With the end of another week around the corner comes another time for me to share a model’s point of view. I’ve given many invitations for topic requests, and received numerous suggestions. Today we will be covering a suggestion by model Shante Armstrong – emoting for the lens.
While this post may be considered primarily for new models, it is truly for all models and photographers alike. I feel it is crucial for the photographer to understand what we must mentally go through to deliver an emotive image on set. So without further ado, here are some of my strategies, stories, and personal experiences with showing emotion for the camera.
Back when I first began modeling I had only two expressions. I would toggle between a bright, radiant smile and casting a shy gaze downward. That was it. Yes, there was more that I wanted to do. More that I wanted to say with my expressions and body language… But I was not confident enough to release myself to do so for fear that it would look silly or the photographer would laugh at my choices. I soon learned that the worst thing a model can do is cripple him/herself with hesitation and fear.
The first important step is CONFIDENCE. Not necessarily a self-assurance that what you are doing will look amazing, but maintaining the courage to try. Part of communication between photographer and model includes the photographer sensing what you are trying to do and giving you tips on how to fine-tune your poses to make it work. If they give suggestions or constructive criticism it is not intended personally. It may be a simple matter of the photographer’s taste, the overall mood of the particular shoot, or taking your instinct and tailoring it to the photographer’s vision. Never be afraid of the photographer not liking what you are doing. Modeling is a vulnerable profession; you open yourself to constructive criticism every time you step in front of the camera. Refrain from receiving feedback as an attack. Instead, take it as the photographer saying; “This is how we can make our images more incredible.” What model doesn’t want suggestions like that?
The next thing I want to stress is the importance of taking yourself on a mental journey. When I am in front of a camera I often give myself a character I am trying to portray. If not an entire character, I will focus on a clear mood with each pose. There are many useful tips for conveying moods through body language and facial expressions I have found. Anything meant to convey power, confidence, or strength requires tension and structure. Limbs should be more rigid, more triangles should be formed through stance and arm placement. Eyes should be boring into whatever target you choose to gaze at.
When communicating more demure and relaxed moods such as subtle flirting, timidity, sadness, etc. the body and face needs to be more fluid and relaxed. The lines your limbs create should be more subtle and gentle. The face should be more relaxed with little changes like the simple raise of an eyebrow, a coy smile, or a soft, mournful gaze. Think in your mind what you want to communicate, feel it deep inside, then decipher if the body language and expression is tense or relaxed. It also may be helpful to do some personal research on the science of body language. This will help everything be congruent in the final images.
My last suggestion is to never hold back. It is far better to give the photographer more than they asked for rather than less. Doing something unprompted may spark new ideas in their creative visions as well, and the most successful shot of the day may be a result of that spur of the moment pose. I love to do spontaneous things with my hands including but not limited to things like covering one eye, forming a telescope with my hands to peer through, or forming somewhat of a box around my face. I’ve been laughed at a couple times and redirected, but I have more so received the reaction of; “Oh my goodness!! Do that again!” That reaction is the most rewarding as a model. It means you’ve sparked an idea that was not previously in the photographer’s mind.
As a final touch I’d like to share with you some of my more emotional images and the stories behind them so you may see my suggestions put into practice. My first examples will be with photographer Abby Lynn Pierce of Ablynn Photo. You can find her at https://www.facebook.com/AblynnPhoto/.
Our very first series was designed for Depression Awareness Month. We wanted to communicate the emptiness people with depression must mask and coexist with every day. We wanted to communicate a sadness that was so commonplace, I had no more tears left to cry. I shot the entire first portion without a dab of makeup. Every pose I struck was supposed to be vulnerable and sad without overt theatrics. I remember meeting Abby for the first time on set, I remember being nervous about how real and candid I was about to become…and I remember the chills we both felt as the camera continued to click.
This next set is again with Abby. This time we chose the concept of eating disorders. I had the challenge of playing two parts in this series, and I took it very seriously communicating the mental battle an eating disorder entails. Having had my own struggle with anorexia it was very important to me to do this concept justice.
Here is another set I completed with photographer Josie Brooks (the master behind the first image in this post). This set was completed after someone I know and love attempted to take their own life. I remember being in front of Josie’s camera, thinking about how my friend must have felt. I began to tailor my expressions and body language as such, and Josie told me to continue. This is what we ended up creating…
I could go through and show many more images, but I will save those for future discussions. But this week I want every model to leave this screen feeling encouraged to let themselves go in front of the camera. A truly captivating shot requires vulnerability. To make the viewer feel something you must first be unafraid to feel it yourself. Give yourself the permission to say whatever it is you want to say through your silent lips, your body language, and your candid gaze. And to all the photographers reading – I hope this has given you a useful glimpse inside the model’s mind.
Until next week,