Stilted Smiles

The impetus for the original entry I followed up on yesterday was writing effective press releases. It got me thinking so when I came home this evening I started looking around for tips for putting together a successful publicity photo shoot. There are plenty of guides on composing a shot but I haven’t been able to find anything on how to get performers to look natural. There are plenty of groups that do a good job with their publicity shots but I have seen enough awful pictures in newspapers and on websites that I essentially consider it a moral imperative to list some sort of resource on my blog.

I have worked with any number of directors who were pretty vigilant about keeping bad acting out of their shows who seem to throw those rules out the window for the photo shoot. You get heavily posed shots where the actors are blatantly indicating their emotions-“Here I am terrified. Boy am I terrified.”

The only advice I can offer is from two different places I worked. Both essentially followed the same scheme. One had the actors run through a scene and the photographer either snapped away or yelled freeze. The other had much more advanced performers and let them essentially improv with each other in character and the photographer snapped away. In the latter case, the photographer was more likely to tell the actors to keep going than to stop so he could catch something. The photographs in got cases tended to have a more organic dynamic to them.

I wonder if someone out there with more photo shoots under their belt might have a more formal list of tips for effective publicity shots. (Or knows of a source that has them.) I would think a list of cliches to avoid would be valuable as well. (Mollified person in foreground with person glaring disapprovingly behind and to the side, for example.) I did find one website talking about photo cliches but it was pretty snarky so I thought it best not to link.

If you have tips or know where to find them, let me know.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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