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Tips on creating presentations with personality

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Better Images: It’s All In The Background

Monday, August 24th, 2009


Pic: Auckland Zoo

Brain dead, time to look at pictures

There must be a PhD thesis in the anti-productivity effect of long holidays. Two weeks back and I’m still struggling to become a useful part of the business world.

I’ve got all the tools laid out before me: laptop, phone, notepad, the specific brand of pen that I trust to generate ideas. But it’s like a chimpanzee tea party, and I’m still sticking teacups into the middle of my forehead and thinking in nonsensical grunts.

Which is pretty much the right frame of mind for photo editing – sorting through hundreds of fairly identical shots, trying to work out which CEO portrait has that magical king-of-beasts eye glint and shoulder tilt.

Photos are the best way to set your presentation apart and help people remember what you said: shots of your product, your people, your stores, or anything else to break up the wall of words.

Get a better background

The best way to make anything look better in a picture is to put it against a better background. When most people take shots, they’re concentrating so hard on the subject that the setting doesn’t get noticed.

Here’s an executive, photographed with a flash against a standard wall of photo paper.


This can look pretty flat, particularly when you have lots of execs in the same setting.

Now let’s take some similar-looking executives and take them outside, where there are interesting shapes and colours that can lift the background mood, and sympathetic natural light.



Shots taken in and around offices tend to be quite depressing. You don’t notice the clutter of old fax machines, memos pinned to boards, and Garfield coffee mugs when you’re taking the snap, but it makes for a pretty ordinary image. Particularly with the added harshness of fluoro lighting.

Here’s a perfectly pleasant-looking IT guy, in his natural habitat.


Now let’s take 3 other IT guys, and put them on a better background, and in this case, a reflective foreground. And lower the camera for a bit of drama. Now they look like cool crime fighters defusing a bomb.


Background is just as important for product images. Here’s the attractively-designed Breville Citrus Press in its naked form.


Here’s the same item, after we made a better background for it. Now it’s something to aspire to.


Yes, we used a stylist and rented a nice kitchen for the juicer shot. But there’s a lot you can do even when you’re shooting by yourself with a cheap camera.

DIY Tips

Borrow a friend’s nice house to shoot your product in. Think how people actually use it, and put it in that context, rather than up against the nearest wall.

Shoot staff photos in the lobby of someone else’s good-looking new office block, which are always full of Barcelona chairs and nice diffused white light. Or use a stylish cafe as a setting.

For more tips on creating images that jump out, read this excellent article by Andrew Gibson. It’s about travel photography, but the same rules apply to taking interesting shots for presentations, particularly the bits about later afternoon light and finding blocks of colour.

Next post, we’ll look at a different kind of background – what’s actually behind you, the presenter, and how it can transform the effectiveness of your message.

3 Quick Tips To Look Better In Photos

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Let’s be honest, we all hate photos of ourselves.

We all carry around a mental picture of how we look – like a more or less normal human.

But your photo-self looks like your inbred backwoods cousin. Double chins, jug ears, squinty eyes, pasty skin, and crooked smiles – cameras add all this to you, and more. It’s like cosmetic surgery in reverse.

Looking good in photos isn’t a core presentation skill, but it’s useful, particularly for those of you whose entire existence is defined by Facebook. And if you become a professional presenter, you’ll get photographed all the time.

I’ve spent a bit of time recently doing photo shoots of insurance executives for their annual report.

Do I Look Gay In This?

Executive group shots are a particular challenge, because you don’t want them to look like an official sports team photo. So you overlap everyone. Because the lens separates people, you have to make everyone stand much closer together than they would in real life. Sometimes nearly touching.

That makes them look really nervous, because they all fear that the closeness might look like the Forbidden Love between one male insurance executive and another. It usually takes about 10 minutes of reassurance before they settle down and look relaxed. For any group shot, the closer the better.

Bad Man, Great Posture

John the photographer and I have worked together for years. He does a lot of big-end-of-town executive shoots. He tells me that if you want a textbook example of a guy who really knew how to be photographed, look no further than Hitler. Yep, that man again.

Hitler, no movie star in the looks department, applied the same level of fanatical preparation and attention to detail as he did for his speeches. The three-quarter angle, the weight on the front elbow, the clearly defined jawline, it’s all there. He would have practiced it in front of the mirror for decades. “When he was on the way up, in the thirties, you never saw a bad picture of the guy,” John says.


He also gave Nancy Reagan full marks for photographer-awareness, for sitting through every one of her husband’s speeches with a constant look of rapt admiration.


During a lull in the shoot we discussed posing tips with one of the clients, who was getting married soon and ‘hates every single photo of herself ever’.

So then, Top 3 Tips to Look Better in Photos

1. Turn At An Angle

If you stand front-on to the camera, you’ll look fatter than you are. Get yourself at a 45 degree angle, and you’ll cut a much better silhouette. Turn your head to the camera, though not completely straight. A slight angle gives you better definition of your facial features.

2. Put Your Best Foot Forward. Or Any Foot.

Now that you’re at an angle, one foot will be closer to the camera. Put all your weight on that foot, and lean toward the camera as hard as you can. It feels weird and unnatural, but it does a couple of vital things. It angles the rest of your body away from the camera, so you look thinner.

More importantly, leaning forward gets rid of that double chin you get if you’re pulling away from the camera.

3. Practise The Smile

Your normal smile looks wrong on camera. If you’ve got an important, wedding-style event coming up, do some smile rehearsal.

Get a trusted friend with a camera, and shoot a whole range of smiles. See how they look. Try smiling 50% more than your normal smile, which will feel weird, but it’ll often work. Try just pulling your cheeks back to expose your teeth without consciously smiling, so you don’t do the eye squint that comes with a big smile. Again, feels weird, like an animal baring its teeth, but see how it looks on camera. Different methods work for different people. Once you find a smile you’re comfortable with, practice it until you can do it on command.

Look at red-carpet celebrity shots in magazines. They all do this, instinctively after years of practicing how to look better through a camera. Well, most of them do. To show you the difference:

Getting it right.


And getting it wrong, like the rest of us usually do.


Now get out there and work it, people!

Red carpet pics: Urban Mixer