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Smile, You’re On Candidate Camera

Posted by Ron Nehring in Noteworthy on March 5, 2014 with No Comments


by Rick Montaine

Congratulations! You’re a Candidate. You’ve got a great platform, a speech, a suit, and now I’d like to help you get some great action photos, too.

Before You’re Introduced
In “campaign school”, you were taught many strategies to support your run for office including how to dress for success and that you need at least two introductory speakers before you are called upon to give your excellent well-prepared, prepped, and practiced –probably without a political photographer present-speech. The first speaker is often a local supporter, with whom hopefully everyone in the room is familiar.  This speaker will give a passionate speech on why he or she thinks you are the best candidate for the position including a supportive history of your involvement in the community, and why everyone needs to remember to cast a vote for you on Election Day. The second speaker is the “attacker” of your opponent. This “attacker” educates the crowd on all the negatives about your opponent.  Finally, it is your chance to step up to the front of the room as the third speaker. As the candidate, you are the sales guy or gal. The goal is to win over the hearts of those in attendance on your top three issues. Obviously, your speech is enthusiastic, positive, and uplifting, but probably left out some choreography which could potentially get you and the political photographer present a few great photos.

Smile words and hand gestures

One of the perplexing issues for any candidate is the arrival of a photographer. Is this photographer for me or against me? Keeping this in mind, watch your words and gestures so that every photographer in the room will get a great photo of you.

As a candidate, always write your speech with smile words at the end of the main points. As you set up the crowd to clap and cheer after each main point, you’ll need to have that last word naturally cause your facial features to form an enthusiastic relaxed smile.  For example, an excellent word that everyone uses is the word “Win”. For quick practice, stand in front of a mirror and say something such as, “During this election, we are ALL going to WIN”. While holding that ending smile expression, imagine the crowd cheering while you do a quick two second mental count showing those pearly whites.  This will be a flashing action photo moment.

An example of a word never to end a sentence with is the word “first”. We all know your goal is to make the opponent come in second, and your goal is to be first. Quickly glance back into the mirror and pronounce the word “first”. See how your face is contorted. As a photo moment, it’s a serious failure. Imagine that face on the front of the newspaper with everyone clapping around you. Remember to use smile words.

One of the other make it or break it moments that a camera captures is hand gestures. There are positive and negative gestures. Positive hand gestures are palms up or fingers pointing upwards. Negative hand gestures would be palm down like cupping a basketball or pointing downwards at a 45 degree angle which would appear as a shooting a gun gesture. Most people recognize the downward pointing as a “telling” action. Audience facial expressions are apprehensive when the candidate appears to be in a “telling” or shooting/pointing expression. The awkwardness of everyone in the room can be seen in the photo. Read the audience and stay positive.

Whenever negative actions need to be stated, refer back to that second introduction supporter who is focused on attacking your opponent and the ideas of the opponent. They can use all the negative hand gestures they want. This will automatically place you in a position to have an enthusiastic, uplifting speech with positive hand gestures for those media camera moments. The audience will be delighted to hear everything you want to do for them while in office.

As a candidate, teach yourself to stand up straight, facing forward towards your audience. Imagine a clock where the audience is at the noon position. While speaking to the gathering, pan your head back and forth from the 10:00 to 2:00 position acknowledging the audience while you speak. Many speakers bury their face into their notes in front of them on the podium and never look upwards towards the audience. So practice your speech diligently so that it is more of a personal conversation with the crowd that has gathered in the room.

Get that photographer to take less flash photos during the speech

If the flashes keep occurring then the photographer is fighting with you to get the pictures that they need.  There are effortless ways to work with the photographer and engage the audience at the same time while avoiding uncomfortable body language that forces the photographer to keep clicking photos attempting to capture that perfect moment.

There are many nervous speakers that subconsciously do a pivot of the shoulder towards the photographer to hide from the camera flashes. These pivoted body “ear shots” really make the photographer work hard trying to get that perfect picture. Not only will the audience notice the discomfort of the speaker up front because of the strange standing position, but the flashes may end up lasting throughout the speech. Make the camera your friend at the beginning of the speech and the flashes will end quickly. Remember to face forward towards the audience.

As you make your way to the front of the room interact with the audience with smiles and handshakes. Break the ice with the crowd upon your arrival, so they see you as a regular person that is to be their friend while in office. It shows in the photos.

