It probably does not come as a surprise that most people are uncomfortable in front of a camera. They are not sure what to do other than SMILE, and the smile they give is the fake kind. They are "smiling for the camera," but the camera is just a hunk of metal and glass that doesn't evoke a true sense of joy, laughter, or happiness that would cause someone to smile naturally. SO what you usually see in the photo is a smiling mouth with eyes that look blank or maybe even anxious.
It is our job as photographers to get our clients comfortable in front of the camera (unless you are trying to capture anxiety). So there are a few things that I would recommend that might help you get them there.
1) Prepare for the shoot well in advance. Write your plan down; everything from different looks, posing, lighting setup, camera settings, lenses, etc. If you are prepared, you will be more confident in front of your client and this will help to put them at ease. If you are unorganized and scattered the day of the shoot, you may just add to the anxiety they are already feeling. So have your act together.
2) Have a genuine interest in them. If you don't find people fascinating and have a real interest in getting to know them, you might consider sticking to landscape, nature, or product photography. Be curious and inquisitive. Ask questions. Find out who they are and what they are passionate about. Get them talking about themselves and find a way to connect with them. Everyone has a story. Make it your job to know theirs.
3) Get them laughing. Have a routine or "shtick." Laughter is the best remedy for anxiety. It gets the jitters out and brings the energy level way up. Their "spirit" is now awake. You can see it in the eyes. Some of the best shots happen when people are "coming down" from a full blown laugh. So once you get them laughing, keep shooting. You don't want to miss that moment. That could be the money shot!
4) Keep talking to them. Give them direction. Try different poses and expressions. Keep it moving. When you get a good shot, show them! This helps to build their confidence in you as the photographer and in themselves as the "model." Now they may be willing to stretch outside of their comfort zone and try new things to see what the two of you can get. If they have ideas, try them. When the two of you are collaborating, good things usually happen.
More often than not, when people first come into the studio I hear things like, "I am not very photogenic," "I don't like having my picture taken," or " I don't like how I look in pictures." Maybe it is weird, but I love when they say those things. Something clicks inside of me and I take it as a personal challenge to get them comfortable, laughing, and having a good time so that I can capture an image they they feel great about and are proud of. An image that captures the essence of who they are!
Connect with your clients, celebrate their unique story and personality, and have fun shooting!