Here is a little secret for you. There is no such thing as someone who is “photogenic”. There are simply people who know a bit more about how to pose for photographs than other people. These skills are certainly something that everyone can learn.
It is part of my job as a professional portrait photographer to not only help my clients feel as comfortable as possible but also to provide guidance on posing in front of the camera. Most people are not experienced models and the idea of posing for photos is daunting. Even if you are used to being photographed, you might not like it (personally, I dont!).
If you are like me then this information might come in handy. So here are my top 10 ways to look good in photos:
1. Dress to impress
Most of us dress to flatter our body type. There is no better time to make sure you have covered this off than when you are having some photographs taken.
It might sound obvious but you would be surprised by the number of people who choose to wear outfits for their photoshoot that they normally wouldn’t wear. Then later on when they look at the images, they remark that they have no idea why they chose to wear said outfit.
When you have gone to the trouble of booking in a photoshoot, it is not the best time to experiment with different looks. It is, in actual fact, the best time to stay true to yourself and your style that you are comfortable with (unless you are getting a particular type of styled photoshoot which is a whole other process).
It is also good to make sure your clothes fit you well (in other words – buttons all do up without straining). It is not easy to “fix” ill-fitting clothing in Photoshop. Garments that are tight and strained in real life will look tight and strained in the photo.
If you are self-conscious about certain areas of your body then consider having them well covered by clothing. There is nothing worse than looking at photos of yourself and thinking that it is a lovely photo except for certain parts of your body that you wish were more subtle or hidden. These concerns can be avoided completely by choosing the right clothing that you will feel great in.
TIP: if you are into make-up then you might like this blog post which is all about how to apply make-up for a photoshoot.
2. Rock the angles
When I take photographs of women there is a general rule I follow. For most women it is more flattering when they are on a slight angle to the camera rather than straight on. Whether they turn their body or head slightly or whether I photograph them from an angle, this is usually going to look a lot better than photographing them directly from the front like they are lining up for a school photo. It is more feminine and accentuates curves.
For most men, the opposite is true as standing straight on to the camera can produce a great photo. This pose accentuates broad shoulders and chests which is a strong look that suits many men.
If you are on the curvier side, or, like me, feel like sometimes you have one too many chins in a photo, then angling the camera from above your eye line and using a lens angle of no more than 50mm is usually the most flattering. Whenever I get my own photo taken, this is my preference, as I only want one of my chins to be in the photo.
Only a small minority of people look good when the camera is pointing up at them, in other words, angled below them. No one that I have ever met has requested for a photograph accentuates their nostrils.
3. Chin forward and down
If you have ever had a photo session with me then no doubt I would have said this to you at least once or twice. For many people, when they get their photo taken, they lift their head slightly as if to look up into the camera. It is a natural tendency and an action that most of us do without even realising we are doing it. It is going to look more flattering for almost everyone when you move your chin slightly forward and then angle it down. This helps avoid double chins and strained and stiff necks.
4. Check your posture
Standing or sitting straight can make a huge difference in photographs. Slouching is not a great look in portrait photography. But remember, once you sit up straight, the chin needs to go forward and down.
5. Relax your shoulders
This is another sentence I say often to people during our photoshoot together. I also have a tendency to hunch my shoulders up so I know how easy it is to do. A little tip if you want to appear slimmer, is is to angle those arms slightly back from your shoulders. This might feel weird but is a flattering position for a photograph and also helps you sit or stand upright.
6. Keep your limbs soft or slightly bent
Bending your arms rather than having them straight down is a lot more flattering and makes for a more fluid and interesting portrait. In regards to your legs, try putting your weight all on to one leg and kicking out your hip a bit. You can then bend the other leg (the leg coming from the opposite hip that you have put your weight on). This creates an S-curve shape in your body which is a flattering look that most women like.
7. Wear colours that suit you
Wear colours that flatter you rather than wash you out. If you happen to be someone who is self-conscious about weight then wear darker colours. I also usually advise everyone to avoid anything with busy large patterns. For more information on what to wear to your photoshoot there are some great tips here.
If you plan on hanging your portrait in a particular spot in your house it is also sometimes worth thinking about overall colour tones that will suit the room in which you plan on hanging your portrait.
8. Hire an experienced professional portrait photographer
While I am a professional photographer myself and this may come across as a bit biased, the importance of this cannot be underestimated. A good experienced photographer, especially a professional portrait photographer who is used to working with real people (as opposed to only models) will likely be an expert at posing people so they are presented in their most flattering way. This is part of our job. We want to help you look amazing in the photos so you will love the images! We are used to working with people who are uncomfortable in front of cameras. We are used to working with people who don’t know how to pose and want lots of direction. And we are used to working with people who might be self-conscious or insecure about parts of themselves. This is because we are these people too and we likely have similar insecurities.
An experienced portrait photographer is also great at using light and shade to compliment body types. I am often asked by clients if I have Photoshopped certain areas of their bodies to make them appear trimmer. The answer is always no – I don’t do this. What I actually do, is pose them and light them in a way that flatters their body type.
9. Relax and be yourself.
For most of us, it’s really NOT easy to just relax and be yourself when you have a camera pointed at you. When you are unsure about how you are looking you start to wonder how these shots will turn out and talk yourself into the fact that they wont be any good. This is a pretty common habit. Thanks to the age of digital photography, there is now a lot more leeway in terms of the amount of photographs that can be taken. We have the luxury of taking a load of photographs so we can play around with expressions and smiles and different poses and it doesn’t matter because everything can be deleted.
Sometimes people have very set ideas on how they like their face to look in photographs and will immediately don a certain expression or a type of smile that they have practised. This is fine, of course. But I would suggest that you remain open to not doing this for the entire photo session and at times, let go of these pre-conceived ideas you might have. There is nothing like genuine expressions so don’t be afraid of them. Have a go at trying something new from time to time. You might find that you are pleasantly surprised by the results. And you if you aren’t, then you can hit that delete button.
10. Now, do it all at the same time
This is the hardest part. Maintaining your posture with your chin forward and slightly down with your shoulders relaxed and with a natural smile on your face! It doesn’t sound that fun, does it? But with practise, you will find that you actually start to do it more and more. Those “photogenic” people out there are only photogenic because they have practised this (or maybe they just do it naturally). But either way – this is their secret, to be “photo ready” when someone pulls out a camera. If you watch these photogenic people, you will see them quickly and expertly getting themselves into positions that flatter them in front of a camera.
I always encourage people to move around a lot during photoshoots and try lots of different things. So what ends up happening is that I then find that I am reminding them to relax their shoulders again and straighten their back again, but this is what I am there for. I love doing it and I love presenting images to people that make them feel great about themselves.
Photographing people, mostly women, on a weekly basis has given me a lot of experience on how to help people look their very best when they are photographed.*