A couple weeks ago I talked about The Art of the Pose where I discussed three styles of directing models.
Well within those styles are techniques, some simple and some complex. Over the years I have developed a lot of techniques to get the look I want on a shoot. Here’s one of my favorites!
How to Steal an Expression
Expression stealing is a term I came up with to describe the technique of making a model make a certain expression, without specifically asking him/her to do it. In other words it’s always better to make a model smile, rather than ask her to smile.
Take this image for instance:
This is an amazing expression from Sarah
Sarah’s expression is a unique and complex blend of disdain & joy, boredom & fascination, pity & fear… if I wanted to get this look from Sarah again I could tell her those descriptions but she would have no idea what I was talking about. There simply is no good way I can think of to tell a model to do this… but I have a thousand ways to make her spontaneously give me a look similar to this!
You can’t describe your way to this expression… you have to steal it.
If I want a laugh I don’t tell a model to laugh, I make her laugh… and not with a lame joke either, that’s not a real laugh. For instance, the best laugh you can make is that one of slight embarrassment, so to get one I’ll tell a model to smile [take a picture] then frown [take a picture] then smile again. At first I slowly take pictures, waiting for her expression to catch up… then I go faster, and faster until she starts feeling so ridiculous at how how odd it feels that she just can’t help but laugh out loud! In other words, I spend ten frames shooting something I’ll never use in order to get a true laugh out.
You, as the director, have to figure out a way to authentically make the model make a true expression and at the exact right second snatch it away! That’s what I call Expression Stealing!
Any model that shoots with me knows that I usually talk to them throughout the entire shoot, I ask a lot of questions. Little do they know that I’m silently, usually sub-conciously, noticing their reactions. I don’t even really care a whole lot about most the questions I ask or the answers I receive (in fact I usually forget about what they say immediately) but what I am remembering is what their reactions are like.
So I thought I’d do a little exercise to illustrate this idea… Without either of them knowing anything about my experiment (at the time) I put the model (Sarah) on the phone with Ryan Muirhead in the middle of a test shoot last week… I gave them no explanation as to why they were talking, I just told them they had to keep talking. Sarah was able to stay on the phone for over a FULL minute before ending the conversation and passing me back the phone.
The whole time they were talking I was busy stealing genuine expressions. All in 70 seconds.
(CLICK IT FOR A BIGGER SIZE)
By the way, expression stealing is much more than just saying something and capturing the reaction, sometimes the reactions build and build on each other… the more complex the reactions get the better the expression.
The ironic thing is that I love shooting models in a nearly expressionless state. When I think about it I realize there is a genuine reason for why I love shooting blank expressions so much.
“It’s easy to make someone laugh…”
It’s easy to make someone laugh but making a model ignore every care in the world and completely relax? That’s a bit more tough. Not only do I love the challenge but I love the idea of blank…
Once you’ve removed expression you are left with a blank stare, and isn’t it interesting how hypnotizing a blank stare can be.
“Isn’t it interesting how hypnotizing a blank stare can be.”
Go ahead, take a few seconds longer than normal and look at the image below… notice how, with a little imagination, it makes you feel like you’re looking into yourself. Like it’s a mirror reflecting back the emotions that are currently on the edge of your mind?
Or is that just me?
Equipment used to achieve these images
Links take you to B&H with additional specs and current prices.
- Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
- Lens: Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM
- Tripod: Manfrotto 190XPROB
- Tripod Grip: Manfrotto Ballhead (322RC2)
- Memory Card: SanDisk Extreme 16GB
- Strobes: Two Elinchrom 600RX Monolights
- Light Modifier: Rotalux Midi Octa by Elinchrome (53″)
- Light Modifier: Medium Photoflex Softbox with grid
- Software: Adobe Lightroom