The recent extended headshot session with Jane was fun and there was a nice flow to it. We had quite a few successful shots to choose from. Some of them were quite similar. Still, it did not take long for us both to see the very subtle, but speaking differences. The images of choice must convey the image you are fond of and that fits the purpose best.
So what micro expression are we looking for?
Let’s take a look at the images in respect to these thoughts.
In these images Jane is seated. In C she ‘opens the door to the viewer’. Her lips are apart and seem more relaxed, even though the attentive viewer might see her hands holding her left knee, a posture which shows double protection. However, she also has an almost flirting look, attracting the viewer with raised eyebrows.
With the open look, this is more of a beauty style shot, feminine and intimate. Did you know that when women flirt, they often use the so called ‘eyebrow flash’ accompanied by a smile and deep eye contact and followed by an immediate lowering of the glance, similar to avoiding eye contact during embarrassment? This image might work best in an editorial with a series of images, for example to illustrate an interview.
In shot D we see more of a ‘pose’. The left arm could be interpreted as a barrier between the viewer and her, depending on the context. Here again, the right hand is rested upon the left hand, which generally becomes active when spontaneously expressing intimate emotions, as if to prevent it from becoming active.
Image E was our favorite among the closer headshots. I am sure you can see the difference. Jane is nicely poised in shot E. Her body is turned to us and the head is slightly tilted foward – this image speaks from a place of confidence and she is communicating with the viewer ‘on the same level’. The technical side of photography helps: With the shallow depth of field and the slight blur of the clothes, the eyes become more intense and the face shines. Jane looks natural, friendly and despite her gracefulness strong and confident.
The difference in shot F is the tilt of the head and a slight strain on the neck. A result of moving the head towards the camera while her body does not follow the movement. This indicates a contradiction between what she wants to do and what she thinks the expectations are, not easy to understand. In this case a possible interpretation could be that Jane is making an effort for the portrait session but may feel a bit tired and would like a break. Finally, only she knows if this interpretation is correct.
What matters for the selection of images is the initial purpose they need to serve. Jane’s goal to show her suitability as a teacher will determine which ones to use. The perception of nuances that influence the observer in this or another direction is what distinguishes professional photography and consultation.
How do we change expressions?
We are constantly and forever changing our expressions. Emotions immediately show up in the face and in our body language, even when we try to avoid it. But during a photo session it would not be advisable to tell someone what to feel. Verbal direction is used to guide through different poses, and ideally to get into a flow that feels natural.
Give it a try and witness your own microexpressions, see how they change in very subtle ways. Soften the eyes. Relax the eyebrows. Let your breath go. Relax the lips. Bring some light into the eyes, and then a tiny smile.
This article is authored by Juliette Fong, portrait photographer, and Antoinette Anderegg, an acknowledged expert in non-verbal communication since 2006, of whom you can find more information on at www.apriori.ch