Inexperienced models are often the most rewarding subjects for me. The process of making the model comfortable, and the conversations the happen between the frames are one of my favorite parts of the shoot. Heather was an acquaintance that I was looking forward to working with for a while, and she was quite inexperienced in front of the lens and as a result she was a little bit stiff. I think the shoot really changed when I noticed Heather had a tendency to blow hair out of her face. I simply asked her to do it again for the camera.
This brought on a ton of laughter, and a few more frames afterwards it seemed like Heather became really comfortable in front of the lens.
Whenever I find myself having trouble getting a model comfortable, I draw upon my experience as a school portrait photographer (glamorous I know). The things I've learned from getting 500 kids to relax in front of the camera, as well as the way to communicate with them has directly impacted my portraiture.
1) First impressions are everything. Models, like students can sense the energy that you're putting off. If you're stressed out about the shoot, if equipment fails or there are some unforeseen circumstances that's putting you off your game, try to hide it, or talk through it
2) If a Model is relatively new, narrating your actions - explaining what you're doing and why, this can help them understand what you need from them
3) Do a few ridiculous photos. If you're sensing that model is getting self conscious, requesting a few photos 'for fun' before getting down to business might be the perfect ice breaker.