Formal portraits do not mean that subjects have to sit or stand to attention so that they look stiff and uncomfortable. In the early days of photography when exposure times were measured in minutes people did have to sit very still to avoid blurring the picture. Photographers even used special clamps at the back of their sitter’s neck and waist to brace them in position. Fortunately these days are long past.
The most important thing in any portrait, formal or otherwise, is to capture the expression that best illustrates a person’s character or status, or both – However formal the portrait might be, try to enter into a dialogue with the sitter. Discover a common interest, and the conversation will become easy and relaxed.
Even if the sitter is a complete stranger, try to plan the general nature of the shot in advance. It makes a bad impression if the first thing the photographer does after meeting the sitter is to stare hard at him, as if undecided what to do. But it is also important to plan wisely; it produces an even worse impression if, after a few shots, it becomes clear that the setting does not work, so that all the equipment has to be altered.
Often, time is of the essence. Some people, such as businessmen and public figures, are very busy, and they may be under the impression that photographs can be taken as quickly as if they had walked into an automatic photo booth. Knowing what is wanted, and directing sitters with flair and firmness, can yield strong portraits in a relatively short time. The results will please them and enhance the photographer’s reputation and they are more likely to return.
Source by Willis J. Watson