The science of being unphotogenic (part 2)
Yesterday I talked about how we're more familiar with our mirror image than our true image, and this can make us less inclined to like photos of ourselves - you can read about that here.
Meanwhile, there's the whole issue of how we feel about having our picture taken, and how that affects the outcome.
Lots of people who describe themselves as not being photogenic will say that they prefer (and maybe even like) photos of themselves when they didn't know the camera was on them. The logical leap, therefore is to think "I will prefer images that don't look staged, or where I'm not looking at the camera".
2 things here:
1. Obviously you're not unphotogenic if there are photos of you that you like
2. It's not about natural v staged - it's about how comfortable you feel about having your photo taken.
If you're not feeling comfortable about having your photo taken, you're not going to look comfortable in the photo.
Ever had that feeling where you were feeling ok about yourself and then you see a (pretty terrible) photo of yourself and you think "oh no, is that what I really look like?".
Maybe it isn't what you really look like.
Because if you're not comfortable having your photo taken, then how you look in photos is not really how you look in real life - and the degree of the difference can depend on the degree of discomfort you felt having your photo taken.
Photos do lie - no Photoshop required.
Picture the scene, you're sitting relaxing, having a chat with a friend. Meanwhile, someone takes a photo whilst you're completely unaware - you're too busy enjoying time with your friend to notice.
Now imagine it differently. You're sitting relaxing, having a chat with a friend. Someone walks over with a camera (or phone) and wants to take your picture. So you try to pose together for the camera.
If you hate having your photo taken, you are almost certainly going to prefer the photo from scenario one. In scenario two you're going to look very different.
Here's what happens to you, physically, when you don't like having your photo taken and someone pulls out a camera (or phone).
For all you may struggle to look relaxed, if you hate having your photo taken 'relaxed' and 'natural' has now gone out of the window. It's not just that your facial expression will change, your whole body has changed and you probably haven't noticed.
- You go tense.
From head to toe, things just got a little bit 'fixed'. This will be most noticeable through your shoulders in a head shot, they tend to raise up a little (some people will go as far as looking hunched).
- You physically recoil from the camera.
It's really really common for people to retract their head slightly, as if subconsciously you want to be as far away from the camera as possible.
Ever wondered why you have 3 chins in a photo and just 1 in the mirror? This is why. And because you're tense, you may find that the veins in your neck are looking 'tight' too. Nicely enhancing any wrinkles you may have to bring them to prominence.
- You don't know what to do with your hands anymore.
What's even going on here? Seconds ago you were sitting quite naturally, now you don't know whether to fold your arms, rest your hands on your legs, or something else entirely. You're really conscious of your hands all of a sudden, and your arms are stiff.
- Your eyes go wide, or you blink a lot.
You are great at nailing that 'rabbit caught in the headlights' look, and if it's not that, you're always blinking. Put this together with all the other things going on and you end up looking slightly mad or more than slightly tipsy in photos.
This does not create a photo that looks like 'you'.
...I can hear that sigh of relief from here. Thank me later 😉
Next time you're having your photo taken, try to become a bit more 'aware' of what you are doing - many of these things (shoulders raising, for example) happen completely subconsciously whilst you're thinking "Argh, camera, please get this over with as quickly as possible and no don't bother showing me the picture, in fact just delete it as soon as you've taken it and let us never speak of it again".
So, try asking the person to wait a few seconds whilst you attempt to get a handle on what your body is doing, lower your shoulders, reposition your head (if you're trying to retract it into a non existent shell, like a turtle, you need to bring your head forward, more like a chicken), take a deep breath, shake your arms to loosen them and then do what you want with them (this sounds like a lot of stuff, it takes seconds) and then declare yourself ready. Focus on you, not on your camera-panic.
This takes practice, no question. But the start of it is just being aware of what you're doing when you have your photo taken - once you're more aware, you're in a much better position to stop the physical changes happening.
So how can a professional take great photos of you when all that's going on, subconsciously?
You may not be aware of what's happening, but your photographer (at our studio, Robin) is very aware.
Women who have been to us for photos will be very familiar with the words "push your head forward" (because I asked "like a chicken?" at my session and got told yes).
Every physical change that happens when you get tense is noticeable more to someone else than to you. Concentrating on posing is a great distraction in itself, and you haven't got to think "I don't know what to do with my hands" or "I don't know how to stand" because you'll be directed all the way through your portrait session.
Meanwhile, if you're wishing you could at least take the odd selfie of yourself that you like, keep following the blog as there's a lot more to come on that - including how to take a better selfie.
Got a question for me on how to be more photogenic? Or perhaps you'd like to know more about having beautiful portraits created for you?
Just fill in the form below and I'll get back to you xx