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The Secret To Looking and Feeling Good On Video Is The Thumbprint Filter

confidence microexpressions paul ekman self confidence video

Here’s a paradox. You cannot fudge looking confident on video but you can fudge confidence to look good on video.

As a documentary cameraman, I spent thousands of hours studying people’s faces while they talked. I could always tell when they weren’t confident. I didn’t know why I just knew.

Then I worked on a documentary series called Primal Instincts with Dr Paul Ekman also known as "the best human lie detector in the world.”  In between filming, I would discuss my observations with him. He suggested I was picking up on microexpressions. Microexpressions cannot be controlled as they happen in a fraction of a second, they are encoded in facial muscles, they cannot be hidden.

Up until the 1990s, there were seven universal emotions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, contempt, and surprise. Paul Ekman expanded his list of emotions. These emotions are amusement, embarrassment, anxiety, guilt, pride, relief, contentment, pleasure, and shame.

Embarrassment and anxiety. This is what I was seeing. They were masking it but they couldn’t hide it.

I was also seeing something else. I started to realise that the best light, the sexiest, the softest, the most flattering light I had in my lighting kit was empathy. I used to make people look good with technology until I realised that empathy was a much better brush. 

Be it a politician or a plumber, a model or a mathematician, if they looked uncomfortable, I spent a minute or so with them, gave them a few tips, physically touched them, said ‘I get that it feels uncomfortable but I’m working to make you shine.’

If they believed it they would project it. Getting them to start lighting themselves on the inside was far more effective than any light I could throw on them from the outside.

With self-belief you establish a relationship with your audience much much faster than without it.

A clear-cut case I experienced was with a TV foreign correspondent. She was and still is, top of her game in reporting world events. Professional and polished in front of the camera, there was always something wrong. I knew it was a facial blemish she was self-conscious about.

So I’d put the thumbprint filter on for her. It’s an old Hollywood trick from the glamour days. You wipe your thumb on your forehead to pick up a light film of skin oil then press your thumb on the lens as you look through the viewfinder so the smudge ended neatly over the subject’s face. Then you’d get a hanky and feather the edges. It was a poor man’s soft-focus beauty effect.

BUT … here’s the thing. When I feathered it down with the hanky, bit by bit, all I was doing was wiping the lens clean at the same time reassuring her she was looking great. There was no soft focus filter but her internal confidence was up and she looked great on camera.

This is why I say you cannot fudge looking confident on video but you can fudge confidence to look good on video. 

If you want to genuinely shine on video come to the Camera Confidence Workshops. I’ll show you how to look and sound like you've had your own chat show your whole life but we do it in a fraction of the time and I'll show you how to use a Courage Compass. It always points you to career opportunity.

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