I'm told I'm pretty good at gaining rapport with models and helping them to relax and be confident in front of the camera. I don't think it has much to do with my basic personality. Instead, it includes things I purposely set out to do whenever I'm shooting. A relaxed and confident model, one who is comfortable with the photographer, will nearly always yield better results.
Some of the things I do to help gain rapport with models are easily accomplished by any photographer. It doesn't require a charming personality or a "gift of gab," but it does require being mindful of one's demeanor. Most of these things you should have learned when you were enrolled in People Skills 101, also known as Kindergarten. Yet it's amazing how, when I watch some photographers work, they ignore some very basic social interaction techniques.
First off, I always try to converse *with* models rather than speaking *to* them. Sure, when you're actually shooting and directing them regarding posing and expression and attitude and all that, it generally sounds more like you're speaking *to* them rather than *with* them, and that can't be helped. But when your interactions go beyond simple direction, which they often do, you need to remember the model isn't a prop. They're just like you, except they're often better looking. They appreciate being talked *with* rather than spoken *to* during a shoot. Just because you have a camera in your hand doesn't mean your position is suddenly one of being completely in charge. Yeah, you should be in charge of your shooting sets, but there are many ways to be in charge without brandishing a weapon, in this case the weapon being your camera.
To take that notion a step further, except for when I'm actually shooting the camera, I try to never have my camera in my hand when speaking with my models. I know that sounds trivial but, in some ways, perhaps many ways, it's the camera itself which makes models nervous, leastwise, the camera represents a tangible focal point for many things which may be making models anxious during a shoot. When I'm shooting, for instance, and I suddenly decide to approach the model for various reasons, I always set my camera down. Doing so is like approaching them "unarmed." It's less threatening or intimidating. Approaching models and speaking with them without your camera in your hand is a subtle action, but I really believe it helps, in a subconscious way, in terms of emotionally and psychologically disarming models.
I also try to never appear as if there are secrets going on. (Not keeping secrets being one of the first things most kids learn in kindergarten.) If I'm having some technical difficulties with gear or exposure or whatever, I always to share what's going on, at least in some brief, non-technical, way. Doing so helps prevent models from noticing I'm suddenly preoccupied, often while I'm staring at my camera's LCD screen, and them interpreting what's going on as having something (negative) to do with them.... which, guaranteed, most models will do.
These are just a few tips you might consider when working with models. The bottom line is always being aware of your demeanor and how it might be impacting a model's level of comfort in front of the camera. I don't care how cool you light your models or have them integrated into some environment while posed in engaging ways, if there are things preventing the model from giving her all, the photos will not be as good as they could be, even if they're mostly good... if that makes sense.
The pretty girl at the top is Melanie. (Click to enlarge.)