Your expression can mean everything in a Portrait. After all, there are only a few things you can change about your face: your eyes, your mouth and the position of your head. This is the fifth of our Tips for Great Portraits and Headshots. All photos are by Scott R. Kline.
Position Your Head
A strong jaw line is very attractive. One way to get this is to Turtle-Up. This technique eliminates double chins and accentuates your jaw line. Imagine strings attached at your chin and your forehead pulling your face toward the camera lens. Move your face toward the camera with chin and forehead moving just slightly forward. This tightens things up under your chin and makes your face slightly larger in proportion to your body. Ever notice how stars and news anchors have big heads? People find that attractive. Don’t overdo it. You will just look silly. Practice in front of a mirror before your shoot. (Below: David Gimpelevich of Grid Dynamics shows how to position your head in a photo.)
Pretend You are Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt always looks great when he gets his photo taken. Headshot photographer Peter Hurley points out that this was not always so if you look at his early shots. Pitt’s expression is somewhere between serious and a smile. To get this look, first relax your face. Your mouth is almost expressionless. Look at the camera and just slightly squint your eyes. Imagine you are happy. But don’t smile. Just let enough smile seep in that you look happy. You are smiling with your eyes, not your mouth. (Artist Maria Lobo below, does a good Brad Pitt.)
Vary Your Expression and Head Position with Each Shot
There is no reason to lock yourself in during a photo session. Change it up after each click of the camera or flash. Tilt your head. Look off camera. Smile big. Look badass. Do something silly. Then laugh about it. Give the photographer a chance to catch you in that in-between expression that looks so natural and unguarded in the best portraits. Use the Charleston Pierce technique of imagining a good memory or situation and channel that into your expression.
Use Your Hands
Even for a headshot, consider using your hands. Bring them up into the shot. Stroke your chin. Mess with your hair. Cross your arms, even if they aren’t in the shot. It will change your expression and move your head. Rest your chin on your hand if you are sitting, but be careful not to smush your face. (See photo of Zannah Noe at the top of this post for good example of using your hands.)
Try using a prop. Especially if you are being photographed where you work or play, try to hold something related to your work. (Below: Poet Silvi Alcivar used her trusty Royal Typewriter as a prop for her photo.)