How can I be more photogenic?
June 28, 2015 4:13 PM   Subscribe

I always look terrible in photographs. To the point that not many pictures are taken of me... How do I fix this?

I hate the way I look in the few the photographs that I'm in. I always look awkward and stare-y.
So many people, including everyone that I know, look great in photos; natural, comfortable, fun.
I always look pasty, yet ruddy...with a weird expression of some sort on my face.
I'll think I'm giving a genuine "happy face" but instead it just turns I said, awkward.

The thing is too, I don't get photo'd very often seems like everyone else gets included in these neat fun shots...of nothing necessarily that interesting, but still. And yes, yes, I know it sounds like FOMO, but screw it - yeah I'm tired of being left out.

What seems to happen is once in a blue moon when I get included in a group shot, out either won't get used/gets deleted, or I'll be cropped out (that has happened more than once).

So, whether it's selfies or group shots or whatever, I just wish I could look better. If I could I would hire a coach, but Iost certainly can't afford that.
Does anyone have any tips on how to look genuine and natural and generally awesome so I can actually look like a fun human and not get edited out?
(This will come in handy too, if I ever get into a band and press materials are made)
posted by Soap D. Spencer to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
I've noticed that basically everyone thinks they look horrible in photographs - do you have independent confirmation of your nonphotogenicness?
posted by bq at 4:22 PM on June 28, 2015

Best answer: I hate to sound like the "try this one weird trick" guy, but a professional photographer suggested this to me years ago, and it really makes a positive difference.

It's hard to do at first, but it only takes a little bit of practice:
- "Push" your face toward the camera (we're talking an inch or two at most)
- Tilt your head down a few degrees while continuing to look at the camera
- Facial expression (smiling/not smiling, etc.) optional

And that's it.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she said it sounded stupid, so we tried before and after snapshots together. She's now a convert.

Really, try it.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:26 PM on June 28, 2015 [45 favorites]

Thank you for posting this question as I've had the same problem my entire life. The video smcameron mentions was somewhat helpful to me a few years ago. With that, and one more trick, I was able to take a Photobooth photo of myself that is tolerable enough to share when I need to provide a public photo. The additional trick, besides the face positioning, is to put your tongue on the roof of your mouth, open your mouth slightly, and do the best fake smile you can muster, bringing up your cheeks to crinkle your eyes. Practice with Photobooth or whatever photo software you have until you get one you like. Then do that all the time when you're asked to pose.

I don't know if this is your problem, but it remains mine: smiling on command, especially in the middle of fun and games. If I can't do the facial tricks, I look like this fuzzy, miserable mess. Thank goodness my husband has the same problem. We both had bad teeth growing up and didn't smile much. We look like the American Gothic couple in photos and avoid being photographed. Our families joke about it, but there are some embarrassed feelings underneath. I'm glad we spent most of our lives without a trail of photos on Facebook and Instagram.

Sorry to go on about this, but photographers who need to document fun times, please be sensitive about asking for photos for every little thing. Choose one photo where everyone looks okay. Some of us don't like being photographed even if we're gorgeous in real life!
posted by Elsie at 5:03 PM on June 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

n-thing the put your head down. Too many people tilt their head up and smile which means you're looking into their mouth. Looks terrible. So, yeah, tilt your head down.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:22 PM on June 28, 2015

I totally agree with Short Attention Span's method - I watched a video demonstrating that technique a few years ago and BAM, ever since then my face has looked fabulous in photos. Now, my arms are another story but that is easily handled by hiding them with clothes or poses.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:33 PM on June 28, 2015

Google something like "posing tips portraits" and you will get a wealth of information. I think this article is good. It reinforces and explains the advice given above with examples.
posted by TedW at 6:13 PM on June 28, 2015

Pay attention to how your face is when you're talking to someone you really like and feel like you 'click' with. Do the same thing, pretending the camera is that person.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do the same thing and the same video taught me how! A few other things that are helpful

- don't look right into the camera lens, look a little up and to the right or left
- you'll generally look congenial if you have your eyebrows raised a little bit so it can make your face look more "smiley" even if you aren't smiling
- if you have the option of not being face-on, angling your face a little more can look good if you have a lumpy face that doesn't look flattering head-on

Like many things, looking decent in photographs can be taught and it can take practice. You don't need to look like someone totally else (though wearing flattering colors can help) but think about how to look your best self. You see someone like Paris Hilton do this, she found the look that is good for her and does it all the time.
posted by jessamyn at 7:34 PM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

The advice in the video is spot-on.

But it's for studio shots, where you can take the time to pose. Random snapshots won't afford you that. "Smile!" SNAP. Maybe you can practice your technique where you can nail this in the half-second you're given. But who wants to practice that, other than a model?

So, here's the key. The best snapshots are the one's where the people look like they're having fun. If you're tensing up, you're not having fun. Yes, it's a chicken-or-egg question -- how can I be having fun while doing something that I don't find fun?

