Ready for Your Close-Up?

Photo Source: Peter Hurley
The second someone steps in front of my camera, my brain goes into overdrive to answer one question: How do I make this person look his or her best? Simultaneously, my client's brain has gone into a tailspin trying to figure out how to gain control over his or her facial expressions in order to give the camera a look capable of blowing the doors to casting offices wide open. Every person I've encountered, actors and nonactors alike, wants to look as good as possible while being photographed. Some may think it's vanity, but to me it's human nature, and in this industry, looking your best is an integral part of your career.

Have you ever thought about what your face is doing as you present yourself to casting directors, agents, and the public? Acute awareness of what you look like—whether you're being photographed, auditioning, or walking down a red carpet—is a talent you want to possess. It's not rocket science, but it does take some effort, and I'm going to lay out some tips on how to use your unique looks to your advantage.

We all walk around without a clue what our face is actually doing. The good news is that our brain has it under control, and for the most part you don't need to stress about it. As you read this, think about what your face looks like right now. Unless you've got a mirror next to you, it's difficult to really get a sense of it, right? Now imagine being in a high-pressure situation that demands your best look in an instant. What do you do? That's what you've got to figure out, and you've got to figure it out for yourself.


For starters, embrace everything about your appearance. I know this is a tough one, but just learn to love yourself and all that comes with it. There isn't another person out there who has the same features as you, and as a photographer I find that so amazing. I know that casting directors are looking for variety as well, so you have to embrace what you've been given and know how to use it to the best of your ability. When clients are in front of my camera feeling sure about themselves and their appearance, it's such a gift. It's one quality that every actor can, and should, possess.

However, it doesn't come easily. I'm sure you know exactly which of your features you feel could use some improvement. I modeled for a number of years before picking up a camera, and this seems to have made me acutely aware of what bugs me about myself. I had a former Miss Universe in my studio recently, and in the middle of a session she blurted out that she couldn't stand her face. That comment hit me and everyone else in my studio from out of left field and solidified my belief that individuals don't see themselves in the same light as others do. I've found on several occasions that the feature on someone's face that intrigues me the most is the very same one that has bothered that person all of his or her life. It's safe to say that we really don't have a clue how others see us, so try to remember that the next time you're worried about a miniscule zit that appeared the morning of your big audition or the fact that your ears stick out too far.

So let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Here are some simple ideas that should get you off to a good start.

The first thing I always tell my clients when I start a shoot is to crane their neck out toward the camera a bit. Yes, it feels strange, but it looks good. I'm sure you've heard the wonderful news about the camera adding 10 pounds in pictures. I'm not certain I believe that, but if anything is going to trim those extra pounds, this is it. You'd better believe you need to get some tension on that jaw line if you're in front of my camera. Pressure on the skin around the jawbone will actually help light wrap sharply around it, giving you more angularity in your face. Give it a try in front of a mirror to see what I mean. You can start by doing the opposite: Bring your chin straight backward and see how you look. At the moment, still cameras are 2-D, so you don't have to worry about your head feeling like it's too far in front of your body. If still photographs ever become 3-D, then I'll have to come up with another solution for this one. For now, get your head down and out, and you'll be looking better in a jiffy.


The next thing I search for at the beginning of a shoot is the client's better side. We aren't even close to being completely symmetrical, so you need to be on the lookout for your good side. On occasion, looking straight into the camera could be someone's best angle, so keep that in mind as you experiment. You can look in the mirror and check yourself out, but I think you'll need some help with this one. Get other opinions, and look at snapshots of yourself to see what angle looks best.It's rare that a person doesn't have a stronger side, so find yours and favor that angle like there's no tomorrow.

Here's a hint: People who part their hair tend to do it on their good side. Just seems to happen that way, but if you're one of those who have the part on the wrong side, you should consider changing it. If you have long hair, you'll be covering up the side that you want to show off. I do occasionally find people who are attractive on either side. If you're one of these lucky ones, then thank your parents.

There is an art to knowing your own face, and putting the time in to figure it out is invaluable. How many of you worry that you're the only person out there who has one eye noticeably smaller than the other? News flash: This is a daily occurrence with me, so much so that I'd say 90 percent of the people I shoot are contending with this very issue. It's tough making that beady little eye bigger, but in some cases you can squint your bigger eye a touch to match it in photos. You can also even your eyes out a bit by turning your face toward the side with the smaller eye. With that eye further from the camera, it appears smaller anyway and the difference wan't be as noticeable. But don't sweat it during normal conversation or when being filmed, as it's something that seems to be most prevalent in still shots.


I need to spend some time talking about the thing that changes your appearance more than any other feature on your face. There are about 44 muscles in the face, and a majority of them control your mouth. Making that sucker behave in front of a camera with all those muscles firing away isn't easy. I always start my sessions concentrating on what I believe all actors need in at least one of their headshots: a shot that conveys confidence and approachability. The approachable part needs a slight smile, which has proven to be not so easy for some. I may have other things figured out by this point in a session, but the mouth is usually the most difficult, because people hold a ton of tension there. It's the first place that will get funky if you aren't aware of what your face is doing. The difference between looking like a complete jerk and like a nice guy is created by subtly engaging those muscles that pull the sides of your mouth upward ever so slightly. Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of roles out there for jerks. I just think that if you're going to play a jerk, it's better to be a cocky one, and for that you'll need a slight smile too.

I've only had space to touch upon a few things here, but I think by now you get the gist of it. The main point is that you're the only person on planet earth who can behave like you and produce the looks and expressions that you're capable of creating. That's priceless and should be embraced. So in this image-conscious business, put some energy into finding the best in you and putting it out there. I'm sure it will get noticed if you do.

Peter Hurley has studios in both New York and L.A. and has worked with dozens of companies, including Levi's, Reebok, DKNY, and Johnnie Walker, as well as hundreds of actors, models, and authors. He recently shot the cast and crew of "Lost" for their last season. He will be participating in this year's Actorfest NY, on Sat., Oct. 2, as part of the focus session "The Right Picture and Résumé." For more information, visit