relationship with you yet. I also coach them on being present with their body (more on this later).
I tell my subjects/clients exactly how the shoot is going to go so there’s more certainty. More certainty creates confidence and the feeling of being safe. They know how it’s going to play out. I also ask them some questions that I find super important (because I wish people who photographed me were more sensitive to these topics). As a photographer, I try my best to be a good listener.
Some questions I ask (helps build rapport and helps you know your subject):
- How do you feel about taking photos?
- How do you feel about smiling with teeth? (Some photographers assume people like to smile. This is ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE. So many people hate their teeth, hate their smile, or some other issue)
- What parts of your body do you not like? (They will tell you. And they will probably be relieved that you know this info.)
No matter how beautiful I think they are, I promise them that I will not force them to do anything they aren’t comfortable doing. And sometimes they become so relaxed during the shoot (after we agree on the boundaries of our shoot), I actually do get their beautiful smile.
Here’s an example of what I tell my clients:
“The shoot will take about 2 hours. And it usually happens in three phases. The first phase is where you and I are going to get to know each other. We’ll get some practice shots out of the way. It might be weird because there will be a lot of times where I’m mostly going to be staring at you and not saying anything. If I’m not giving you any direction, don’t worry, it’s because I’m thinking or trying to focus my lens. I’m totally going to be staring at you A LOT. I might get really close with my camera and it’s gonna feel weird. About 45 minutes in, we’re probably going to get our money shots and then if we feel like it, we can be playful and we can even try weird things.”
SO now that I’ve told them how the shoot it going to go, I tell them to pay extra attention to their body. I actually talk to them as if this were a job. “Your job is to chill out. When I’m not giving you direction, just keep doing what you’re doing because I probably really like it. Also, you might be used to smiling or sitting or standing a certain way in front of the camera, I might give you different directions. So your job is to focus: chin down because I want your eyes closer to my lens. People sometimes tilt their head so I may repeatedly tell you ‘head straight’.” Just clue your subjects in on the trappings of unnatural expressions and create the expectation that you may give them repeat instructions.
Create confident clients/subjects and make them feel emotionally safe.
I hope this is helpful.