No need to look directly at the lens of the camera. Your goal is to look at people in front of and on either side of the photographer who should either be across from you or diagonally in front of you. This is your chance to use those positive hand gestures, smiles and acknowledgments. Within a couple minutes the photographer has taken many pictures which will encourage him/her to sit down and enjoy your speech.  Now jump to that winning speech.

At the podium

I’m sure you have read an excellent article on appropriate attire for any candidate running for elected office but never found an article on podium etiquette.  I’ve seen many well-dressed candidates at, behind, and beside the podium with absolutely no idea on how to present themselves to their audience or to the camera. Here’s some podium advice as seen through the eyes of a political photographer:

Hide the plastic water bottle inside the podium. Nothing looks worse in a photo than a water bottle or soda can near the microphone.

No elbows on the podium and never rest your chin in your palm with the elbows on the podium. To the audience the speaker appears that they want to be somewhere else.

Refrain from leaning on the podium and burying your face into your notes resting within the podium. A quick glance down at the bullet points and then return your eyes towards the audience in the room.

The sides of the podium should not be held by your hands, ever. The podium is not going to fly away in a tornado so there is no reason to grab and hold onto it. Even behind a podium, positive hand gestures are great in photographs. Use them often and wisely.

Stand up straight facing the audience and keep your head upright, talk confidently appearing relaxed and conversational. Some speakers start to tilt their head slightly to one side while speaking when they aren’t confident of what they are saying. It’s most noticeable if the statements end with an upward pitch of the voice. To the audience this might make the sentence seem more like an unsure question. These moments create strange photographs.

Remember, while speaking, to keep standing, face forward and pan from 10:00 – 2::00 position occasionally.  Use positive hand gestures towards the photographer while smiling and acknowledging people around the camera(s). It takes practice and skill but in time it will appear very natural and flow effortlessly.

Candidate photos with volunteers and supporters

After every speech when the meeting is adjourned, it’s time for photos with your supporters and volunteers. Help the photographer by being attentive to what is in the back ground. Avoid the men’s room sign, woman’s room sign, and exit signs. Avoid the fire extinguisher, plastic or glass framed paintings, brass or chrome interior trimmings. All of these items reflect the flash back towards the camera and will distract from an excellent photo.  Position yourself 5 to 8 feet away and slightly off center from curtains and walls. Being too close to a wall plays color tricks with the camera and requires unnecessary adjustments by the photographer. The photographer will greatly appreciate you taking notice and making the photo session seem more effortless.

The quick recap for the candidate

Figure out if the photographer is for you by their positioning behavior in the room. You may have to watch your words.

Stay positive with smile words at the end of main points, positive hand gestures, and crowd acknowledgments.

Break the ice with the crowd so they see you as a regular person that is to be their friend while in office. It shows in the photos.

Make the camera your friend and use it to your advantage quickly, else the camera flash will become a speech distraction.

Practice standing straight, head upright, looking forward often towards the audience while panning your head back and forth.

If at the podium, use it as a command post accessory and not a protective wall.  (Remember it is not going to take off!)

Be attentive to the background when taking photos with supporters and volunteers.

Tips for the political photographer

One of the clever tricks in photography is the ability to make a person appear larger than life, or in some cases, marginalized. Shooting upwards towards a person will make them appear more prominent or authoritative. Shooting downwards will marginalize, or make the person appear small or weak.

While the Candidate is standing in the center of the room, the photographer should be positioned at the 10:00 or 2:00 position

The podium can create some great power shots. The photographer should get down on one knee and shoot upwards at a 45 degree angle. The best photos will be taken diagonally at the 10:00 or 2:00 positions.

The hardest pictures to take are straight shots from the back of the room towards the podium. It’s very challenging to keep the horizon straight while holding a camera without the assistance of a tripod. The flash is known to reflect brightly from the front of the podium or from brightly covered walls directly behind the candidate back into the camera lens. Once any photographer sees that these are wasted shots, they won’t be taking any further straight forward podium pictures.

Rick Montaine Bio
Rick is a freelance photographer in podium photography and action sports photography. Rick is a community activists and former member of the Winnetka Neighborhood Council who was involved in the Public Works Committee, Public Safety Committee, and Planning and Land Use Management Committee from 2004 to 2006.  Rick was the Republican Candidate for the 40th Assembly district in 2006 and 23rd Senatorial District in 2008. In 2012 Rick was the Deputy Political Director of Data for the California Republican Party for the Congressional Victory 2012 program sponsored by the NRCC.  He lives in Winnetka with his wife of 13 years, Brenda.  Contact Rick at

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