How to look OK in a group photo with cooler, younger, prettier people.
November 23, 2016 2:33 AM   Subscribe

I need to be in a group photo with 6 other mostly tall, all slim, all young, all very attractive people. I'm not disgusting or anything, but I am very short, very round, and very 40. I am seriously stressed about this.

So I'm going to be working with an amazing small creative company - dream job, they love me, I love them, everything about it is great, except that the company website is designed around a very cool photo of the "team". There are six of them, I'll be number 7. Think hipster band photo - everyone is lined up next to some street art, having a chat, looking pleasant, not looking at the camera. It's less insufferable than it sounds. It looks nice. They are all straight-up gorgeous.

So I jokingly said "guess we're going to need a website redesign" and was told "no, don't be silly, we'll get a new photo to include you!" My role is central enough and senior enough that it wouldn't make sense to have a group photo with everyone -but-me.

I am not totally uncool, I think I dress fine for my age/size - definitely as cool as someone who is a size 18 and pushing 40 can hope for. My typical outfit is boyfriend-style jeans rolled a little short, classic trainers (Stan Smiths or classic Nikes), and either a button-down plaid shirt or a plain cashmere jumper. If I need to dress up it's usually a very simple shirt dress with chunky brogues. I also like simple, angular jewellery. I would love to wear glasses but I don't need them and fake ones would make me feel like a jerk. Makeup is simple but striking (red or dark/burgundy lipstick with everything else neutral), hair is long but tidy.

All of this looks fine in person and even on video, and says what I want my clothes to say about me. In photos, I look very fat, very untidy, and just awful. I would say about 1 in 10 photos look even remotely acceptable. If this was a photo just of me, it would probably be fine as we could just keep snapping until we came up with something. However, there are 6 other people in this photo. We all need to have our eyes open, we all need to look OK, I need to look like I fit in (and not like someone's fat mom who jumped in the picture for a joke) and the picture needs to be cool/interesting.

So, I guess I need to know two things - one: ideas for photo styles, locations, poses, whatever. Art direction. I have some say in that department but am totally at a loss. two: any ideas or even examples of people of different ages and sizes and levels of conventional attractiveness who "fit" together in a photograph. And any other suggestions or ideas of how to photograph well would be great, too!
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would wear black (can't go wrong with that, it's ageless) and make sure never to stick my hip out towards the camera. Away from the camera is fine. Also, turn your body slightly away from the camera (about 45 degrees) so you'll look slimmer.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:56 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Part of what makes them look so luminous and lovely in those photos is excellent photography. You will benefit from that magic too. You sound lovely to me!
posted by Sublimity at 3:03 AM on November 23, 2016 [21 favorites]

Everyones eyes will be drawn to you - they may be lovely, but they sound a bit too similar to have any other standouts. You will be the standout, and interesting precisely because of it. Love the idea of your button down plaid with black boyfriend-style jeans and classic Nikes. Wear the glasses if you enjoy wearing the glasses. They are a fashion accessory, I know people who wear contacts and glasses (which actually seems a bit absurd to me).

I know this is going to be tough - but you are need to go into this shoot feeling comfortable. Your level of comfort will be projected in the picture. When I heard that you're #7 I thought "Awesome!" These guys REALLY like you - you are a critical asset on their team. They like you so much they're reworking the website to incorporate you. Go in happy, proud and part of a team which values you for your clear awesomeness. It will be great.
posted by arnicae at 3:22 AM on November 23, 2016 [20 favorites]

Posture really helps when you're middle aged - even normal everyday slouching can make us older guys just look ill in a photo. So you may find it helps to stand proud and with your arms folded gently across your chest, for example. Push your face slightly forward (as if you want to push your ears forward simultaneously), which extends your neck and improves perception of your posture. And try to talk and joke about anything at all with the photographer while it's happening.
posted by Coda Tronca at 3:26 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you can, push for a setup where everyone is in different positions/postures and at slightly different distances from the camera, rather than standing straight up in a line.

I'm going to dissent from arnicae on the plaid button-down- in terms of the actual composition of the photograph, either black, as someone said above, or a pretty colored top with high visual interest seems like it'd be better for balancing overall.

If you're looking for examples, the 60s pop group The Mamas And The Papas have a ton of creative press photos that tackle this exact problem- one group member is somewhat physically different from the others, but they're generally all shot to look great. This one is maybe a bit too informal for your purposes, but you get the idea.

Good luck- you'll look great!
posted by Bardolph at 3:44 AM on November 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

Assuming this is a professional photo there will be lighting and the photographer will put you in flattering positions, ask you to adjust your posture etc. They'll also retouch if required. For looking tidy I'd consider getting your hair styled the way you normally would but professionally and if you wear make up, that as well. Both may go a long way to make you feel confident. The photographer will do the rest.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:16 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

you sound good to me. i know this isn't about me, but i'm actually enjoying growing old (well, the appearance part) - i think you can find a groove of your own and grow into it. so go with who you are. don't try to out-hipster or out-beautify them. instead, beat them by playing your own game - by being you. in what sounds like a very homogeneous group being different needn't mean being worse. not at all.

