Are you a male? Unless you’re an actor, politician, or other type of celebrity, then it’s more than likely that you don’t relish the thought of having a professional photo taken of yourself. Of course it all depends on the individual. Yet generally speaking, females tend to be more comfortable having a portrait made of themselves – and are more camera-friendly – than your average male.
As someone who has spent time in front of the camera, and even more time more behind it, I can attest to the powerful reluctance that many men feel when being photographed. Not only have I experienced this while having my portrait taken, I’ve seen it happen with males that I’ve shot. There is an intimacy that takes place when posing for a camera, and most men are naturally uncomfortable with such closeness with a stranger.
It comes down to aesthetics too. Women tend to be more graceful, are accustomed to tending to their appearances when around others, and will often photograph well. Men on the other hand usually don’t give a thought to how they look other than to make sure clothes are on and shoelaces tied. The act of focusing on one’s own looks, and presenting one’s face for the scrutiny of a professional photographer, is an awkward place to be for many men.
To help you bypass these obstacles to making a great male portrait, I’d like to offer some tips. Whatever course you take, remember that the key to making a great portrait of anyone – male or female – comes down to your ability to engage your subject, and of course capture the micro-moment when your subject reveals his or her inner self.
Preliminary to Shooting
I was once asked by a local magazine to show up at a studio in town so that I could have my portrait taken. I’d never met the photographer. Hence I was already feeling a bit uneasy before the shoot, wondering just how this stranger would be portraying me. Would I look ridiculous? Maybe I would regret agreeing to it in the first place. Whatever the results, I’d be displayed to the public via the magazine, which only heightened my anxiety.
Thankfully the photographer called me to talk about the shoot. This was a big help! In addition to breaking the ice with her, I asked for any guidelines on what to wear. She simply asked that I show up in whatever I was comfortable in. I also had a chance to describe what I would want for a look.
After spending just a few minutes on the phone, I was encouraged by her confident tone and easygoing demeanor. I hung up feeling more positive about the shoot. When I showed up the next day, we quickly got to work since we’d already gotten the introductions out of the way. Of course being a photographer meant that we had plenty in common, which made it even easier to focus on the shoot.
Conversation and Direction
Even if I wasn’t a photographer, I could tell that she would be just as engaging with me. She had a warm, friendly personality. Combined with her professionalism, I was fast feeling at ease. I didn’t have to initiate conversation because she kept things flowing.
With males, it’s all about finding what we’re interested in, and then engaging us on the subject. Perhaps it’s sports, or work, or family. When the conversation gets going the rest of the shoot becomes much easier.
Establishing such rapport is key when putting a male subject into the relaxed state necessary for good portraits. This is why I consider portrait photographers to be master psychologists, for they must be able to simultaneously get their subjects to let their guard down while focusing on capturing the moment.
The other quality that made my portrait session successful was the photographer’s direction. She made it very clear to me exactly what she wanted me to do. Because most men are totally unfamiliar with posing, it’s best to have in mind beforehand the type of looks and poses you will suggest. You don’t want to be vague. Men love clarity and decisiveness, and as long as they have that direction from the photographer, it’ll be easier to achieve the desired results.
Tips For Posing
Although certain posing tips apply to any portrait session, there are some in particular that apply only to men. For example, you can shoot a male straight on to highlight shoulders and jaw whereas you might want to pose a female at a more flattering angle. Also, men tend to look relaxed and natural when sticking their hands in their pockets. Loose-hanging limbs are often an issue, so if there’s any confusion about what to do with hands, try the pockets or crossing the arms.
Another trick for combating male awkwardness is a prop. If you have a pertinent object that can be placed into the subject’s hands, such as a guitar, monkey wrench, or basketball, this can also go a long ways towards making a great portrait. Again, discussing the male’s interests is key to this process to find an object that works.
You can also consider your location as a prop. If your man has a plane at the local airport, you might consider going there to shoot. Or if he’s a construction worker, perhaps a visit to a building zone would be something to try. Even difficult-to-photograph males will become easier subjects when they’re in a familiar or interesting location. You’ll also find it easier to tell their story when in one of their preferred habitats.
As always, try different angles and lenses. Each male has a natural stance and build that will suggest the best way to pose. You don’t want to emphasize any insecurities the fellow has about his body, so try to stick with poses and angles that highlight the strong points. Just remember to use your skill as both psychologist and director to decipher the needed approach, and you’ll be ready to make a great portrait.