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A photographer's guide: How to use posing prompts to capture candid, emotive images

Say goodbye to awkward photoshoots

Thu 17 Sep 2020
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If you’ve ever been on a shoot and you can feel the awkwardness of your clients so palpably that it hangs in the air thick enough to cut through it with a knife, and the photos that show up on your camera are absolutely drenched with cringe-worthy stiffness, this guide is for you. If you’ve ever seen images of weddings that had an entire guest list of model-looking folk just candidly looking like their best selves, couples in love, mothers cradling their babies so tenderly that you can almost hear the babies cooing with their little heart shaped mouths, and wondered ‘how the heck do photographers do this?’, this guide is for you.

The thing is, it’s not just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or having a natural gift for capturing the candid. There are actual things you can do to get images filled with movement. And prompting is the best way to start. It’s our job as photographers to help our clients feel comfortable enough in front of the lens so we can capture genuine emotion and interactions. By verbally prompting your clients, you’re giving them basic direction about what to do with their awkward hands that then allows for emotions and interactions to unfold. This usually includes some guidance as to how to act without being so rigid in your instruction that they begin to feel weird and unnatural.

You’re capable of images where the clients look full of life, comfortable, and candid. In this guide, we’ll walk you through all of the things you need to get those real moments on film like how important it is to get to know your client before the shoot, what to do to pre-plan your sessions properly, how to think like a story-teller, and much much more. Read on for ten tips on how to use prompts to capture candid, emotive images.

Use some of Unscripted’s pre-shoot questionnaires to lay the groundwork, and follow up on their answers in conversation so they know you’ve been taking an actual interest in their lives. Cultivate trust by having a proper conversation with them before you shove a lens in their faces. Take an interest in their unique story, and let them express to you how they’d like to tell it. The more they trust you, the more likely they’ll be to let their guard down and give you those candid images everybody’s looking for.

Capture emotion filled photos with simple prompts using the Unscripted App

1. Get to know your client before the shoot!

This is about breaking down professional barriers, and getting to know your client as the beautifully complex people that they are. We know for a fact that the more comfortable they are with you, the more candid they will be with you. But putting them at ease and getting to know them is a win-win. They’ll feel more comfortable in front of the lens, and you get to know more about them -- bringing about more potential sparks of inspiration.


Let me hear your best airplane noises!


Reach out to me like you’re going to take me on an adventure.


Ok be as childish as you possibly can - who can make the biggest splash?

2. Pre-plan your sessions

Once you’ve got a sense of what your client is looking for, begin to get the creative juices flowing. The Unscripted app is full of inspiration! Save some poses to your photoshoot mood board with your specific client in mind, and look over them a few times so they feel familiar. Work with your clients’ personalities and know that every love is different. Base your plan on their questionnaire answers. If you’re working with introverted clients, the piggy-back rides into the sunset probably won’t work here. To get clients to loosen up, we recommend starting with some fun icebreaker prompts. Once everyone is laughing and having fun, it’s time to ease into more intimate and reflective poses to build up the lovely connection they’re feeling. Once they’re feeling loose and comfortable, finish up with a few silly, energetic poses to get them moving.



Ok you can only pick three items to take with you to a desert island - what are they?


Can you make her laugh by tickling her neck?

Intimate and reflective


Take turns sharing with your partner the qualities you most admire in the other.


Whisper in your partner’s ear what you thought the first time you met him.

Silly & energetic


Imagine you have just gotten to your first holiday destination after you graduated.


Kiss with only your teeth and not your lips.

3. Think like a story-teller

Bringing movement and emotion into posing is less about posing and more about directing. Pretend you’re a movie director and think in terms of movement and action. The final static image is a snapshot of a life in motion, and it’s often the little, in-between moments that are typically the most natural and authentic. If you can create the environment with your clients that allow them to naturally relate to one another and interact with their environment, you’ll be light years ahead of any photographer that asks them to stop and smile at the camera.


Imagine you were stuck in the freezing snow, cuddle up to keep warm!


Gaze into each others’ eyes like it’s been 100 years since you have seen each other. Try to kiss upside down!


Your crush walks past you - give me your flirtiest half smile!

4. Play music

Ever watched a movie without a score? Been to a wedding with no tunes? Gone on a road trip without a good playlist? Sounds horrible, we sure hope not. There’s something about how music creates a feeling and sets the mood, and that’s exactly what you’re trying to create during a session. Music helps people to loosen up, shed their inhibition, and melt into the moment.

You could go above and beyond and use people’s questionnaires to create a playlist for them specifically (doesn’t hurt to ask them what their favourite songs are!). Or you could create separate playlists for fun, energetic shoots and softer, more intimate ones to draw a bit more emotion and nostalgia out of your subjects.


You’re on the cover of a music album, give me your best musician pose.

5. Use Prompts to Loosen Up Your Clients and Bring in Emotion

Get everyone in position first to make sure the lighting and composition are on point, then bring in emotion with prompts! Sort through the prompts on the Unscripted app easily by delving into the two categories: fun and calm. Fun poses and prompts are the big-mouthed extroverted kind. They involve exaggerated movement and - you guessed it - energy! On the other side of the spectrum, you’ll find intimate poses. These moments are quiet, delicate, and sweet, and they make you go “awwww”.