[not sure that is very constructive. i guess what i am saying is that you can actually be cooler than they are, just by being more grounded. more authentic.]
posted by andrewcooke at 5:26 AM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am your size and age and I feel your anxiety. I get your worries about looking untidy, too - fat and old bodies are totally coded as "untidy" just by existing, and it's gross and unfair.

How is your hair? I look about a billion times better (and younger, per others) in photos with a recent, sharp haircut - it really brings my face into focus. If you have been thinking of a style update, now might be the time. Color might be something to consider - have you ever wanted streaks or a change? One of the directors at my job is even older than me - gasp! - and wears her hair long with sort of highlights-but-pink, and it looks really striking and good. Or a short, contemporary haircut in an unusual color, maybe? Obviously don't do anything out of character just for a photo, but if you've been thinking "I might like to try....", you could go for it.

Also, having an "ordinary-looking" person in the photo is, IMO, good marketing - it says that they're not just about hiring rando young people who are good culture fits regardless of skills. You'll bring something just by being yourself.

Do you have a lot of photos taken? I don't, because I hate the way I look in them....and that has the knock-on effect that when I do have photos taken, I'm all weird and don't know how to stand or look at the camera, unlike the kids today who take photos all the time.

Also, maybe look at some fat fashion blogs? Not only might you see style ideas, but it might help to see how people of various non-small sizes stand and hold themselves on camera. That really helped normalize my own ideas about my appearance.
posted by Frowner at 5:50 AM on November 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

Wear dark grey or black clothes, preferably something with a crisp, tailored look. Or, go for something along the style of this blog lady, whom I have admired for years:

Add a unique necklace of a geometric shape or something surprising/sassy. I have a necklace with a meat cleaver on it that I wear on occasions like this, it adds an edge to an otherwise traditional look.

The day of the photo shoot, go to a nice salon and get a blowout. Doesn't need to be, like, Victoria's Secret tousled hair, but just to add a little more polish.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:54 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a big deal, that pic is going to be around, I hear you. I like the shirt dress with brogues & angular jewelry outfit idea best. I think jeans + flannel will visually cut you into two and focus attention to the midline, while the dress will give you a single. longer line (and maybe the impression of a bit more height). Iron the dress or have it dry cleaned. Or get a new one that's wrinkle-immune. (If shopping for this - find a salesperson whose look you like & trust and get ideas from them, too.)

Hair: If it were me, I would probably get a blowout, to make it look smooth & shiny & get volume in there. (At least, when I was bigger, I felt voluminous hair sort of balanced things out a bit. And shiny hair makes everyone look healthier/younger.) Tweak the bits around the face so you feel like it's your style if the stylist goes too far away from that. You can still wear it down/flat, it'll just look more polished and have a bit of oomph. Don't sacrifice sleep for it though, because sleep is going to make the biggest difference for your face - get it done the evening before and wear a scarf to bed. Then freshen it up in the a.m. with a tiny bit of product. On preview would not get a totally new style just before this shoot, I think it's better if you feel like yourself. Trim, sure.

Makeup: go to Sephora and ask for recommendations for foundations that will photograph well. (And test them out ahead of time with photos.) I'd put at least a little subtle definition around the eyes and eyebrows because that can start to get a bit lost on maturing faces. Lisa Eldridge has a bunch of relevant videos that could help. Wouldn't go for a harsh black eyeliner, maybe a soft grey, navy, or brown, really just to frame the eyes.

Posture/position: play around with this at home, try different things, take a bunch of selfies.(This sounds super fake, I know. But finding a good-looking and natural-looking position is down to practice. At least that was my mom's answer when I asked her how she managed to look so great in 99.9% of pictures taken of her, even in her 60s. [While I'm invariably caught blinking or having my mouth open or in some other kind of freaky grimace.] My mom hears "cheese" and just pops into position, looking totally at ease, it's amazing. She says "it's practice", anyway :/)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:11 AM on November 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh! Brows. Yes. They are the gateway to the face and everyone looks more youthful and put together by a nicely shaped pair of brows. If your brows have gotten more sparse or light in color, beef them up ever so slightly with a tinted brow gel. My current favorite is the one from Anastasia that comes in a mascara tube with a spooly brush.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:20 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

Try to think of something genuinely funny to you while you're trying to smile. It makes your smile more real and that will improve any photo-- feeling awkward will make your face convey the message of awkwardness in the photo.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:24 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Find out what other people on the team will be wearing, and bring a backup outfit. People can wear all sorts of things within the general parameters of business casual, and you don't want to be doing business-funky-casual when everybody else is doing business-sleek-casual. For that matter, if you have good friends in the group, coordinate clothing with them, it's okay to admit it's intimidating and you want to blend better. If you have a partner to help you integrate, then you won't be one person looking older and feeling frumpy, you'll be two people wearing dark red in your shirt or scarf. Or set a palette with the group to get an integrated feel.
posted by aimedwander at 7:10 AM on November 23, 2016

How to Look Better in Photos Based on Your Body Type (Lifehacker article with comparison photos)

blnkfrnk: Try to think of something genuinely funny to you while you're trying to smile. It makes your smile more real and that will improve any photo-- feeling awkward will make your face convey the message of awkwardness in the photo.

