On-camera Skills: How to Use your Hands on Video

There is a technique for demonstrating product on-camera in the TV/film industry, it’s called “playing your action towards the lens”.

If the camera can’t see the action you are performing within the frame, neither can your viewer. As far as the viewer is concerned, it simply did not happen.

Subtle does it

In the video example below, we are shooting a product video. You’ll notice that I don’t overtly draw attention to the product, but instead move it in a subtle way so that the label or brand name faces toward the camera (the viewer), thus achieving the goal of brand awareness and subtle product placement. I do this without the movement looking contrived, or a “look at me holding my products” vibe. You’ll note the movements are specific and move the action of the scene forward in this product demonstration.

Don’t pull a Ricky Bobby

You’d be surprised at how many people fumble or simply forget how to use their hands once the camera is trained on them. A fun example of this is depicted in the film Talladega Nights. Skip to timecode 0.36 to catch the reference.

 Stillness commands attention on-screen. 

Reduce your Viewer’s Stress Levels

Ever had someone flap and flick their hands right in front of your face? How did you feel about it? Perhaps slightly annoyed? Since the camera stands in as your viewer you’ll want to avoid treating them that way for the same reason.

Sporadic, non-specific, flappy hand movements can irritate and visually overwhelm your viewer due to the confines of the frame. It splits their focus. Each time you move, you are forcing their eyes to track what your hands are doing and search for the meaning behind your movement (a pre-wired evolutionary survival mechanism).

This is why you want to stop contributing to your viewers stress levels. You could be priming them to unconsciously associate you and your brand with irritation and annoyance.

Don’t Upstage Yourself

Unnecessary, random on-camera movement can upstage you and reduce the impact of your message. Always keep your on-camera movement specific so that it highlights, and punctuates your on-camera action. While demonstrating your product, try to complete the action with a 1-2-3 rhythm.


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The Golden Rules for On-camera Movement

What’s the golden rule of comedy? Never move on the punchline.

What’s the golden rule for your close up?

Never move on a key emotional point. The same applies to the important moments in your video presentation where you want your audience to pay close attention to you.

Move your Hands and Yourself with Purpose

Each deliberate action should drive the scene forward.

For example, in this TV commercial shoot for a high-profile consumer brand, I had to rehearse a lot of specific actions for the scene, including using a real bladed knife (not a stunt knife).

During the audition process, there was one particular action that was crucial to the commercial as it punctuated the comedic aspect of the shot.

In my audition callback (a second deciding audition between me and another actor) I had the director oversee me on this one specific action to ensure I could actually perform it and repeat it effortlessly on the day of the shoot.  (On a professional shoot, production costs can escalate into the thousands, with cast, crew, and overtime if the on-camera talent can not deliver and repeat the specific action on the spot, during multiple takes, in various shot sizes and angles). 

The action in this instance was a pan and pasta flip taken from bench height – not an easy feat. I had to flip the pasta above and backward out of frame (the angle of the flip had to be just right). So that the pasta landed out of frame, without any of it falling back on top of me or in the frame. Plus the brand name of the product had to be seen as I tapped the bottom of it with a wooden spoon. Ensuring that all action was specifically played clearly towards the camera – in order for the camera to see it and track it.

Each time we shot a new take, I had to repeat the exact action. Fresh pasta would be made each time so that it wouldn’t clump together and ball up during the flip.

Yes, the smallest details were carefully orchestrated and thought through – all the while working to a tight deadline.




Although you won’t be going to such lengths with this type of large-scale production for your own videos the principles remain the same.

In order to be visually compelling, you need to…

Be a Meaningful Specific – Not a Wandering Generality

This is why you:

  • You must rehearse your movements to the camera prior to filming
    • It’ll save you from having to fix blunders in the edit, and it will make your video shoot run that much smoother
  • You must make your movements specific and meaningful so that they support your message
    • With your hands, either keep them up and in the frame (which will feel odd, but will visually register well for the viewer), or leave them out of the frame. Avoid having them bob in and out of the shot
    • Specificity is interesting and dynamic to watch
    • Generalized, movement tends visually communicate that you don’t really know what you are doing (aka the Ricky Bobby)
    • As you’re working with the visual medium and operating within the confines of the camera frame.  Generalized movement will visually bore or tire the viewer because it slows the pace of your video down and serves no specific purpose.

Also, you are more likely to look, feel and sound awkward on video if you haven’t rehearsed first.

Get a few rehearsals in play and you’ll begin to feel the ease that confidence builds as you warm up. Go in cold and you’ll be in a Ricky Bobby experience on-screen.

Rehearsing your movements will make you look, feel and sound professional and streamlined. It will imbue your video with a pro-level quality vibe i.e you know what you are doing, you’ve got it going on, and your viewers will trust you.


Are your Hands up to Spec?

With close-up shots of your hands, ensure your hands, fingers, and nails are well-groomed to avoid upstaging your product or shot.

This is critical if you are handling food, or demonstrating beauty products, cosmetic, surgical, medical, or wellbeing topics (sports, massage, etc).

If you’re an on-camera presenter, spokesperson, etc, and are demonstrating commercial/brand products. Be extra mindful of finger, hand, and arm tattoos. Often advertisers (the Client) won’t book on-camera talent as a result of this. If the tattoos can be covered do so. This will best support the product and prevent off-brand distractions with consumers.

Remember in this instance the Product is always the hero.

With your next video shoot be a pro and rehearse your actions. You will add a dash of sophistication and polish to your videos.

For more on this topic see:

And if you have a question or you want me to cover a topic for you let me know.

You can also book a time with me to troubleshoot your video creation or a production challenge.

Keep putting your best out into the world! You’ve got this.






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