Almost every webinar with Kiev group I am asked about how to work with tense model. This relates mostly to portrait work or working with an aspiring model. Here is 4 ways I know to help the model relax in front of the camera:
1. "I will fix that in 5 seconds". All of us, but women especially often fixate on small unpleasant details before the photoshoot - unfortunate pimple, suboptimal hair color or couple of pounds added during holiday season. When they come to me with this I explain how I can fix it in 5 seconds in photoshop and as this one fixation goes away, it helps them to relax and give in to the shoot.
2. Transparent Camera Method. The methods that works very well with working professionals who do the shoot not for pleasure but out of necessity is making them forget about the camera by chatting with them. Work, children, hobby, most inspiring project as well as a few photography related anecdotes really work for me. If you work with a man, focus also on making him feel capable.
For example I had this heart doctor coming to me for portraits. He is in the studio for the first time and I can see he already mentally prepared to suffer. So I start to ask about his research and he tells me about how they study heart disease in women to predict heard attacks because most of research was traditionally done on man and there are significant differences. As I ask clarifying questions he becomes more relaxed, but still all the light directed on him causes visible shoulder tension. Here I asked him to help we move some of the light a bit (even though it's faster for me to do it myself). He helps me and I see his posture changing and shoulders relaxing, because now he steps into this more manly capable role which I want to capture for him.
3. Acting. Another way to shift model's focus from how she looks is to make her play a character. This works better on women because we tend to like to play around with emotions. So I invent a story and tell it to the model. For example instead of telling her to look at the window, I tell her to look through the window as if she is searching for a messenger coming with an important love letter. We entertain this story for a bit and she forgets about her hands and shoulders and just uses body language that's natural for her.
4. Keep moving/doing something. For some people, might be easier shift the focus from how they look to what they actually do. We see the extreme case of this with dancer - many of them can move like a swan, but ask them to look in the camera for a close up portrait, then tense up after 5 seconds. I often ask my model to walk, or dance, or take the heel of one shoe in their hand and then release it and land on that leg. Alternatively I might ask the model to play with a veil, or flowers, or juggle some fruits, or throw some snowballs - anything to capture them in the moment, relaxed and entertained.