On camera

Over the last 6 months, I have found myself on camera. A lot.

I used to be in love with the camera. As a child, I was photographed constantly – and not just for family photos. Back in the day, I actually modeled clothing (on camera and on the catwalk) for my mom’s store Teddy Fashions. Such a ham, I was. (Proof above.)  That love affair ended at some point.

In July of 2012 I got my GLAM ON for a photo shoot. It had been 7 years since I had professional photos taken and that was just not OK. Everyone needs a good photo – for conference bios, twitter avatars, and everything in between. I don’t often feel photogenic but in this virtual world, photos and video have become critical tools in creating your brand but also allowing people to become familiar with you.


I’m no Annie Leibowitz or Tyra Banks, for that matter, but I can tell you what works for me. When it comes to photos…

  1. Go pro. I feel the DIY route is great for a lot of things but photos in your house or taken by a family member (who isn’t a photographer) just never seem to look polished. Dropping 300 or more dollars on a photographer who doesn’t “get you” is equally bad. So look through their portfolio and get a sense of their style before you commit. I worked with Daniel at Studio 4 POINT 5 for these shots.
  2. Know what you want. I needed shots I could use for my websites and profiles. I wanted the consistency of in-studio lighting and a basic white background so that I could plug these photos into anything. I knew full body shots would be a waste because I would have to crop them for use in profiles and bios anyway.
  3. Primp. I had been rockin’ my shorter do for a few weeks before the shoot so all I needed was a blow dry and straighten at Blo Dry Bar.
  4. Cake it on. I got my make-up done at MAC. It was so abundant (think Toddlers & Tiaras) that I had to walk out wearing big sunglasses to cover up. (I’m typically a bit more of a minimalist when it comes to make-up.) But I knew that despite the copious amounts of dark eyeshadow, foundation, bronzer and blush, only about 20% of that would come through on camera. So cake it on.
  5. Look your part. It was important that these photos were taken of a much more polished version of myself – not Nikki Minaj. So I didn’t wear fake eyelashes or hipster glasses or haute couture.
  6. Bring extra. I often change my mind very last minute about what I’m going to wear to anything – a meeting, event, date night. I had three wardrobe changes for my shoot and brought 6 outfits. I styled each outfit with different accessories again with extra options.
  7. Angle and variety. A head-on shot will look flat so angling your body in one direction and your head toward the other creates a proper silhouette. Make sure you get a variety of shots including from up above. That’s quite flattering.
  8. Break it up. If you are wearing long sleeves or one solid colour or pattern you will want to create space around your body so that you don’t look like a blob. Although I got some comments about my hand-on-hip-model-pose, it actually is purposeful. That is, it gave me shape and a waist!
  9. “Smize”. Smile with your eyes. The above photo is a good example of this. (Even still it didn’t make it to the final cut. The red lips with black suit just seemed too severe and the structured blazer made me feel constricted and shapeless. See tips #5 and #8.)
  10. Have fun. If you think it is painful, then it will be. Move beyond the awkwardness, make conversation with your photographer to help you relax and just have fun!

Now video is a whole other adventure. Most often I am being recorded as a result of a facilitation or training. In those cases, it is almost impossible to control how you are reflected. Since my focus is not to deliver to a camera but rather the people in the room, I just let myself forget it’s there. (Although it can be very difficult when a bright light and lens are a few feet from your face!)

But on other occasions, I am actually on camera for interviews, promos and featured topics. In fact, I found myself on camera back in October and was fascinated to see such diversity of expression in each shot. The result is above. My favourite funny face is the one on the bottom right. I actually look a little afraid. In reality, this is just my normal face when I talk about stuff that matters.

Here are a few guidelines that I try to keep in mind when filming.

  1. Enunciate. This I can’t stress enough. I have been told many times that I enunciate well. I think having a Deaf brother has something to do with that (i.e. he reads lips). The clearer you are with your delivery the more likely the substance of your words will resonate with others.
  2. Memorize. Do your best to memorize your “lines” so that it doesn’t come off as reading script. You are better off to film a few lines at a time but deliver it properly and with intention, than you are to read off of cue card on screen. The only exception to this is when you are interviewing. I feel it is permissible to refer to your question sheet for that.
  3. Smile and animate. I believe in being expressive. Dead pan isn’t my thing. Plus on camera it is boring (unless your are doing a SNL sketch). Assuming you haven’t just been injected with Botox, use your eyebrow and mouth muscles to help convey your message.
  4. Vary tone. You’re not a robot. Enough said.
  5. Ad lib. This tip is most relevant for interviews. I feel it is important to be responsive to what your interviewee is saying so that what comes across is an organic conversation versus an artificial q & a.
  6. Speak directly to your audience. If you are delivering a message to a viewer audience then look into the camera. If you are participating in an interview then look at the person who is asking or answering questions.
  7. Don’t take yourself too seriously. For a 2 minute video, I’m often looking at around 20 takes. You will trip up on your words, forget your lines, go off on a tangent. It happens. Laugh it off and start anew.

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