Fun prompts


Talk about the differences with women’s nipples and men’s nipples.


Hands up, wiggle that butt, and dance like nobody’s watching.


Imagine he just spoke and his first words he said was “I love you!”

Calm prompts


Pretend you’re a goddess relaxing back on her throne.

6. Make plans to be spontaneous

What’s the trick to navigating the balance between posing and authenticity? In this case, we’re looking for the goldilocks zone, that sweet spot right in the middle that treads the line between planning and spontaneity. If you can be the subtle orchestrator of things, and get in front of the ball, you’ll be able to anticipate moments and be ready with your finger on the shutter when the magic happens. Hone your powers of invisibility, and be a fly on the wall (not the elephant in the room). If your subject remembers the giant lens at the end of your camera, they’ll often become self-conscious and not know what to do with their hands. They’ll ask themselves questions like “Did I ever know what to do with my hands?” “What do I look like when I’m acting natural?” “Have I always been this awkward?” and often, this is just the precipice before a deep dive into existential doubt about all of their life decisions up until this point. For the sake of you and your subject, try to avoid telling them to act natural.


What's your ideal morning look like stuck inside on a cloudy day?

7. Be patient

You know the old adage, good photographs come to those who wait (and have their cameras charged/settings dialed). Frame up what you hope to be the final composition, and use the environment and other people to accent or contrast the happy couple. Anticipate the moment by being a low-key creep; tune into conversations, body language, and wait. Move things along through the art of suggestion and subtle prompting. The Unscripted Posing App has heaps of prompts that give your subjects a sense of purpose (like whispering the alphabet seductively in their partner’s ear). Capturing them in a state of reverie or engagement with something other than the camera imbues the photograph with an energy unique to that moment.


Make airplane noises in her ear.


Play tag, mom is it!


Don’t drop the ring!

8. Let your clients in on the creative collaboration

Let your clients in on the process, and welcome the different perspectives that come from listening and being in the moment. What unfolds organically is never identical to what you’d expect, so don’t restrict yourself to diligently carrying out a vision if it means you’ll miss all of the little moments in between the structure. The more you embrace imperfections, and the readier you are to adjust to your subjects, the more this natural process will be apparent in the frame. You’re not looking for perfect, you’re looking for real.

9. Tell them they’re doing great

Surely we’re not the only ones to respond well to positive affirmation. Most would agree that it feels pretty good to be praised. It’s nice to be told how good you look! Take time during your session to let your couple know how amazing they are. It’ll do a world of good to combat all the heebie jeebies they get just being in front of a camera with all the attention directed at them. Encourage them, tell them they’re amazing, and lay it on thick. Never, no matter what you do, tell them that they look weird or awkward or that they missed the mark. Compliment the crap out of them, and let them feed off all the positive energy you’re sending their way. Their confidence will blossom and shine and glow through all the images you capture.

10. Treat them like a friend

How likely are you to drop your guard in front of a stranger versus a friend? You know the answer to this. The more you treat your clients like friends, and less like customers, the better your images will be. And the earlier you can build that rapport, the easier it’ll be on shoot day. As soon as someone gets in touch, be sure to put your friendliest foot forward and really put in the time to get to know them. Ask them questions, take an interest, and do your darn best to remember what they have to say. And when they do connect with you, be sure to show them the sparkly human you are, too! Bring in a bit of vulnerability. Tell a really cringe-worthy dad joke. Do what you can to arrive at a place where they are comfortable enough to be themselves so you can do the best job you can telling their story.


Kiss as if it’s your last.


Where’s mama? Shall we go give her a cuddle?


What would you rather: read a novel in bed together or watch a movie?

As your client base grows and grows, and your directing skills sharpen to a fine and beautiful point, remember that the magic lies in the memories you prolong by pointing a camera at them. Doing the work by getting to know your clients before the shoot, pre-planning the prompts to match their personalities, and thinking (and acting) like a director will help you open up the possibilities of what people are willing to do to help tell their stories in front of a camera. Be their friend, play some tunes, and use prompts to capture authentic emotion that shines through drool-worthy images full of life and laughter. It’s these memories, at the end of the day, that make up a rich and beautiful life. So with thousands of sparks of inspiration in the Unscripted App in your pocket, approach your next shoot well and truly prepared to have the best time.

Let's recap:

  1. Get to know your client before the shoot. Make them your friend!
  2. Pre-plan prompts to match the personality of your clients.
  3. Play music and lay on the encouragement!
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What’s the difference between a photography pose and a photography prompt?

The difference between a pose and a prompt is that a pose is about getting your photography client in the right position, while a prompt is about using questions or words to help your clients bring in emotion.

How do you pre-plan your photography sessions using prompts?

The best way to pre-plan your sessions is by saving poses and prompts to a photoshoot mood board and work with your clients’ personalities to create a shoot tailored specifically to them.

Do prompts help your photography clients relax?

Yes! Photography prompts can break the ice, set the mood, and help your clients connect while you capture their story.