Communication: Non-Verbal Language


The Art of Body Language in Portraiture


Lesson Info

Communication: Non-Verbal Language

In this chapter, communication, I'm gonna talk to you a little bit about how we communicate. Not only in the words, that's 7%. Not only in the inflection in which we transmit those words, and that 38%. But, most importantly, non-verbals. Interestingly enough, on a daily basis, I'm going to try and like go through all the emotions in my face right now (laughs) 25,000 emotions we read on a daily basis. And you guys just thought you were sitting in a class, right? 25,000, how do we discern that? It's pretty incredible. But, we do. We haven't read textbooks on it, but we know that this means... And we know that... What that means. We all know that. Okay, even if we're standing still, or even if we're just sitting in a class, things are going through our mind and our face is telling the story of what, like, I totally read your mind right now. How did we read your mind? Well, it's in the facial expressions that we're emoting. And even if we're trying not to. So, as a photographer that's what...

I specialize in. I am an observer of human emotion, I'm an observer of human body language, and I'm going to do my best to make sure I'm staying aware and exploiting that human emotion. Not asking my subject to do anything they haven't been doing, but to just be honest and bare all with those emotions. Okay, so observing gestures. Non-verbal cues, are they happy, are they sad. I'm going to reach out and touch them, but I'm also going to read between the ears, and by that I mean, what their face is really saying. So, the minute Keith sat in the chair, he's sitting in the front audience, and he's, you know, taking it all in, and then I tell him, why don't you come into the studio, and he goes from this to... Like, utter fear. Like, kind of like, when they started recording this show and I was like, utter fear, eyes got a little wider, you see the whites of my eyes. I'mma let you see. Okay, how you guys doing? (audience responds) Good, yes. Everybody's like, yes, yes, yes. Okay, available body language. So, the one thing I always try to maintain is available body language, and by that I'm not going to have my arms crossed, and I'm not going to cross my legs. I'm going to keep my body posture open, my hands palms up, and all of these, which I will dive in to right now, are what says, "Come to me. Trust me. I'm open." Okay? So, what are we saying without saying it? First of all leg position. So, if we have our legs uncrossed, confident, open, you know, just owning the room and owning my space. But, then if I change into something a little bit more like this, or even like this, if my feet are down, and crossed at the ankles or even just clutched shut, like this, even, actually, is more driving home timidity, cautiousness, anxiety, and feeling a little vulnerable. So, the other one is hands on the chin. So, if I'm doing this, it could say a couple of things. It could say boredom, depending on the facial expression that accompanies it, because I can go from... Or I can go... Like, there are several different interpretations. So, it could mean that you're totally bored with the situation or it could mean, like, I am so excited I cannot contain myself. (inhales) So, all of the en--, again energy goes along with it. So, hands in the pocket, there are a couple of different interpretations, when one has their thumbs sticking out they are framing a certain region. Saying, "I own this." Right? So, it's a bit of a confidence thing. But, if your complete hand is shoved in your pocket, it's saying a whole 'nother thing. Like, "I don't really know what I'm doing here, "or why I'm here. But, this is, I'm just going to keep "my hands here, 'cause I don't know what to do with my "hands. I'm feeling really nervous and vulnerable, "and I don't know, so I'm just going to stand, "with my hands in my pockets." The other one is a downward gaze. So, if I'm making eye contact. And I go like this... I could be hiding myself, I could be reflective. But, most times, in that moment, you're feeling an emotion that you don't want others to see, so you hide your face. It's instinctive. So, perhaps you're feeling a little choked up, and you're like (exhales) That is the human non-verbal to say, "I need some support. "I'm feeling vulnerable and I need some empathy." Okay? If you ever see any of your clients ever doing that, just reach up and touch a hand on them. But, I'm going to talk about that in a little bit. So, obviously there's a whole lot of talk about eye direction and a lot of F.B.I. use this. So, when people are talking and they're looking up to the left or to the right, all of these have different interpretations. Most times when you're looking up and to the right, you're like... Somebody's like, "Hey, so what'd you do last weekend?" And you're like, "Oh Lord, What was I doing last weekend?" You're trying to recall a memory from your brain. When you're looking up and to the left, you're trying to visualize something somebody says. Like, "So, we went to this masquerade ball and she was "wearing a pumpkin costume, it was like--" And so then you're like, "Pumpkin costume?" And then your trying to like manifest it in your mind, okay? So, remember that when you've got your subject in your chair and you want them to have a facial emotion, ask them to recall something, or ask them to visualize something. This prompts them to look either right, or left, or down. Okay? Or groan. So, when one closes their eyes, they're physically blocking themselves from reality. Like, we've all done this. If somebody's like, "Seriously, there was a shooting downtown." You're like, "Oh no. Don't, not again." Like, we block it from ourselves, we put our hands up, we ask people to stop, we close our eyes, and we're just trying to get away from this reality. The other one is crossed arms. And this is one of the most misinterpreted. Because people think when people cross their arms, that they're standoffish, there's a lot more to body language than just being standoffish. It could just be stinking comfortable. Right? It could just be, oh I'm so tired, I can't even hold my arms up (groans) I'm gonna do this. It feels good. But it all comes, again, to the energy, and what the rest of the body's doing. What is the face saying? So, remember what I said, I keep an open body. I try to keep my body open, sort of, just nice and relaxed, hands down at my side, usually I'll try and cognizantly put my palms out at some point when I'm talking to people. Because, that open palm posture says, "I'm non threatening, I'm not holding any weapons, "I'm not holding any fists. And I'm ready to have a chat." Okay, angled bodies. Now, angled bodies has a lot of interpretation and a lot of meaning, it really depends on where they're angled to. Now, we already know these things. You're like, "Stacy, you're not telling "nothing I already don't know." We do, we know this, so I'm just reminding you how this works for us. And, again, eye direction. So, crossed at the ankles, look at it. What are his hands doing? So, he's exuding confidence by framing up his swimsuit region, but he's also crossing his ankles, kind of saying like, "I'm not really sure about "what's happening right now." Now, one thing that's funny is, how many of you clasp your hands? We all do that right? So, this, this is actually really quite pleasant. It's relaxed. If you find yourself doing that, no problem. That's okay, it's a natural way to do it, but if you find yourself having your hands climb, like up here, and then you're like clasping your hands here, just remember the higher the elevated hands are, the more nervous your subject is. So, it's like now they're beginning to block and they're creating this like human shield between themselves and you. Okay, dum dum da. How many of you have ever observed birds? Yes, okay, so birds, when they want to like court a gal, or maybe want to stand their ground they're gonna poof their plumage like poof. That's what we're doing. When we stand, this stance is called akimbo. That means that our legs are shoulder width apart and we're broadening our elbows, we are throwing out some space. We're fluffing our cackles (meows) and like, we're really