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From Zero to Sha-Bang!

Maybe you are having a bit of a struggle getting them to behave the way you want. You are trying to get your subject to own it by simply moving them up the charts from avoidance to diminishing, from diminishing to posing, and then finally from posing to owning it. I like to call it taking them from “zero to SHA-BANG!” I’ve found that everything starts by assessing where my subject is and running them up the chart to owning it. It’s our job to get our subject into what I like to call “flow” in front of the camera. Most people will come in anxious, which is a normal reaction to being placed in a vulnerable position in front of a camera. Over the course of the shoot, if you’re doing your job properly, you want to ease them into flow.

It happens by coaching them in a way where you are essentially taking them under your wing. As the nervous energy drains out of them, they will begin to fall into what I call “the flow zone.” This is where your best shots begin to appear. Now, like everything in life, we can’t stay in the flow zone forever and our subject will begin to get a bit bored. It’s a standard scenario that happens, so you need to sense it and either get them out from in front of the camera by giving them a break or just direct them back into flow by adjusting your banter accordingly. There is no way you are going to get a genuine-looking expression that conveys C&A if your subject is bored.

You need to take a step back and get them out of there: do an edit, make them change their clothing, or whatever you can do to enhance the energy on the shoot. Someone that is bored is never going to hit a smile that is believable, so be aware and give them a break, firing them back in there when you have a good reason to do so. My best excuse to get them back in there happens after I’ve edited the shots we’ve taken together, showing them what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. I’ll say to them “Let’s just go back in and try to nail this one on a slightly different angle. You ready?” Normally, actors will want to stay all day in front of your camera, but corporate types want to be done with it and leave. This is a perfect way to get another 50 shots out of a CEO.

They definitely become aware that the approachability has to be in the shot. That’s a pretty easy concept for everybody to see. Again, the worst-case scenario, if you aren’t shooting tethered, is to show them the shot on the back of your camera. It’s small, but they should be able to get a sense of how approachable or non-approachable they look. Since I’m shooting tethered, I show them exactly what I’m talking about. In the edit process, I’ll say, “This is not the guy. Your Board of Directors is not going to be happy putting a shot like this out to the world. You’ve got people to take care of and I’m sure your shareholders want to see a leader. If you’re going to be a leader, you’ve got to draw them in with some approachability, and you’ve got to convey confidence at the same time, and I need you to mesh the two together in the same look.” So, you’re constantly working toward getting them to layer these two concepts on top of each other in a single expression.

Again, layering the squinch along with the smile is what all my headshot work has been based on, and really all I’ve been doing on a daily basis for the last 14 years. When I take a step back and look at it, it really has been just that. It’s hard to believe, but that’s all I do. Once I’ve got a shot that conveys C&A, I can say bye-bye to my client and feel like I got the job done, or I can start to play with other ideas that I’d like to try.


Marcia Meade

I’m layering the expressions in along with various facial angles, so I can capture a confident and approachable shot on just about every angle that might look good for them. I’m testing as many variations of it as I can with them and also going for the C&A with different outfits that I hope they brought along with them for the shoot. This gives me even more range and changing a person always mixes up the energy of the shoot for a bit.

For men, I’ll even vary the lighting a touch. So, you’re always keeping the shoot fresh by telling them to do different things, making little changes here and there, but all we really want them to do is a bit of a squinch and a tiny little smile the entire time. Once you’ve captured that left, right, and center, you are able to say, “There it is. You got it.” C&A down, now I can go home.


Marco Palou

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