7 Jedi Mind Tricks Every Portrait Photographer Should Know

Jedi mind tricks are not just for Jedi. They’re for photographers too. Us portrait photographers face a difficult mission. We must form instant connections with our subjects. Have you ever photographed someone with whom you just can’t click? I have, and it sucks.

To avoid awkward suckiness sucking, I recommend using Jedi mind tricks.

So What Is a Jedi Mind Trick?

According to StarWars.com: “An experienced Jedi can use the Force to implant a suggestion in the minds of those they encounter, encouraging them to comply with the Jedi’s wishes.”

In Star War lore, Jedi Mind Tricks only work on the weak-minded, like these Stormtroopers.

But, students of persuasion know that all people – no matter how smart – are susceptible to suggestion. ​That includes you and me.

Side note: If you want to up your persuasion game and build your interpersonal skills, you owe it to yourself to read Influence by Robert Cialdini.

And you can wield powers of persuasion to get the pictures you want. But, before proceeding, I can’t let you turn to the Dark Side of the Force.

Forget Master Yoda’s words we will not: “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.”

If you do not agree, you will say out loud “this is not the article I am looking for,” and you will click here to leave. ​And once you leave, you will never return.

Great! I’m glad you stayed. ​So let’s talk about…

#1. The Infamous Cookie Trick

A photo shoot is like a date – a platonic one, obviously. If you want to get along, you’ve got to talk about the right stuff. And what’s the right stuff? It’s whatever makes people feel good. Like travel, music, books, movies… and food.

Years ago, I heard fashion photographer Stephen Eastwood mention an interesting trick for relaxing his subjects, which I’ve deemed “The Cookie Trick.” I love this trick so much that I wanted to claim ownership of it. But like you, I stay away from the Dark Side of the Force, and so I must give credit where credit is due.

So what’s the trick? ​Turn to your subject and say “close your eyes. Imagine you just walked into your kitchen, and you smell chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven.”

You love that smell. It brings you right back home. Watch this next video.

​​Don’t you feel good? You can even personalize the Cookie Trick by asking someone what their favorite food is.

For example, one subject of mine loved fried pork dumplings. So I told her a story:

“Imagine that you just worked a 12-hour shift, you’re hung over, and your back hurts. You walk into your kitchen to find an empty fridge. A minute later, you hear a knock on the door – it’s a delivery guy with 3 orders of fried pork dumplings and a 6 pack of beer.”

It was all smooth sailing after that.

#2. Say “We” So You Become a Team

Darth Vader had his flaws. But at least he was a team player. Vader didn’t want to the rule the galaxy alone. He wanted to share the power with his ungrateful son Luke Skywalker.

Be like Darth… without all the killing. Portrait photography is a team sport. So put your subject ​on your team by using words like “we” and “let’s.”

“We are going to kick ass on this shoot.”

“Let’s start with a simple headshot, and then we’ll move onto…”

​When you make someone your teammate, ​they up their game. Why? Because no one wants to be the weak link.

Okay? Are you ready for some controversy?

#3. ​Never Comment on Someone’s Looks

​I believe that portrait photographers should NEVER compliment a person’s looks. I compliment a person’s style, sense of humor, or talent. But their looks? No way.

Maybe you’re saying “what? are you afraid you’ll come off like a creep? Well, that’s part of it.

​The bigger issue is this: even the best looking people can be self-conscious about their looks. ​The thing you love about them – like their hair, skin tone, or body shape – may be the thing they hate most about themselves.

​Plus. ​There are beautiful men and women that get compliments everywhere they go. The last thing they need is another compliment.

I don’t want people thinking about their appearance. I just want them to have fun and feel good.

#4. The Water Bottle Trick

Portraits of Musician Jackie Lain

​​​​​​​​Want to kick off a shoot on a high note? Hand your subject a bottle of water and say “I have some snacks if you get hungry.” This is the best $2 you’ll ever spend.

You can say you’re prepared. And you can say you take care of your subjects. But showing is more powerful than telling. Your subject will think, “Wow, this photographer is really looking out for me.”

And second, there’s a psychological concept called the reciprocity principle. It means that people are nicer and more cooperative after you give them something. ​So don’t ask your subject if they want anything. Just give them something.

You can’t lose with a bottle of water and a bag of gummy bears.

#5. Put on Standup Comedy

We never say “smile!” at our subjects. We make our subjects laugh because laughs lead to natural, relaxed smiles.

Now, I love to play music on a shoot. But if you really want a shortcut to great expressions, put on standup comedy, a funny movie, or anything else that will ​get a laugh. It works so well it feels like cheating.

I’m awkward as hell when I’m being photographed. But I loosen up and laugh like crazy if I’m listening to ​Rick Flair cut a promo:

#​​​​​6. The “Toilet Bowl Cleaner Commercial” Trick

Again, we don’t want forced smiles. We want laughs. And you can get ​a person to laugh by giving them a funny role to play.

For example, I like saying “pretend you’re in a toilet bowl cleaner commercial, and you are SHOCKED at how clean your toilet bowl is.”

It could also be a Shamwow infomercial or one of those bizarre “I have eczema but I’m still kickboxing commercials” — whatever.

By playing a role, your subject automatically becomes less self-conscious and more animated.

#7. The Don’t Smile Method to Getting Great Smiles

This is a high-risk move, but hey! Sometimes you gotta take a chance.

Let’s say you’re shooting headshots for your new client Julie. If Julie looks very uptight and nervous, say this:

“You need to know that this is a very serious picture. You can’t smile or you’ll ruin everything. I need you to promise me right now that you’re not going to smile or laugh. Do you promise?”

No subject ever sees this coming. You can guess what happens next. A smile starts at the corners of Julie’s mouth, and she fights like hell​ to keep it away.

Right then, you have to say “No, no, no, you can’t smile! Please don’t smile!”

That’s when Julie bursts out laughing. Mash your shutter button down and get as many frames as you can, because laughs make for great expressions. Once the big laughs die down, Julie will glow with a relaxed, natural smile, and you’ll nail the shot.

If you have your own Jedi mind tricks you use for getting perfect portraits, feel free to let us know in the comments below.

About the author: Michael Comeau is the Editor of OnPortraits.com, an all-new online community dedicated to simple, classic portrait photography. Click here for more information. This article was also published here.

Image credits: Header illustration based on still frame from Star Wars by The Walt Disney Company