putting it out there. That's what akimbo means, that means like owning the space, kind of dominant, I'm totally confident and I'm ready for anything, that's what that means. That's why Superman used to hold that pose. Remember, he landed like...akimbo. Okay, palm direction, we've already discussed that, so we put our palms up in a submissive manner. We put our palms up to halt. We put our palms up to say okay, that's like, I can't handle anymore, you guys hit that, my personal bubble, don't come in. Okay, body direction, again, it depends. Wherever your body is directing is the way you're going to go, so, if you're facing somebody cool, if you're facing away it's like, run for your life. Steepling means it's a display of self assurance and confidence. Supporting one's self like, doing anything like, supporting weight on the chin, means that they're steadying themselves, they're ready to listen, they're engaged, confident. They have their mouth shut and their ears open most of the time. Another thing for like, when someone rubs their neck, or their like fidgeting or their doing this, or their messing with their hair, that's self-soothing. That means that they're like pacifying themselves. Perhaps they're talking about a subject they don't necessarily feel comfortable with, or they're feeling uncomfortable in that situation, so self-soothing. Okay, so rubbing, rubbing again is another visual cue for you to know that you're kind of treading on some touchy subjects and that doesn't necessarily mean that they're ready to shut down, it just means that you're beginning to tread into some really rough waters. So, that's a cue for you to either just dive right in, and prepare for the storm, or to back off a little bit. Okay, finally preening. And that again is a self-soothing situation. And that, at that point you're probably already talking about some really rough stuff. So, look at her face, she's turned down, she's asking for a little empathy, she's like, "Whew, I just need a break." She's looking away, her eyes are averted, and she's preening herself, all of these are non-verbal cues, like, "I am not comfortable. I am feeling emotional, "I don't want to show it to you, but I'm here." Okay, so did you know that there are 18 different types of smiles, but only one of them is genuine? So, the Duchenne smile is the most genuine smile. Because we can go... All of those are fake. It's only when you naturally engage your face, (laughs) Oh my God, yes. When you have crinkles around your eyes, it's like, the little crows feet, that is a genuine smile. Look at, I mean how could you not smile when a dog's licking your face like (imitates dog). So, if we can engage those genuine smiles, all the more better, so watching your subject, being observant, what gets them to do a genuine smile. That leads me into microgestures. So, I said 25,000 facial expressions we interpret a day. Not only are we giving them off, but we're taking them in. And these are the most fleeting ones, these microgestures are the ones that truly give us away. So, how you doin'? Uh-huh. (laughs) Yeah, so all the things we say, and it's like, the one thing where people know you're lying, like, "So, did you drink last night?" "No." (laughs) "Are you hungover?" "Not really." All of those things, okay. So, this is Bobby, we did a shoot together and he's kind of a ham. Well, what do you guys take away from this series of portraits? What is Bobby telling you with his body language? Confident. Good. Proud. Good. Open. I like that, open. Happy. Hmm? Happy. Happy, yes. He's a comedian, he's kind of a ham. Okay, so what is it about these non-verbal gestures that make you interpret that, that lead you to believe that? I'll start with you, you have the microphone. Oh, I saw that non-verbal gesture, you're like-- I was going to pass on the microphone to someone. (laughs) I think the posture for me, of his legs open like this, in the three first and the last photograph, was showing a lot of openness. Good. He was leaning in to a number of them, kind of, coming closer to you and offering up, I think, more genuine emotion. Precisely, precisely. Any body else have anything they'd like to add? I think he's making himself big, so he's showing the camera that he's confident and comfortable. I like that, yes most definitely. He also has a lot of really direct eye contact. Like he is not afraid to look right at you. Yeah, how many of us, like, kind of shy away from direct eye contact, we're feeling very uncomfortable, right? I do it, I'm notorious. I have to like consciously say, "Okay, keep eye contact." Because, like my friend Keith here, I have combat trauma which makes me very uncomfortable in public situations, so I am actually like, actively, trying to be present right now. So, for some of us it doesn't come naturally, or perhaps our life experiences have dramatically changed us or have changed how we interact with one another. That doesn't make you a bad person. And it doesn't make it impossible. It just means that we have to try a little harder. You know, we have to be aware of what makes us react the way we do and to make a concerted effort to counter that. Okay, so how do we counter that? First of all, contact is so very important. I know, baby, he's moaning, I love it. Touch, touch is a sense. The first sense that we have and develop is touch. And we do that in the womb, kind of crazy right? So, by the time we are here in this world saying hello to our parents for the first time, touch is a sense that we already have established, and it's also the way we learn the world. It's not like we can really see or anything like that, but we reach out and we touch things, and we touched our parents skin to skin, we touched the blanket, we touched the dog, and we touched the chair, and that's how we learned. Touch is also how we share our love for one another, that's how we touch each other emotionally. It's also the reason why we create personal bubbles. Y'all know what personal bubbles are? Okay, what's your comfort zone, like what's your personal bubble? Are you feeling, like, invaded right now? Are you looking around? (laughs) Are you looking around? (laughs) I'm feeling a little invaded right now. Like, if I just get a, just-- Yeah. You can feel the anxiety rising like, you're like push back. Yeah, well I think it's also the leaning in. It's the leaning in right? Yeah, it's not just that you're close, you're like leaning right into me. It's aggressive. It is. So, what is comfortable, is this comfortable? It's comfortable. Okay, is this okay? It's good. (laughs) Is this okay? You know this might be okay if I were standing. But, you're feeling threatened. But, when you're towering over me-- Yes. That's when it's. Exactly. But, what if I were to come, "Hey, so how are you liking the class?" Yeah, this is, this is fine. But, you see where my body is right? Right. So, what is my body doing? I mean you're kneeling. Okay, so I'm on the same eye level as you. Right. Roughly. Right. Maybe even a little lower so I'm in a submissive place. Right, and you're kind of resting your hand like your listening to me. I'm not like... Yeah, yeah. I'm not coming at you like a linebacker. Right and it seems, you're curious, it kind of has the arms when you were... Exactly. So, when somebody does this or they're doing this they're-- That looks nervous. Like a little bit when you're scratching-- A little bit, but remember that's self-soothing, but if I were to just take my hand down like that, I'm opening my neck to you so I'm saying, "Okay, I'm vulnerable." Yeah. 'Cause anybody that ever turns or opens their neck to somebody that means okay, I'm all yours you can do what you want. I'm trusting you not to do the wrong thing. Right. But, I'm also turning my body away from you so it's as not to feel like you're going to be run over. Right. Okay, 'cause if I were to turn like this. Yeah, this is a lot more-- That changes the whole dynamic. (laughs) So, when you're down here with clients and you're interacting with them and you're like okay, I'm going to come in here and change this. They're like... (groans) I just need my personal space. Get away from me. So, when we're getting into this contact phase, it's important to know what your non verbals are saying as you approach them.

