Updated: Nov 5, 2020
We’re all guilty of it. You’re at a party or event minding your own business when you sense it. Someone’s taking a photo of you.
Now I’ve noticed there are two responses to this: duck and roll out of frame, look like you’re having an existential crisis or (my personal favourite) contort your face into a living Commedia' mask. After a while, people will stop taking photos of you - or just save up the silly ones for when your birthday comes around on Facebook.
At least you can say you were looking stupid on purpose?
But what if you’re an actor and you just can’t stand being on camera? You’re in trouble, that’s what you are. Thankfully, I’m here with the three P’s to help you become more comfortable and natural in front of cameras.
This is obvious advice; the more you’re in front of a camera, either modelling or acting, the more comfortable you’ll become because you’ve done it before. Deep down, all actors know this. But instead of sitting around, put this into practice (ha, see what I did there).
Next time you have lines to learn, don’t just sit on the couch and mutter them to yourself! Set up your phone or webcam, and record yourself moving around with the lines. Watching it back may be a little cringe-worthy at first, but you’ll remember your lines better and be aware of how you look to an audience. This is also a great way to notice any idiosyncrasies you have, and adapt them or get rid of them depending on the character you’re playing.
When you’re past this stage, I can highly recommend signing with an agent to get some extra work. It won’t be the up-close, compelling footage you may be expecting, but it gives you more time around cameras in a professional environment.
If you really aren’t sure of where to start, there are heaps of online and in-person screen acting workshops that will walk you through being on camera.
Acting for camera involves a lot of movement and micro expression, and you won’t be able to give your best performance if you’re constantly worried about what to do with your hands. So practice your poses and posture: knowing what makes you look good on film and camera will get rid of the worry that you’re going to look like an awkward potato.
Personally, I started by identifying my good side - everyone has one. It's pretty much the side of your face and body that is more photogenic and comfortable on camera. This has really helped with modelling and head-shots for me, because now I know what I’m doing instead of blankly staring at the photographer pleading for help.
Then, either set up the timed photos on your phone, or just have a photoshoot with a friend. These photos don’t have to be fantastic quality; all you're using them for is to see what looked the most relaxed on camera, and what felt the most comfortable and natural for you in the moment.
Being aware of this makes it easier for you on camera, because you already know how you’re going to stand and move and do with all of those limbs of yours.
This one is linked to practice, but it’s a lot more about your mindset. It’s about changing your perspective and attitude about cameras.
Let's start with a hypothetical: let's say, in some strange and fantastical 1984-esque world, your every moment in public is being filmed, every time you visit a cafe or do the grocery shopping. Would you change how you move and react to things with this fact in mind?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but you are being filmed! CCTV and security cameras are becoming increasingly common with roughly 1 million cameras in Australia alone*. This is where the change of perspective comes in. You’ve already had heaps of practice in front of a camera, people have watched that footage and haven't decided to seek you out and tell you how ridiculous you looked that one time you dropped all of your shopping. Therefore - logically - acting on camera is fine.
Now to translate this to when you’re filming, and there is a hulking mass of metal and wiring hanging in front of your face. It’s just another camera. You don’t care about its existence because you have more important things to do (in character). Would you let a security camera ruin your real-life confession of love? No. You wouldn’t even think twice about it. So stop thinking of it as different, embrace it.
If this doesn’t work for you, then you need to work on your focus as an actor, (don’t worry there’ll be a blog post for that later).
I realise I’ve been a little harsh in this post, so let me remedy that. The only thing that will truly make you comfortable on camera is being happy in your own skin. Get rid of your doubts and insecurities and all of a sudden it's no longer a concern.
*Sarah Keoghan, “Sydney in the top 15 cities for surveillance levels” The Sydney Morning Herald, accessed July 2, 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sydney-in-the-top-15-cities-for-surveillance-levels-20190820-p52irf.html#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20CCTV%20cameras,300%2C000%20of%20those%20in%20NSW.&text=Lord%20mayor%20Clover%20Moore%20said,%22specially%20trained%20security%20personnel%22.