How to produce an honest smile on camera and convey attention & confidence.
We’ve all been there. We’re all styled up, feel pretty, we trust the photographer, they raise their camera…and suddently our face becomes a cup of ice cream in the Colorado summer and our left eye won’t stop twitching.
But worry you shall not! Here’s a few techniques that never fail to help my clients and help me capture their very happiest side.
Smeyes© – Smile your eyes out!
Despite urban dictionaries attempt to slander everything that is good, to smeyes means to „smile with your eyes“. The reason why this is important is simple. Have a look at this image and tell me how you know I just said something terribly silly:
Now here’s a random quote for you:
„The best things in life are unseen. That’s why we close our eyes when we kiss, laugh and dream.„
Alright then, how DO you smeyes? Especially when you’re feeling a bit nervous?
Before the shoot – the staring contest
Standing in front of a mirror look yourself in the eyes. Now, while maintaining eye contact, lean your head backwards as far as you feel comfortable with. Direct your attention to the lower eye-lids, feel the slight tension there. Now, slowly coming back down again try to maintain that tension. Some people (like myself) tend to squint a little bit to much using this techniqu, so you might want to ease up just a little.
You can always do that during the shoot as well but the real power of this exercise is to know how it should feel and be able to reproduce it on command whithout actually tilting your head.
During the shoot – the hunter
Peter Hurley, who taught me the technique above, also kept telling his subjects to look closely at the lense and see whether they can see his eyes through them. Apart from being slightly anachronistic, my subjects always ended up looking confused rather than happy. Rather than searching for invisible eyes, pretend you’re doing your make-up looking in the mirror. Or, if make-up is not your thing, pretend you’re trying to spot something in the distance, squinting your eyes.
Know this, though; this is a physically focused technique that helps you fake it – and at that it excels. If you want the most honest smile, however, combine it with the mental techniques below.
Goof one out
My personal favourite. The goal with this „technique“ is to loosen up and feel comfortable with yourself, while realising that in front of the camera you can be whoever you like. Depending on how well I know the subject I might suggest this during a shoot myself. But it always takes a conscious decision on the part of the subject to make it work.
If, during a shoot, you feel a little tensed up, I suggest you take a short break from the serious business of being a model and tell you’re photographer that you need 5 minutes to goof one out of your system and that he should please continue shooting and be silly with you, while you pretend to be Jimmy Carrey, or Dr. House, or any other jokey character you can think of.
As I said, this forces you to make a conscious desicion on your part. You need to go: „Alright, fuck it! I’m gonna do this now!„ And while at first you will feel a little silly and self conscious, you will notice after half a minute or so, that you actually stop caring. And that’s the moment when the magic happens: You will start to realise that no-one can get to you. In front of the camera you are role playing – which not just means no-one can ever judge you, it also means you can be whoever you like.
Have a Secret
Goofing one out will give you a powerful secret: You have a secret identity, like a super hero or a MI6 agent, that the camera doesn’t know about. This feeling is incredibly empowering. If you ever walked around the city smiling broadly and all these grumpy people rushing by looked at you, wondering what the hell you are smiling about, you know what I’m talking about.
Having a secret works best, if you have a physical reminder of it. So for your next shoot I want you to bring a small token of your secret identity that you wear on your body. This can be something completely innocent like wearing mismatched socks or your superhero underwear. You can wear a hundert euro note in your bra, if you feel like it, or a fake tatoo like you used to as a kid. It really doesn’t matter. It’s something the world doesn’t know about, something that gives you power.
You can also make this a shared secret between you and your photographer. On a recent shoot, for example, a client was wearing a business suit on top and ripped jeans with patches of paint at the bottom. It gave us a shared secret that no-one looking at her pictures will ever know.
*A note to any photographer reading this*: Be careful when you suggest this to a client and make sure never to violate the ground rule of people photography: Don’t be a creep! Being a creep is shit. And so are a creep’s pictures.
Put on your happy socks – also called the Potter-Patronus Happy Charm
Finally, put on your happy socks! This technique is very simple. Yet, just like the patronus charm in Harry Potter, it requires your mental focus to produce optimal results.
It works like this: Put on your favourite happy song and picture the last time you and your best friend set out to make pancakes and ended up covered in flour. Focus on that for a few seconds and then direct this positive energy towards the camera. I once actually had a client wave her imaginary wand and shout „Expecto Patronum“ at me, combining the happy socks technique with goofing it out. It worked like a …well…. like a
So go smile till your face hurts!
Why? Because smiling till your face hurts trains your mind and muscles to increase your capacity for happyness.
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