This second post on head shots was inspired by a client asking if I could offer advice on how to prepare for being photographed, how to get into the right frame of mind. What follows is a distillation of the experience I have gained from the other side of the camera, the techniques I’ve found most helpful.
There are lucky individuals (often actors, models, performers) who know their faces and are blessed with the ability to display different expressions on demand to a camera. The vast majority of us find this very difficult, being asked to “smile” on demand to a camera is a recipe for photographic disaster. But all is not lost.
Let’s take it as a given that your photographer knows what they’re doing and wants to get the best shot of you. Nevertheless, it’s vital to realise that even the best photographer in the world won’t be able to shoot a decent headshot without a willing participant. So as a subject, what can you do to help them?
Prepare your clothes and hair. Read my previous post (“What to wear for a corporate head shot“) about getting your outfit right. If you feel well turned out, you are immediately more confident.
It’s natural to be nervous. Nerves are a good sign, they are a sign that this means something to you. Ask any actor or performer and they’ll tell you that pre-show nerves are perfectly natural and give your performance more energy. Don’t spend the whole day before the shoot worrying. It really isn’t going to be that bad.
Try not to bring the office with you. If you’ve been hunched over your desk all day or if you’re stressed, you won’t photograph well. Go for a quick walk just before, jump around or at least take a moment, something that clears your head and freshens your senses.
Expect lights and a big camera. So often I hear “Oh I wasn’t expecting all these lights” as people walk into the room. Cameras work better with good light. Don’t be intimidated if your photographer has set up a bunch of lights, they’re there to make you look your best (photographically speaking most offices have unflattering ambient light).
Try to be a willing participant. Whether you like it or not, this photo is going to happen and will be put out there. If you fight it, most likely it won’t turn out well. Do your best to play along, try to enjoy the experience; the outcome will be infinitely better. Suck it up, kid!
Get into character. Sorry, what was that? Yes, you heard right – get into character, find your motivation. I have found mental imagery and visualisation an immensely powerful tool for helping clients. We’ve all watched thoughts go across other peoples’ faces. If somehow you can manage to forget about being photographed and instead imagine sitting on a beach with a large cocktail in your hand, greeting your best friend, meeting a potentially huge client for the first time, walking through the door into an interview for your dream job – think very personal, find whatever works for you. The crucial point is that you actually need to feel the experience; if you do, your face and expression will follow subconsciously.
Find your imaginary friend. If you are intimidated by looking straight at the camera, try to imagine you are looking at a good friend. See their face right there in front of you, encouraging you on.
Try to forget the past. It’s very easy to get into a downward-spiraling vicious circle about how you believe you look in photos. If you see an unflattering shot of yourself, the next time someone points a camera at you you’re immediately thinking of the past shot and probably recoiling; that next shot then catches you at less than your best; so the circle continues and intensifies. You’ve must try to forget the past and trust the photographer. Remember also that your photographer will probably take quite a few shots – they may all feel the same during the shoot but you’ll be surprised how varied they are. Subtle changes in your expression and body position can make a huge difference.
Breathe. Try not to tense up your shoulders, breathe naturally. This will help release your nerves and improve your body posture.
Keep moving. Being static or holding a position too long will tense you up, move your head and shoulders between shots, shift your weight. Sometimes I make my subjects walk around the room for a moment, it can trigger a magical transformation.
Break a leg!