3 Insider Tips for Taking Great Photos

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There’s an old Hollywood stereotype that actors are always looking at themselves in the mirror and admiring their pretty reflections. Well, I have news for you: If that is part of your daily routine than you are ahead of the curve. Right now, I’m going to ask you to look into the mirror, not just to love your every freckle and pearly whites, but so that you can intimately learn your face.

A lot of people might assume all the aesthetic magic comes from the photographer’s end—and that may be true in terms of image quality, lighting, and directing. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: You have equal control of how good your images come out, and it has everything to do with how you know our face and how it translates to the camera.

I say this not only as a photographer, but also a director: Headshots aren’t just nice looking pictures to remind casting directors what you look like. Your headshots function as your lasting impression and your business card. They give a glimpse at what you look like through a lens; they show off your unique features, and portray how you present yourself. After doing this for over eight years, I’ve started to see what helps people stand out, what gives people that special “edge,” and what sells.

These are three tricks I use—whether I’m shooting celebrities or models—to help my clients maximize their shoot and get photos that stand out.

1. Know your face. Everyone has a good side. Maybe both your sides are fantastic, but they each say something different to the camera. After you’ve scrutinized your face in the mirror, I’d advise you to pick your favorite and work your angles to accentuate that side’s different aspects. It’s extremely rare that anybody has a perfectly symmetrical face. It may be the case that your smile tugs a little higher on your right side, or your bone structure is slightly more contoured on your left. Whatever it is, know what angles flatter you the most, and know what features you want to accentuate. A lot of the time, this means standing in front of a mirror and analyzing your face from different angles. Go through photos of yourself and get a sense of what works, what doesn’t, and why you like certain ones of yourself more than others. Practice your smile. And yes, I believe Tyra Banks was onto something genius, albeit quite simple: Smize. Smile with your eyes. If not, it will translate as a fake smile and that’s pretty much the ultimate kiss of death.

2. The “funky chicken.” There’s a method to my madness, and I promise it works. When I tell my clients to “do the funky chicken,” all I really mean is for them to hold their head out while bringing their shoulders back and down. Sounds crazy and feels unnatural, but it creates a dramatic improvement from the camera’s point of view and it translates so well through the lens. The act of slightly reaching towards the camera with your nose while pushing your shoulders back accentuates your features, highlights your jawline, and creates the illusion of a more engaged stature. The camera captures two-dimensional space, so despite how awkward the positioning might feel, the camera only sees an accentuation of very strong angles. The essential function of this body-positioning secret is to align and elongate your posture, to correct any lazy or unflattering angles your body may naturally adopt, and to highlight your features.

3. The reset button. We all feel uncomfortable when we hold a position too long, whether it’s a complex yoga pose or holding our body for a photograph. The shoulder and back are the most common places for tension to build in our bodies, but we actually carry a lot of tension in our faces without even knowing it. The muscles that control your forehead, cheeks, mouth, and eyes are constantly working during a photo shoot, and they may grow strained. It varies depending on the person, but it’s important to know where you hold most of your tension so you know how to recalibrate. Oftentimes, I’ll ask my clients to “reset,” which basically means they need to shake it out, loosen up, and reset their position. If you hold a look for too long, you’ll appear frozen and unnatural in your photo.

So let’s take some time and get better acquainted with how your body and face reacts to certain environments. This not only applies to headshots, but also to your acting career as a whole. If you can master your sense of movement and positioning, you’ll already be three steps ahead of the game.

So basically it goes: Look at yourself; learn what works; do that; and repeat.

For further insight on these tips and tricks please watch our instructional videos. A good photographer helps but only you can be the true master of your face.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Michael Roud
Michael Roud is a Los Angeles-based photographer and writer-director. His photography has been published worldwide and featured in major museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art. His directorial work has been featured at film festivals around the world and has garnered tens of millions of views on TV and YouTube.
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