Smile for the camera: What Tony Abbott can teach us about being photogenic

You have seven seconds to make a first impression; so heads up, smile out, eyes will meet, extend your hand and firmly shake your opposite with thumbs intertwined and fingers gripping the heel. Never snarl, never smirk, and don’t roll your eyes: these are the lessons to follow for a good first impression.

One of the most photographed men in Australia is, of course, Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Rarely does a week go by without him on some front page, smiling (or not) for the camera.

Small business owners are their business’ public face. They need to know how to look good, or at least passable, on camera.

So what lessons can they learn from our prime minister in this regard?

In one of Abbott’s studio portraits, Abbott appears with an unsure grin, raised at the right and looking out with eyes perhaps aiming for warmth.

But does it come off? How does it compare to the officially sanctioned photo on the Liberal Party website, where he avoids showing his teeth and the photographer catches his other side, reducing the impact of that raised right-hand-side of the mouth.

Abbott has been photographed well, he has been photographed awkwardly, and as a public figure, he has been ridiculed, says press photographer Ari Hatzis.

Hatzis says Abbott can be shot well, adding that photographers can also capture him mid-word, creating an awkward image. “I wonder whether people are deliberately trying to capture those moments,” he said.

But what about the studio shots? In our first example, Abbott’s smile “is a bit smirkish, it’s a little bit sly,” Hatzis said. Whereas, in a shot by photographer Tim Bauer, Hatzis said the smile was more genuine, while the photo was shot to make him look like a caricature.

Smiles, such as those worn by diplomats, models, sports stars and prime ministers, are the stock and trade of Lizzie Wagner, image expert.

“You do have to learn how to smile. It’s not just something you do particularly well when you’re nervous, and feeling intimidated. So the best way to do that is to practice in the mirror. It [a smile] can be misinterpreted. It can look like a bit of a sneer; it can look like it’s not sincere.

She said people in the public eye have to hold the same smile for a long time.

“That can be really difficult for anyone to hold and maintain a smile until they get a shot. And often they’ll be photographed in an awkward place,” she said.

Her tips for a successful smile is to relax your face, practice in the mirror to figure out your best angle, determine whether you want teeth in your smile, and position yourself to the left or right of the shot depending on your best angle.


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