Mar 3, 2013

Camera Shy? Tips to Photograph Like a Celebrity

This article appears this month in a Dartmouth alumni publication

We all get the urge to smack someone who sticks a camera in our face:  Your old roommate who posts Facebook photos from hell.  Aunt Lucy who stalks you at family reunions. Your boss who bear hugs you in company photos.  Your local police officer who…scratch that, you don’t want to smack a cop taking your mug shot. 

Many of us are camera shy.  For me, it was rooted in a family history of shyness - so acute in some relatives, we don't have pictures of them - and in being a chubby kid.  Anyone who was bullied or teased about their looks understands.

As an adult, the problem got worse after gaining the freshman 15 (er, 30).  I perfected tricks to dodge even candid snaps - from ducking behind furniture to wearing sunglasses indoors.

Despite my career in TV, I learned to "hide" behind the camera by showcasing other people's stories.  I avoided headshots even though mine looked like relics from our frat row days.  When photos were inescapable, my smile was as fake as Lindsay Lohan trying to look innocent in court.

Camera shyness was sabotaging my career.

I finally called photographer Maria Peterson, whose clients range from celebrities to brides. I've known Maria forever so I could trust her for nonjudgmental advice.

"Even models struggle with self-consciousness," she said, "but they learn to embrace the awkwardness."

If you have a photo shoot on the horizon for graduation or a new job, read on for tips on how to photograph like a celebrity.


"Preparation is the key to dealing with inhibition,” says Maria, who suggests starting a week before a photo session.  Some of her clients change how they eat; others get more sleep or do yoga to help relax.

Make that hair appointment, get a manicure, pack a tote with items you'll need the day of the shoot - basic advice but Maria finds too many people wait until the last minute and then are disappointed with their shots.  Taking control early was helpful for an Ivy League overachiever; I already felt more confident.


What should I wear, exactly?  Images of Helen Mirren in Calendar Girls flashed through my mind. 

I planned a trip to the mall.

Not so fast, says Maria.  "It's best not to go out and buy something you've never worn that may make you feel inhibited or may not be you.  It's better to wear simple clothes that accentuate the face."

So that just left the question of what colors to wear. In TV, we avoid green, brown and blue (they don't work well for 'green screen'), red, white and black.

I was surprised Maria said any colors would work. While she thinks most people photograph well in jewel tones, "It's more important to wear what makes you feel really confident, really hot. Keep it simple." 


In TV there's a term called 'cheating to camera' where we stand slightly angled. It feels silly but practicing flattering (i.e. slimming) poses in front of a mirror helps build confidence as you learn to play up your assets and accept how you look - Dumbo ears, double chin and all.

Confession: friends and I practice our red carpet pose. You know the one: chin down/shoulders back/hand on hip.  Forget copying Angelina Jolie’s thigh-baring Oscars pose but we pull off sexy ok.

You may not walk the red carpet but with practice posing for the PTA newsletter won't leave you a nervous, sweaty wreck either.


Finally, your photo shoot should be fun; it's your chance to show what makes you unique inside. "The more you can drop your guard," says Maria, "the easier it is to capture the real you and have fun."

TV coach Marki Costello gave me the push I needed to finally confront camera shyness. Marki, who coaches stars from Stacy Keibler to Cee Lo in her Become A Host program, says the key is to think about your audience more than yourself.

"Think about what you want to convey to the person looking at the shot," says Marki.  "Are you witty, funny, devious, clever?  Have it come out in your face."

Getting a photo that 'pops' is about showing your personality most of all.  "People are so worried about being glamorous and dolled up," says Marki, "but I want to see something in their eyes and face that tells me who they are."

Even if paparazzi aren't hiding in your bushes, these tips should help combat the urge to act like Alec Baldwin and punch the next photographer who shoves a camera in your face.

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