My Philosophy

The Frozen Face Effect

Why I do Photography

“My Philosophy”

Over the last 30 some years of photography, a few things have become very apparent to me.

Eliza-10651 – Very few people ‘like’ having their photo taken. Even some beautiful fashion models find fault with their looks.

Where did this come from? When you were 2 years old it was hard to take a great photo of you, you were cute. Couldn’t help it, you just were. Then about the age of 3 you started to became ‘self aware’ – understanding that your mother and father were not the same person as yourself. You started to realize the photo of you was ‘of you.’ Then came school photos – followed by driver’s license and passport photos. No wonder most of us are under the illusion that we aren’t attractive enough. Of course that just makes having our photos taken worse, because we’re self conscious and try to ‘pose’ and ‘say cheese.’

2 – If being ‘non-photogenic’ is a learned response, then you can unlearn it

Okay, your looks aren’t perfect. It’s okay. Mine certainly aren’t. I have an ear that’s lower than the other and so is one eye, I have a ton of wrinkles, I have “squinty” eyes, my teeth are far from perfect, posture I’m working on, and so on. A few years ago I decided to do a self portrait to put on my business cards. “Wow – who is THAT person?” I thought. But then I concentrated on all the things I’ve told people for years – only this time telling myself. Funny thing is now – I’ve gotten so many compliments on my self portraits it makes me laugh. My looks haven’t changed – but my photos have.

3 – “Looks” have little to do with being “Photogenic”

If you’ve ever watched any of the top-model competitions or any fashion oriented TV, you’ll have seen there are many top models who’ve become famous. They have the right ‘attitude’ to have photos taken. I’ve photographed many very attractive people who hate having their photos taken. And the opposite as well – not unattractive but not classically beautiful or handsome. But they come across as ‘real’ and ‘confident.’ Wonderful photos. (By the way, this does NOT mean attractive people don’t get good photos 😀 )

4 – Cameras Lie

Sorry, but it’s the truth. Cameras catch all those little details that really aren’t that noticeable when just talking with someone. It’s called the ‘frozen face effect.’ Show people either a video of someone talking or take one still image out of that video and show that – the subject in the video will be judged more attractive. That’s because there so much more being communicated than just ‘your looks’ when you’re talking.

5 – My job is to bring out the inner-photogenic person inside of you

I’m as much ‘coach’ as I am photographer – yes I understand all the technical details that it takes to create a great photo in whatever situation I’m faced with. I know how to use lighting and posing to ‘bring out your best while minimizing the rest.’ But more, its about helping you bring out your own confidence, the real you that isn’t posed or fake. Sometimes its just talking to you, sometimes its tricks to take your mind off of what’s actually happening. I also do retouching that brings the photo to the same place that people would remember how you looked when talking with you.

So what does that all mean to you?

Here’s some advice for any time someone points a camera at you. First of all, remember to keep breathing. Taking good long breaths relaxes you.

Don’t ever say “cheese” – it pulls your mouth back and always looks fake. Say “Hi” as if greeting a good friend. Remember that you are a good person, someone who loves and is loved.

Don’t worry about your ‘looks’ – there will always be someone who is skinnier and someone who is heavier, who is taller and who is shorter, someone who has more symmetry in their face and someone who has less. You are a unique person who has much to give and share. It’s okay to be ‘not perfect’ – just be the best ‘you’.

When your family and friends see your photos – they don’t see the same things you do

They see their love for you!

Being photogenic is not about ‘looks’ as much as it is about attitude – you’ve ‘learned’ to be non-photogenic, and anything that can be learned, can be unlearned.


The Frozen Face Effect

There was a study done a few years ago at Harvard that demonstrated the “Frozen Face Effect.”

To simplify the story: The researchers did videos of people talking, the pulled the best single frame out of that video. They would show either the video or the still image to people and asked them to judge how attractive the subject is. The vast majority of respondents judged the person in the video more attractive than the same person in a single image.

The difference is that when someone is talking, you’re taking in the 90 per cent of non-verbal communication that is happening, the tone of voice, the micro expressions in the eyes, the body position, and so on. In a still image non of that is happening and there is no conversation to keep attention.

In a radio interview, one of the researchers commented “This is why you pay a portrait photographer.”

What does this mean for you?

My job is to create an image that represents how people would remember talking to you.

The fact is cameras lie. They do! They emphasize aspects of our faces and bodies which we would rather not show off, and minimizes the aspects that make us individuals.

By using light properly, posing you to ‘bring out your best while hiding the rest’ and by coaching you to get in the right mind set for having photos taken (see my philosophy above about that) I can help create that image that is actually more representative of who you are – physically and emotionally.

(The full study is available HERE)


What Makes Good Headshots
Download my PDF on “What IS a Professional Headshot?”

Why Do I Do Photography?

I did my first paid photo shoot at the age of 16.

I was enthusiastic and had my own darkroom. I thought photography was a natural part of life because I’d grown up seeing the images my parents created. They had traveled as part of my dad’s job in the oil industry. They were always putting on slide shows for friends showing the places they’d been and people they knew. My dad – being in the seismic industry – had had the opportunity to develop transparencies in the field using the ‘dog house’ – which was actually a mobile darkroom.

After high school, I studied journalism at Mount Royal College (now Mount Royal University) which led to being a reporter and then editor of various small papers. Realizing there is no way to make a good living in that industry, I went into graphic design and spent about 20 years doing that. Through graphic design I became very fluent with Photoshop and gained a stronger sense of ‘design’ in images. And while doing these jobs, I continued to do photography as part of the jobs as well as on weekends and evenings doing wedding photography, magazine photography, and freelance jobs as a photographer for corporate and industrial clients – as opposed to doing photos for design clients.

Around 2005, I was realizing I wasn’t enjoying the design work. It was becoming tedious and repetitive. Although I did some fun projects, the process was always the same. And I was tired of sitting at a computer all the time. I like computers and get along with them well – but it wasn’t my big motivator.

I have to admit I’m not a morning person. I’d rather work until 2 in the morning and sleep in.

But, if I had a photoshoot to do, I was up before the alarm went off. After almost four decades I still love doing photography. THAT is my big motivator. So I decided that was going to be my ‘full time job.’

What is it about photography I like? There’s two parts, I enjoy the creative problem solving. No two photo shoots are alike, each one presents new aspects that keep the process of photography fresh.

Also – I love to help people. Always have. I’ve volunteered, stopped and helped people on the street, listen carefully to friends and family having issues. It’s part of who I am.

In photography, I often have to help people either get over being reluctant to be photographed – and I hope in the process they learn more about themselves. I also help business people get images that are more than just snap shots of their products or services but help tell the story of why these products and services are important.

Doing photography and results I get to create for people both keep me at the craft of photography.



Calgary coporate and business portrait photographer Neil Speers
Calgary Photographer Neil Speers
Neil Speers is a Calgary Photographer with over 30 years experience, has photographed everything from The Queen Mother and several Prime Ministers to a building from the 15th floor when only 10 floors had been built.

Primarily preferring to work with people to create the best head shots, professional business portraits and executive portraits – as well as editorial profile images – Neil also has great ability to photograph buildings, products and industrial locations.

I am a certified Craftsman of Photography by MPIO.