Camera technique is as much a part of great camera acting as any of your other acting tools (voice, body, props, backstory, objective beats, creating your reality). Acting on-camera involves understanding how to communicate through pictures.
Let’s start with the basic premise that camera is mostly about pictures. Film is very pictorial. Think of film as a comic book instead of a novel. You look to the pictures first and then to the very few words in the bubble to get a bit more understanding. Knowing how important the visual is on film, it’s important to know how your own face comes across on the camera.
Know your angles.
Get in front of a mirror or, better yet, a camera, and get a very close-up shot (head and shoulders). You can even use your smartphone to record or take still photos. Slowly change directions and angles of your face to see how it reads on-camera. Turn your head slowly from one side to another in each direction. Tilt it from side to side. Bring your chin slowly down and slowly up. Look at your face as if it were a painting to see what makes a more interesting picture. Some angles might make you look harsh. Some may make you look sweet.
We all have a better side to our face for pictures, too. My sister, Morgan Fairchild, is facing the same direction on many of her magazine covers. She also often poses straight ahead with her chin slightly down (I will address why this is a good angle farther along).
Check out your smile.
I bet Brad Pitt knows his best angle for that winning smile he has. Marilyn Monroe totally changed her smile and worked on smiling with the corners of her mouth down instead of up. Yep, that iconic smile was a technique that she mastered. Many of you have a great natural look. I am not saying to plasticize yourself into something you’re not, but you do want to present yourself at your best.
Pay attention to your chin.
This is my favorite tip.
- Chin slightly up makes you appear to be the goofy best friend or second banana. (Chin up too high makes you come off as a snob. Chin up even higher can help you to look maniacal.)
- Chin slightly down is the leading man or woman. When you shoot your headshots, doesn’t the photographer remind you frequently to bring your chin down a little? This causes your eyes to open a bit and allows the light to catch your cheekbones. Every man, woman, and child looks better with the chin slightly down. Remember when I mentioned above that my sister uses that pose for magazines a lot? Now you know why.
- Chin down a bit more will make you look powerful. You would use this angle for bullies or power characters of any kind (including villains as well as powerful action heroes). In audition tapes for bad guys, I constantly tell the actor to bring his chin down more. If you are supposed to do a monologue where your victimized character finally decides to claim her life, try starting with your chin up and, as you get courage, bring your chin down to the power spot.
- Chin down too far makes you look creepy and demonic. I use this angle if someone is auditioning for a demon or has to change into one during the scene. As you change, start with chin up more and slowly bring it down as you morph into the demon.
Bonus tip: Everyone looks great with the chin slightly down and your head turned about three-quarters to the side. This angle is great for anything from flirty, innocent, and shy, to mean and mischievous. It’s good for almost anything. It is also a great way to end most spokesperson commercial auditions.
Take these tips out for a spin and start to learn your own personal angles!
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