Picture Perfect: Make Impromptu Photos Magical

Neil Patrick Harris always strikes a nice pose. You can see in this photo all of the tips outlined in Picture Perfect.

Neil Patrick Harris always strikes a nice pose. You can see in this photo many of the tips outlined in Picture Perfect. (photo by Lan Bui/TheBuiBrothers.com)

For decades, magicians have used pictures of themselves to entice potential clients to book their show. The final selection—the best photo out of a hundred professional studio stills—would appear on the magician’s business card, flier, brochure, and website.

This isn’t an article about whether or not your promo photo should be a picture of you with a card coming out of your sleeve, a dove on your shoulder, or standing behind a beautiful floating female assistant.

This article is intended to reveal the fact that potential clients may never see your promo picture and they are relying on all those candid shots you post on Facebook and Twitter to book your show.

Uh oh!

I know what you’re thinking… you didn’t anticipate that picture of you in cutoff jeans sipping your third beer from a solo cup at a family picnic to be Ford Motor’s cover page in their talent file.

And what’s worse, even in the “good” candid photos of you, your hair is a mess, your eyes are closed, and your shirt reveals chunks of your body you wish weren’t there. You might even wonder why you can’t be more photogenic like other people that grace your social media news feed.

You’re in luck! There are methods—magic tricks in and of themselves—you can learn to make every picture a stunning representation of your awesomeness, even if your mug is as asymmetrical as mine.

Here are a few tips to increase your on-camera charisma:

Find Your Good Side

Your phone probably doubles as a digital camera. Have someone take your picture from both sides, front and back, and all the angles up and down in between. Find which parts of your body and face look best, and put those forward in every photo. Don’t just say “cheese” when someone whips out a camera; turn to your good side and pose.

Smile with Your Eyes

Your eyes reflect only genuine feelings. Even though your mouth is smiling, your eyes may be cold. When you see the camera, picture it is someone you love, respect, or would most like to meet. Better yet, imagine the camera is a girl/boy you had a crush on in high school. Your eyes will light up and your expression will brighten the photo.

But Smile with Your Mouth Too

You may look great with a full smile—open mouth—but many people do not. A three-quarter smile is the most authentic. Be careful, though, if your smile is not symmetrical it might be perceived as a smirk. Practice different smiles in a few pictures, wait a day and then look at them again and choose which looks best on you.

Look Above the Camera

This picture of me was taken during the same photo shoot as the main image on my blog. Always remain focused.

This picture of me was taken during the same photo shoot as the main image on my blog. Always remain focused.

This is an old modeling trick (or so I’ve heard). If you look into the camera lens, your eyes may appear closed, especially if you are mid-blink. But gazing just above the camera creates the illusion you are looking into the camera in the final print, yet reduces red eye and gives your eyes a fuller appearance.

Be Aware of Your Lighting

Lighting is important. You want the light to brighten up your good side and darken your bad side. This is a good way to hide unshapely body problems. The reason some people are naturally more photogenic than others is they have features compatible with a variety of common lighting arrangements. Cameras flatten your face and expose shapes. Without makeup, lighting is your 3D friend. Take pictures of yourself with the light hitting different parts of your face to see which you like best.

Don’t Square Your Pose

Women naturally turn three-quarters towards the camera in a lovely pose when their picture is taken. Men tend to turn square to the camera, which looks just awful. Do not turn your whole body flat towards the camera. Turn part of your body—the bad part—away from the camera and smile.

Wear Clothes that Fit

Baggy clothes are not in fashion today and they look terrible in photos. Even if you are overweight, you want an outline of your body clearly visible. Color is important too. Black on black makes a big blob in pictures and looks cliché on magicians. Breakup your shape with flattering colors and current styles.

Hand Gestures are Unnecessary

Hand gestures are defensive measures. If your pose is polished, you won’t toss them out there subconsciously. Potential clients may like to rock as much as you do, but it’s hard for corporate booking agents to push a performer sporting a devil’s horn rock-on hand gesture (unless that’s your style of course). Keep your hands at your side, perhaps one holding a drink at stomach level if you’re caught boozing, or in your pockets if you feel totally exposed.

Untag Yourself from the Bad Pictures

Did your mom post a picture on Facebook that doesn’t reflect positively on your business persona? Untag yourself. Your friends and family already know who you are. There’s no need pointing out to potential clients how funny you look with asparagus spears in your teeth. But this isn’t a foolproof way to hide your antics. Some social media services have facial recognition, Google+ for instance, and this technology is becoming more and more popular.

Be a Magician 24/7

In my interview with Jeff McBride, he mentioned his, “Magician 24/7 Philosophy.” Performing whenever and wherever the opportunity arises—family functions, school events, free festivals, block parties—has a positive affect on your social portfolio. There will be countless pictures of you performing magic. Potential clients and booking agents see magic throughout your profile and know you are dedicated to your craft, even practicing on weekends and after hours. Plus, many of the phones today are twice the megapixels of professional digital cameras from just a few years ago. One of those pictures might replace that studio headshot in your media kit.