Class Description

In order to succeed at being a portrait photographer, you must be able to look past the facade an individual presents upon first meeting, and observe their non-verbal language and cues to best interpret who they really are behind the artifice. This pretense isn’t intentional, it’s human nature. Rarely do people bare their soul to a stranger. Award Winning Photographer Stacy Pearsall discusses in this class how to gain your subject’s trust through genuine care, unselfish energy and intent observance. She'll discuss the art of communication, and the signals your subject is emitting, so you can best identify and capture your subjects genuine likeness. Visual perception is everything. Capture amazing and true portraits by learning to see the body language a person brings into your session and knowing how to gain their trust to show the vulnerability within.


a Creativelive Student

Thank you Stacy! I loved the class, it confirmed to me that I'm on the right direction, it's important to bond with your subject, and love what you do is essential to it, you can tell Stacy loves her job and she is passionate about it and a good teacher as well, it was very easy to follow her.


Stacy Pearsall is a communication genius! Her story is admirable, fascinating, and saturated with humanity. I was fortunate to be in the studio class for this course, and I was blown away by her charisma and powerful energy! She truly captures the importance of using unspoken communication strategies to draw out a subject and showcase what makes them special, AND to be mindful of the communication set-backs we can quickly create with our own body language as directors and photographers. This course is a must-have, not just as a portrait artist, but as a human being who communicates with others in general. Pearsall is AMAZING!!!!

Myra Hencher

I just happened across this class as a free video and love Stacy's charisma and knowledge. The communication information makes so much sense and can be used in all personal interactions. Thank you, Creative Live and Stacy!