The most mysterious and fascinating aspect of portraiture and headshot photography is “Camera Presence”. “Camera Presence” refers to the ability of the subject to make direct contact with the viewer of the photograph. You, as the viewer feel the impact and immediacy of their gaze, a connection is established. The sitter becomes an active communicator, making their attention felt, instead of being the “victim” of the photograph. 🙂 “Camera Presence” is a very good thing to have!
But, what is it? And how do you get it in your headshot? Is it about charisma? Is it about beauty? Does it come from intelligence, from confidence? Can it be learned or is it somehow ingrained?
I’ve spent my entire career learning how to encourage the intimacy and power that comes from my clients’ eye contact. And I hear over and over again from new clients that they chose to shoot with me because “there was something special in the eyes” of the people on my website.
It is certainly an aspect of my photography that I spend a great deal of effort on. And it’s not just the result of a trick; eye contact or “Camera Presence” is attained through a combination of techniques, emanating equally from the photographer and the subject.
My role starts with setting the atmosphere for the shoot. I want my clients to feel totally at ease, loose, and safe to be playful without fear of judgement, so I make it clear both through my actions and attitude that although we are going to work with intention, we are going to have a lot of fun doing it. And I remind them that we always have the delete button, should we choose to banish a particular photo to the void. Our studio is a relaxed and upbeat place. Yes, serious work will take place, but we will be your partner and your support team. People let go of their concern when they see that we know what we’re doing. I love shooting headshots because it combines the excitement of meeting people and getting to know them, with the magic of photography, my chosen profession. And I enjoy learning something new everyday to extend my ability to take beautiful photos. But that is just the beginning of the process. I see myself as a translator, taking our ideas about what the photo should convey and breaking that down into a mix of photographic elements; lighting, setting and background, body language, and camera angle. Then we add the final ingredient, which is to help each subject present themselves to the camera in an instant of time that feels fresh, immediate and makes their attention palpable and evocative. I can certainly motivate with the direction I give, but the subject can also have a strong role in the creation of “Camera Presence”.
Recently I shot a headshot session with Tamara Johnson.
Tamara is a repeat client who I have photographed every few years since 1988. Tamara is a super talented actress who has worked consistently on Stage and in Film & TV for her entire career. Writing a piece on “Camera Presence” was on my mind and I was acutely aware of the way Tamara addressed the camera in our most recent session and how clearly she was able to make consistent contact through the lens. I wanted to understand her side of the process, so I asked her directly, “Tamara, do you know what you’re doing to achieve these moments of contact, specifically how you present yourself to the camera?” Her answer was a simple “Yeah”, so to that I said “Good, tell me, so I can tell others!”
Here, in her words, is her process : “People can easily be intimidated by that cold, black, unmerciful cyclops aka the camera lens. How do you make friends with that? I think some people expect the photographer to ‘pull something out of you’. My belief is that talent should come in with their own inner monologue ready to pitch, and hopefully you’ll have someone as skilled as Joe is to encourage it, craft the visual elements, and pitch it back to you.
What we’re ultimately going to be talking about is energy and how to direct your focus while he’s shooting. When I see the camera lens, I view it more as a tunnel that I have to go deeper into. I focus my eyes and energy to reach beyond the lens. When I look into the camera, I both use and lose Joe’s presence behind the camera intermittently. Joe’s job is that of capturing, framing, lighting – getting all the technical elements of my shoot to perfection. My job is to keep sending wonderful thoughts into the camera. This is the fun part, after all the work of wardrobe analysis, shopping, timing of haircut & coloring, plucking, bleaching, manicure and packing for multiple changes.
On my commute to the photo session, I make a conscious effort to raise my body’s vibration to its highest level. Being grateful for everything that’s going right in your life is an easy way to do that, just count your blessings for 5 minutes. I do this often as a habit especially while out walking. Some talent can become stressed working with a photographer they don’t know well or psyched out by the importance of this event. If I ever find myself in that realm I always go back to my mantra, “You’re in either one of two places, in fear or in love, so choose Love.” That puts things into perspective quickly and puts you back in a place of power. I tell myself, “You’ve never looked more beautiful than you do today.” Instant higher vibration! This is easy to do coming out of Kerry-Lou’s make-up chair.
During the photo shoot, I’m always actively thinking secret, sweet nothings like, “I know a secret, wanna know what it is?” I’m not saying this to Joe necessarily, but he becomes a conduit to those I want to communicate to. I’m thinking of my best friend, or the future Casting Directors who are seeing this photo for the first time and thinking, “What’s that sparkle in her eyes?” Joe is there to capture the essence of the thought, to time the shot to catch my energy at it’s zenith. He is also a coach in the session providing encouragement, head adjustments or just telling me to stretch out my face muscles, or to break contact and bring it back to keep things fresh.
Joe is about 5 feet from me while we’re shooting. With my vibrations raised and my thoughts jazzed, I take these thoughts and laser beam them further than just the lens of the camera in front of me. With intention and energy I pierce past the lens, through the tunnel of the camera itself, past Joe’s eye and into the center of his brain. It’s like making Star Wars cinematography with my thoughts. That’s the focal point where I want my sweet nothings delivered. It’s amazing to see how much difference that makes on the camera. Most people set their intention only as far as the front of the lens and sometimes even that falls short of reaching the target.
So, that’s my secret weapon to creating great camera presence. I think it’s this deeper projection of intention and thoughts that makes for a productive, fun, rewarding photo session. And let’s just keep this between ourselves, ok? 🙂 Best wishes on your next headshot session and to a thriving career. Shooting with Joe and Kerry-Lou make getting a great headshot easy and enjoyable. I love this team.”
So, there you have it, from the perspective of both the photographer and the subject. “Camera Presence”… it isn’t a mystery, it can be learned, employed, encouraged, and captured. And it can actually be fun! Come shoot with us and get “that something special in the eyes”!
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