But do something. Relax. Have fun. Look away. Stick your tongue out. Make a silly face. Hold up your drink and say "Cheers!" Something other than your forced "oh fuck they caught me" smile.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:50 PM on June 28, 2015

posted by John Cohen at 10:01 PM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Quick tips:

do NOT stare straight into the camera. Look at the camera at a 30-45 degree angle (only move your eyes). Face the camera, turn left or right slightly, look back toward the camera, but do NOT turn your head. Try both sides, as some people look better on one side vs. the other.

Lean slightly down and look up (hides fat around your neck for the guys, shows off your collarbones if you're wearing something to that effect, and for ladies, shows off your cleavage slightly. ) The idea is you should be BELOW the camera slightly so the camera is looking DOWN at you.

Wear glasses, just one of those "readers" you buy for $15 in a pharmacy, just to see if you like the look.
posted by kschang at 12:28 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

It looks from your past questions like you're male, but if you're female (or willing to wear makeup), makeup makes a huge difference in how photos turn out. That would address your pastiness/ruddiness. The other element of good photos is relaxation. If your face is tense because you're worried about the picture, it won't turn out well.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:02 AM on June 29, 2015

Try flipping a picture that you don't like around and see if you like that version better. Your picture face is flipped from the face you usually see in the mirror and this can make it look weird to you if your face is not 100% symmetrical (most faces aren't).
posted by soelo at 7:12 AM on June 29, 2015

For the "candid" photos at a party or whatever, you don't have to look sincere. Put on your Big Cheese smile, or just open your mouth real wide. Throw in a thumbs up, or whatever you want to do.

I'm like you, and had a theater job for a while that included an obligation for a certain amount of press photos with me next to actors who already know exactly how to look good (and it is definitely a thing one can know how to do). So after a few publicly disseminated photos of a group of beautiful, happy people with some psycho lurking in the background (me), I had to learn real quick how to not be that creeper.

The tips about jutting your chin and not looking at the lens of the camera are spot on but I'll add a couple:

First thing to remember is that your photo-smile is very likely not your real smile. Your real smile only looks real when it's in action, and no one sits still with a static smile. Your photo smile will feel like an insane rictus. Tighten your cheek muscles like you're lifting weights, and raise your eyebrows. Practice in a mirror. Remember, it will feel like you're a murderous clown, but remember that feeling and replicate it when a photo is being taken because it looks good on camera.

The second part is, however good your Pennywise face is, you'll look like a creeper if you're kinda like, "ummm i don't really wanna be in this photo heh heh, i'll just stand back here," which is the natural reaction to feeling like you don't look good in photographs. Don't be afraid to get in a prominent position if it puts you well in frame (without blocking anyone else's face). Get much closer to people than you would in real life. Remember, this is a photograph for public consumption, not the real you or the real world. If it's for Facebook, then it's all theater.
posted by cmoj at 8:40 AM on June 29, 2015

This might sound ridiculous and vain, but... practice.

Whether that means give your best smile to the mirror in the morning after you shower, or means take a selfie once a day, even deleting it immediately if that makes it easier. In my case, I eventually figured out that the best pictures of me have my elbows at my sides, and a slight squint; the only reason for eyes wider open is if I'm going AAAAAHHH! in a mock scream. :-)

Whether you're male or female, if the folks next to you are often more professionally groomed, you're going to look out of place. That's probably less important than the above; practice.
posted by talldean at 9:37 AM on June 29, 2015

The part of practice is very useful.

Look into the mirror and practice a lot. Use the advice given above.

If you have a front facing camera phone, take a lot of selfies and see what works. You can delete them if you feel conscious about selfies.

But the most important thing is getting comfortable with your face... check yourself out in the mirror from various angles and see what looks good.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:42 AM on June 29, 2015

That leaning and tilting your head down trick is amazing! For the smiling part, I'm going to tell a slightly embarrassing story.

When I was a kid, my school photos always turned out horrible and I worried about taking them every year, knowing they'd probably turn out horrible. And then I'd have to trade horrible photos with all my happy looking friends. So one year I practiced smiling in the mirror. I thought of something that made me really happy, or someone I would be happy to see, or something funny someone had told me and practiced until I knew what it felt like to be giving a genuine smile. I think I even closed my eyes, thought of something that made me smile, then looked in the mirror to see how it looked and tried to imitate it. Now I can turn it on, genuine or no. Practice works.
posted by purple_bird at 3:09 PM on June 29, 2015

I always hated pictures of myself until I started to take selfies (ugh, the worst, I know). It helped me to be able to look in the camera and move my head and facial expressions until I got it right and took the pic. Once you know the right face to make, it's something you can do every time someone takes a pic.

I'm not sure if it's applicable to you, but makeup is great for the pasty/ruddy thing. Bronzer and eyebrow pencil go a long way to making my paleness look a little closer to human in pics.
posted by elvissa at 2:51 PM on June 30, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for such great tips! I'll try 'em all...
posted by Soap D. Spencer at 1:09 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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