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  • Michelle Chin

What Do I Do With My Face: 3 Ways to Produce Organic Expressions During Your Shoot

Forehead forward.

Shoulders back.

Chin down.

Eyes open (but not too open!).


During a session, it can sometimes feel like there's a million things you have to pay attention to. These are headshots, after all, and your face is an important part. How are you supposed to both look good, while also capturing your essence?


As a photographer, I've found that the last thing I want my subjects thinking about is what they look like; instead, I try to get them to focus on intentions and objectives (like in acting!). Here are some exercises that can be done before / during the shoot to bring out unique, authentic expressions:


1. Prepare like you would for a scene


Crafting circumstances and objectives that fit your character type can help move your focus from how you look, to what you're doing. If your type is quirky yet lovable dad, maybe you personalize a circumstance where you have to comfort your teenage daughter, who just had her heart broken. If you're more a shifty-backstabbing-underdog, perhaps you could craft a circumstance around betraying your boss, who you've been loyal to for the past seven years.


What do you do with these circumstances? Bring them into the shoot, and go through them in your imagination. All kinds of expressions will come out, and they will all organically grow from what you've crafted, and your imagination!


2. Use a monologue


Find a monologue that fits the character type you're trying to capture, and work on it. Do all the prep, the day-dreaming etc., and then go through it in your head during the shoot. You can even just pick one line, and work with that, picture by picture. As you choose different actions or tactics, your expression will change! You can even pick multiple monologues for different looks.


3. Use your hands


There's a lot of people who've admitted to me they never know where to put their hands, and while letting them hang by your sides will suffice, sometimes you can use them during your shoot. Most headshots are framed in such a way that your hands will not be visible, so why not try some familiar gestures, and see what they inspire in you?


I've had clients shoot fingerguns, make fists, jazz hands and more. Different gestures mean different things to us, and that meaning plays across our faces when we do them. Don't be afraid to play with props, too! They won't be on camera, so go wild! I had one client whose type was a bit snobbish, so I gave them a wine-glass, and their whole posture changed. If there are certain props that might help you, consider bringing them to the shoot!