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Coaching Actions to Create Natural Movement

“Motion creates emotion,” according to Tony Robbins. I agree. I’m a big believer in the notion that how you move is how you feel. I would like to borrow that idea and apply it to photography. Movement goes a long way in communicating authentic emotion. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy coaching actions: big or small movements and tasks that I direct my subject to perform during the shoot (FIGURES 2.6).

Figure 2.6

Figure 2.6. The action I coached here was, “Close your eyes and slowly pull down your strap, enjoying every moment of it.”

50mm lens, ISO 400, f/2.0, 160 sec.

With real women who have never professionally modeled before, offering an action to perform instead of asking for a pose makes it easier for them to be real and look natural. A nonmodel’s biggest challenge is most often her self-consciousness and the fact that she doesn’t know go-to poses that both flatter and look natural. In fact, many photographers also struggle with the fear of not knowing how to pose a subject. You can overcome all of these hesitations by simply giving your subject easy actionable directions, such as “toss your hair,” “shake your booty,” or “twirl” (FIGURE 2.7). The results look more emotive and authentic than when your subject is just standing there wondering what to do or striking a static pose where she seems disconnected from herself and the moment. For this image, the direction I gave her was to simply run across camera from point A to point B several times until I nailed the shot that created mood, mystery, and movement.

Figure 2.7

Figure 2.7. The lovely swirl of her red dress helps illustrate movement.

24–70mm lens, ISO 100, f/2.8, 100 sec.

There are further benefits to coaching actions as well, which all go a long way in bringing out the best in any woman who steps in front of your camera. First, you disable any self-consciousness by transferring her focus to performing the action instead of trying to look good. Second, you create natural movement to capture instead of a lifeless pose. Third, you begin to exhaust her nervous tension by keeping her in motion and repeating the action. This gets her blood flowing and revives her expressions when her energy has waned.

The following are four essential techniques to maximize the effectiveness of coaching actions:

Keys to Coaching Actions

  1. Demonstrate the move

    If your subject is unsure of how to perform the action you’re coaching, always provide her with a quick demonstration. While you’re shooting, without putting your camera aside, briefly demonstrate the action you’re asking her to do. By seeing you perform it first, she’ll feel less silly doing it herself and will be more likely to commit 100 percent to it.

  2. Repeat as needed

    When you ask your subject to repeat an action over and over again, it gives you multiple opportunities to capture something gorgeous (FIGURE 2.8). The action I coached for this image was to hold the scarf taut over her head and shimmy it back and forth. I had her do this multiple times until I lucked out when all the pieces came together: her breast, lips, and eye were visible, the scarf’s fringe showed movement, and her legs were crossed, forming a nice curve at the end of frame.

    Figure 2.8

    Figure 2.8. Shot in Big Sur at Edward Weston’s estate, Wildcat Hill, with one of my favorite nude models.

    24–70mm lens, ISO 400, f/3.2, 60 sec.

    By doing an action several times, your subject will embrace it more, relax and get into it, and laugh when she messes up. Each of those are unique and awesome captures. Repetition is also a secret ploy to consume her nervous energy. It’s hard for someone to be nervous when she’s tired out.

  3. Commit fully

    Ask your subject to commit 100 percent to the action. Leap high, laugh big, sigh deeply. Then coach her to push the action to the extreme. Coach her to “kick your leg higher” or “toss your hair with more abandon.”

  4. Use in tandem with posing guidelines

    Coaching actions guarantees that you create natural, authentic movement, even without knowing additional posing guidelines and even with a woman who has never stepped in front of a pro’s camera before. In the next chapter, we’ll discuss how to incorporate posing guidelines into coaching actions, a powerful combination of techniques.

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