Posing my Free Spirited Babes -- My Process + Top Tips

Ever since beginning my Free Spirit sessions last winter, they've been in the process of evolving. No two sessions have been exactly alike, and it's been an interesting process to take a step back and see how they've flourished + changed over the last 15 months. Change is incredible, and it should be welcomed with open arms. Change means that you're growing, that you're learning more about yourself every single day, and ultimately it means that you're better than you were were yesterday. As I've grown to find myself, I've found my place when photographing Free Spirit sessions. Each session has it's own message, based on who is being photographed, but the overarching theme is consistent: the session is a place for you; it's a time and a space where we can work together at capturing who you are at this exact moment in your life, and giving you visual and emotional proof that you are--and always have been--enough. kaihla_tonai_intimate_wedding_elopement_photographer_1014kaihla_tonai_intimate_wedding_elopement_photographer_1015

One of the biggest thing that I've learnt with these sessions--and photography in general--is that we can never treat two people that we are photographing the exact same way; no two people are unique, so why should they be treated and photographed in one "cookie-cutter" way? My biggest mental rule presents itself loud + clear in my subconscious whenever I'm planning or shooting a session, and it has nothing to do with being a good photographer: just be you, and allow them the freedom to be themselves. If you're being yourself, you don't have to worry about "putting on an act" or trying to impress your clients; they booked you for a reason, trust in that process. Also, if you are alongside of them from the very beginning encouraging vulnerability, embracing who they are as a person, and valuing what they share with you, then the rest of your time together is going to be an incredible + inspiring experience! I think we're sometimes afraid to melt our personal life into our professional one, afraid to embrace the courage it takes to let strangers into our lives; but for me as a real person as well as a photographer, there is no separation. When we work together, you're getting the whole of who I am, I'll let you into my life if you let me into yours. It's that simple. (I could go on for daaaaaaays about this topic, so let's just get to the bulk of what this post is all about!).

1 | Use your observation skills and read into how they carry themselves, sit, act, etc. Consciously and subconsciously our bodies give off signs as to how we're feeling before we even realize it. As an introvert who loves people watching, it's incredibly helpful to pay attention to how someone carries themselves when they enter a room, or how they sit/position themselves when they're talking to you. Whenever I have a session, I almost always try and sit down for a bit before we start shooting; not only does this give me a chance to just relax and get to know them before the session (because it's so hard to get to know someone + shoot at the same time haha), but it also gives me the mental time that I need to figure out who they are and how they like to sit, place their hands/arms, etc. By no means do you have to start your sessions in a super creepy way by staring intently at their every move hahah just be you, have a conversation, and pay slight attention to their body language, it may come in handy later in your session! A lot of the time I'll place them in a position that they were in earlier without them even realizing, and you can instantly see their comfort level rise by simply being in a familiar body position.


2 | Pose, talk to them, re-adjust. I think that as photographers we're trained to have a collection of go-to poses in our arsenal. I don't necessarily think that this is a bad thing at all, I just don't think that it should serve as our golden rule. Go-to poses are amazing when you happen to lose your train of thought or shooting flow throughout a session, and they can always help to steer things back on track; however, without even realizing it, we can start to treat every client we have exactly the same and just walk them through these "poses" without paying attention to their unique qualities and adjusting things base on who they are/how they're feeling. Every person is different, their limbs are different lengths, they're bodies are at different stages, and their comfort levels are never the same; use these thoughts as a tool to serve your clients to the very best of your abilities throughout their sessions. I'll start by placing them in a position, I'll check in with them and ask them how they feel, and then I'll readjust based on their responses. Another way to go about it is to just ask them, "how would you normally sit if you were hanging out on your bed at home?" etc, etc. Tailor your poses to suit their bodies and the emotions that you + them want to emote through the images.


Notice how the mood of the image changes simply by getting Kori to chin her head up & close her eyes; the slightest adjustment in pose can change an images entirely.

3 | BE REAL Have you noticed a trend here yet? haha basically my solution/tip for every question is just "be real". Something that I like to do either prior to the session or when we're sitting together before we start shooting, is to ask them what they're favourite qualities about themselves are; physically and otherwise. These sessions are incredible because I get to show them their beauty through my interpretation, but I think that it's equally as important to cater to their favourite beauty-parts as well (see what I did there...;)). It's near impossible to go into these sessions without talking/getting to know them beforehand, because how are you supposed to capture the essence of who they really are otherwise? I'll reiterate what I said earlier in this post: just be you, and allow them the freedom to be themselves.


The same thing is happening in this image of Kate, both images have different feels to them, and the only true difference is whether or not the eyes are opened or closed.

4 | Move in close, focus on the details. If you're scared to get up close and personal with your clients, feel the fear and do it anyway; some of the most meaningful photos are the ones that get in there and capture on the details (i.e tattoos, jewellery, etc).


5 | Minor Details + Personal Preferences. Cameras can be terrifying; and having one placed in front of our faces--especially if we're feeling super vulnerable--doesn't make the situation any less weird + invasive. I've developed a few minor techniques when shooting that help to minimize that fear of being in front of the camera, and can help to take the clients' mind off of the process. My biggest go-to is eye closing, which I'm sure comes as no surprise if you're familiar with my work. Of course, this is--as is everything else that I do-- a reflection of my brand and the emotions that I want to portray through my images. Find something that works for you, whether it's a certain chin tilt, eye closing, a hand position etc etc that takes their mind off of that invasive lens, if only for a moment. Another thing that I do is get them to focus on their breathing; not only does this naturally slow down their heart rates (which might be going super fast if there's nerves going on), but it also brings a sense of peace into their images + poses. A spin on the breathing technique is also to ask them to think of something near & dear to their heart; maybe you tell them to think about their favourite memory as a mother, or their first date with their spouse, or better yet get them to tell you why they love their spouse as much as they do. Whatever it may be, if you take their mind off of the session and onto something meaningful, you're not only going to break up that awkward space, but you're also going to evoke some seriously raw + honest emotion. Lastly, and most importantly of all, talk them through everything that's going on. There's nothing more awkward than having them sit in a pose, eyes closed, and you being super silent. Let them know what's going on, tell them something about yourself, ask them questions, verbally adjust their pose, talk about whatever you would like, just don't leave things silent. **ALSO! Have an awesome playlist that you can throw on throughout your sessions :)


p.s who is EXCITED for OUTDOOR FREE SPIRIT SESSIONS this spring + summer??!! Ohh my goodness even just looking at these river pictures has got me giddy with anticipation!! If you want to get together over coffee and plan a vision for your OWN session, send me a note kaihla@kaihlatonai.com and let me buy you coffee!!