Capturing Laughter on Photos and Video

I recently saw a terrific feature on Speaker Net News titled Getting Good Promo Photos.

Here are some techniques I’ve used to get good audience reaction photos.  The challenge with getting a good reaction shot is that even when a photo is taken while an audience is laughing and having a good time; in almost every photo the audience members look stone-faced.  The trick is to catch them when they’re REALLY laughing.

The first (big) challenge is to have some belly-laugh segments in your talk.  Although I have lots of laughs in a one-hour talk, there may be only five huge laugh spots.  These are usually the key punchlines of the main stories, custom-written lines about the group and audience participation segments.  Since I know precisely when these moments are, the technique is to provide the photographer a “map” of the talk pinpointing exactly where the photo opportunity spots will be.

I give the photographer an outline of the talk.  Within the outline, I give word-for-word cues of the lines which lead up to the photo ops.  I orchestrate exactly where I want the photographer to stand (at an angle behind me) to best catch a full-looking audience.  As I deliver the line, I’m mentally preparing myself for the photo.  At the moment of the photo op, just after the key punchline, I turn my head so the photographer can catch my profile with the audience reaction and not shoot the back of my head.  I’ve told the photographer in advance that I want my profile.

I’ve used a similar technique for capturing good video.  When I have a video crew I usually prefer a four-camera shoot, with two of the cameras on the audience for the entire talk.  I instruct the operators of the audience-cameras to study the audience for those who are very expressive and responsive (who like to laugh and show it).  I’ve also given the camera operators a map of the talk.  They know precisely when the best reaction spots are coming up.  First, I tell them to be on a wide shot (not a close-up) as the target line of dialogue approaches.  Second, they should be centered on someone or some cluster of people who look good when laughing.  I hit the laugh line.  The wave of laughter starts.  And the camera operator slowly zooms in for a close-up to center on the person having he most fun.  I’ve captured some great video footage.

This may sound like a lot of work, but even a humorist’s talk isn’t loaded from start to finish with gales of laughter. If you want to capture the few magical moments, you have to work at it.  You’ll find it a challenge to capture the gems and that the great shots just don’t happen by accident.  The reward is worth the effort.