Many people feel a genuine dread when the cameras come out, but having your picture taken is almost inevitable in life. Either at social functions, family get-togethers or business pictures at the office, eventually someone is going to take a photo of you.
A large percentage of my clients begin their photography session by saying “I hate having my photo taken”. They quickly follow with some disparaging remark about themselves. “I look awful in every picture.” “I’m not photogenic at all.” Not one of those statements is true…
The reason people (I’ve really loathed some bad shots taken of me too, believe me) think they look terrible in photographs, is because they think they look terrible in photographs. No, not a typo. Thinking you look unattractive, automatically affects your posture, your body language, your facial expression and the look in your eyes.
Of course there are times when your photo is taken at the exact wrong moment, when your mouth is half open, your eyes are in mid-blink and you’re doing something blurry and odd looking with your hands. But that has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with poor timing on the part of the photographer. They just snap a shot almost randomly and don’t think about what they’re doing. We all have friends and family members who take really bad photos of people. That’s about their lack of skill, not about how we actually look.
Getting past your photo-phobia:
The first step: Remember that taking a good picture of someone, is a two-person effort. If you’ve got someone in your life who takes many unflattering shots of you, you can quite easily ‘train’ them to do a better job. Either ask them to count to three first, or simply ask them to wait until you’re ready. If they don’t, then turn away from the camera. You’re not obligated to let them take a bad photo of you!
The second step: Re-think the way you physically react when you’re in front of a camera. If you hunch your body, tense your muscles and get a glazed, stiff look on your face, then of course you’re going to look awful. So make yourself relax. Breathe. Seriously, focus on taking deep, slow breaths. Your posture will instantly improve and your facial expression will be natural and calm.
The third step: Don’t think you have to smile, because you don’t. There is nothing worse than an obviously false, frozen smile. It makes most people look completely insincere at best and slightly insane at worst. That said, don’t hold a smile back either. Trust me, you have a beautiful smile. Everyone does. Everyone. Do you ever look at a photo of someone really smiling and think ‘They look hideous.’? Of course you don’t. And nobody will think that about you either.
The fourth step: If or when a professional photographer is taking your photo, trust them. We know what we’re doing. Help us. Help us to help you! Instead of feeling resentful and insecure, think about the fact that a huge part of our job, is to make you look good. We’re going to do our best to get the most flattering photos possible. When you trust us, we’re able to make you look wonderful.
The fifth, final, and most important step: Be in the moment, not in the photo. Sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes all the difference in the world. Stop thinking ‘my picture is being taken, my picture is being taken’, and instead think about where you are and who you’re with.
- A family reunion? Think about how much you love (at least some of) the people around you.
- A wedding? Think about how happy you are for the married couple. If that doesn’t work, think about how happy you are to get free food and beverages.
- On a trip? Don’t think ‘This is me posing in front of the Eiffel Tower’. Do think ‘I’m in Paris! Right this moment, I’m in Paris!’
In all my years of being a photographer, not once have I taken a terrible photo of someone who is in the moment, relaxed, breathing and smiling naturally. We look good when we feel good. It’s a cliche because it’s true.