So I compiled a list of ideas that have helped me out a ton.
Before my sessions start, I always try to take a good amount of time to really talk to my clients. I want to find out who they are, who their kids are.
If I'm doing engagements, I usually ask them to tell me how they met and their engagement story. I ask about their wedding/honeymoon plans. I find out about what they do for a living and where they live.
For families, I try to get to know each child. How old are they? What are their interests? What kind of things can I do to make them feel comfortable?...sing a song? dance around like a looney person? I really try to get know the dynamic of a family, so that I can help them to settle into the session and maybe get a few smiles out of them. :-)
A lot of times, it's easier to just let the families laugh and play, rather than try to pose them. This is especially true if they have small children. And I tend to love candids a lot better than the posey photos anyway :-)
So I've gotten in the habit of setting up what I call "staged candids". It's a technique where basically you put them in the spot you'd like them to be (for lighting and whatnot) and then let them loose to just "be" as a family. If they are still struggling, give them an activity or game to play. Since these are the types of things they would do on a daily basis anyway, it puts them in their element and allows them to have a lot more fun.
If all else fails, say something to make them laugh. Laughter really loosens up the mood, like a lot. Tell a silly joke, or a funny story about how you tripped and fell into the water while shooting a family session once (<~~~ that's a true story). A lot of times they'll be listening to you and caught completely in a candid moment, just giggling or laughing. And those are the best moments to capture.
In the photo above, they were just sitting there looking at each other and I told him that on the count of four, he was going to tickle her in her most ticklish spot. What you see here, is her nervously laughing in anticipation. I counted pretty slowly, and I stopped counting before I even I got to 4 because the shots I got before that were priceless. So she was spared the tickle torture.
If I'm being totally honest, I'm really not hugely into props. I mean, I definitely think they can liven up an image, but it just isn't MY thing.
That being said, if your clients have ideas of props to bring, or saw something cool on Pinterest -- GO FOR IT! Most times, kids get restless and have a hard time just sitting (or standing) there, so props can keep them busy and still. They are also good for calming nervous hands. You know what I'm talking about -- those times you're trying to pose for a picture and you have no idea what to do with your hands? A prop or something to hold onto, gives you something to grasp and can help you relax.
Well okay, so that gigantic lolly pop isn't exactly a "snack" but it did the trick. Snack time is a must when shooting children, and heck, even adults from time to time. Food settles most people down, am I right? So, tell your client to bring a snack. Take time out to sit down and snack for 5-10 minutes. It will give the family a break from the camera and fill the kiddo's little tummies.
Oh, and food makes a good bribe for the kids who like to run away from the camera. ;-)
On my website, I have a section that talks about "what to wear to a session." I know that this is a cause for anxiety for a lot of people. We're always concerned about our appearance in pictures, so I usually direct them to my website and give them advise on what colors to go for, and what to steer away from. And I usually tell them to bring 2-3 different outfits and we can choose one together.
I know that this helps a lot. People, especially women, need that confirmation that what they are wearing looks good on them, and flatters their figure. So, it's our job to help them choose something they will like in their photos. But also, make sure they are comfortable in what they are wearing. But trust me, once you help them pick the right outfit, they will feel so much better in front of the camera!
Location matters so much!! With small kids, make sure to take them somewhere they can run and around and play. This will really help the kids and the parents out, a lot. I've shot families before that really wanted to go downtown for an "urban" setting, but then once we were there, they couldn't relax because they had to keep such a close eye on their kids -- you know, to make sure they weren't running in the street. So be sure to be making suggestions to them for locations they can feel comfortable in.
If you're shooting bridal or a senior portrait session for a girl, take them somewhere that has a beautiful landscape, or somewhere whimsical. I've found that us ladies feel much prettier, if our surroundings are pretty. You'd be surprised how much this will put them in the right mindset to feel confident.
Since I've started photography, the way I see things has changed so much! It's so easy for me to find the beauty in everything, and in everyone! Throughout my shoots, I go out of my way to let my clients know how much I love their outfit or sense of style. I tell them how happy and in love they look, or how her eyes just light up whenever he looks at her. Or how stinking adorable their little kids are. Because lets face it, kids are dang cute and they do the silliest things.
Giving your clients heartfelt compliments will help them to feel confident and secure while you're clicking away. Be sure that what you're saying is true, because you always need to be genuine. But always be looking for positive things to say to them to help them feel comfortable.
And by this, I mean do something you wouldn't usually do. Obviously, keep in mind who your client is, because I'm sure there are certain things you wouldn't want to do with kids. But, go inside buildings, or to a location you've never been to.
I think as photographers, we have a habit of sticking to what we know. Which isn't always a bad thing, but it can keep us stuck in ruts. It's fun be to be spontaneous and go with the flow. Keep an open mind as you are scouting locations, or wandering around with you're clients. You're spontaneity can rub off onto your clients, and in turn make things more fun and interesting for them.
Let your clients get to know you!! Tell them about yourself and don't be afraid to open up to them. Be yourself 100% of the time, and you will find that your clients will let go of their nerves a little more and feel more free to just be themselves.
Simple as that.
This kind of goes along with "Getting to know them." It's super important not to have any expectations of your clients. Everyone is at different places in their lives, and has a different story. Some will be very comfortable in front of the camera, and some will feel very awkward and sometimes intimidated. Each person, each family is unique in how they respond to the camera and the situation. What works for one family, might not work for another -- so get to know them, think outside the box a little and try different things. Eventually, you'll get into a groove!
Some clients are just going to have a harder time settling into the shoot. And it can take a little bit to help them feel comfortable there. But getting professional photos taken are so so important, so be sure to remind them of that. And if all else fails, just have fun!! If you have fun at the shoot, they will, too. And chances are, their images will reflect that.
HAPPY SHOOTING! Hope this helped! :)