THIS! My mother-in-law hates taking photos because she always thinks she looks bad in them, while she says my father-in-law looks good. The key reason is that she gets into poses and fake smiles, while he looks genuinely happy. That's why candid photos of her often capture more of her natural charm and cheer, and what you should be striving to portray in this "everyone's happy doing stuff" photo.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I look terrible in recent family wedding photos. In hindsight, I wish I had cinched up my bra straps more tightly. This may not be pertinent to you. At other times, I just try not to be in the front row, but they love shoving shorter people into the front row.
posted by puddledork at 8:30 AM on November 23, 2016

Someone mentioned this in passing above, but I want to highlight it - consider this blink-tagged, it's made such a difference to me...

There's a trick I learned from AskMe - though I have no idea how to find the thread/links - that sounds so small but is downright miraculous in terms of taking good photos.

Basically, get ready for the pic in your normal pose, but just before it's taken, push your face forward towards the camera about half an inch to an inch. Not just your chin but your whole head, as if a branch was brushing you in the middle of the back of your head and you're trying to move away from it. Keep your shoulders and body where they are, just move your face forward.

It feels slightly ridiculous but is actually imperceptible to others. It has the effect of casting just enough shadow around your chin that your face is suddenly clearly defined in the pic. Honestly, I'm also in my 40s and far from model-like but whenever I remember to do that, I like the resulting photo. It's been a massive game-changer for me in terms of liking photos of myself. Practice at home (probably works better if you can find someone else to take the pic rather than in selfies, where it's hard to pull the move off and still hold the camera/phone).

I also like this "people photographed just after being told they're beautiful" thing that's done the rounds a lot recently. Maybe hard to replicate as the expressions are spontaneous, but maybe you could have a few happy thoughts/memories/compliments (real or imagined!) up your sleeve to tell yourself at the right moment. Even if it's hard to replicate, it shows how much real beauty can come from being animated and expressive (and skilfully photographed), and not only from a specific set of features. The project I linked to focused on high school students, but I'm sure there's another one that has people of all ages from around the world and the same beautiful illumination happens to everyone. Good luck!
posted by penguin pie at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

If the photo is shot where all the people are in a horizontal line across the image, all equidistant from the camera, that is really going to emphasize a difference in your body shape and size compared to those more young and lithe. That's pretty much the worst setup to de-emphasize differences. So if you are in a position to change up the photo poses, I would try to figure out how to put some people closer to the camera and others further away, or have some sitting and some standing. A good photographer will understand and work with you on this, while still creating a hip and cool image that goes with your company.

Good advice here for you:
  • Wear dark colors, but it's always good to avoid black and white in photos if you can. Black can be really harsh on some skin tones, so find dark colors that work for you. I wear black all the time, but in photos I go for navy & charcoal. Any color contrast should be around your bust or neckline. Try to keep to the same color throughout your lower half- this is not a great time for contrast shoes.
  • Go for a very natural look with makeup and hair.
  • Pose at an angle to the camera, putting all your weight on your back leg and work on elongating your front leg and your body (stand up tall, hold your head up straight). You might want to practice this in a mirror so that you don't have to think about it too much when it's time to pose.
  • Try to go for a very natural open mouth smile, even laughing out loud. Don't worry about what it does to your eyes or your lines or whatever- you will always look better with a natural smile. And if your pose ends up looking too forced, it will help soften that a lot.
And as a woman of similar size & age, I totally understand your concerns here and it would bother me a lot more than I'd like it to. But also know that it's only really something that you can see. No one else is focused on it.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:33 AM on November 23, 2016

I'm not a photographer or model or anything, but I would recommend trying to avoid standing on either end of the line of people (look who we tacked on!) and making sure that the order/composition of the new portrait is rearranged from the previous photo so that you don't appear shoehorned in. You want to look as integrated into the team as you feel!
posted by TomFoolery at 10:14 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hate to admit picking up this tip from reality TV, but here goes. On America's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks tells the contestants to smile with their eyes. At first I thought that was really stupid advice, but the last time I had to have professional photos taken I decided I'd give it a try.

Now normally in photos I have resting bitch face, or in some of my "better" ones, serial killer dead eye face. (That's in addition to the weird not-enough-space-between-the-lips-and-the-nose smile and the wow I hate my chin line.) So in addition to the face out/head forward technique mentioned above I tried what Tyra suggested. I widened my eyes and softened them a bit. It's kind of hard to describe, but think of a shocked expression in a cartoon where the character's eyes get bigger and rounder. And change the focus a bit so you're not staring directly at the camera or the photographer but inward a bit like in a slightly dreamy state.

It's funny, the photographer reacted immediately as soon as I did that, and it was a very positive reaction (which is not what I typically hear from people taking my picture.) The end results were an improvement on what I typically end up with.

Of course that doesn't address the full body shot portion of the shoot. Expect that to feel awkward as all get out. To de-emphasize your body, you'll likely be bent in all sorts of unnatural positions, some of which are leaning forward from the waist, twisting your back and shoulders and placing your legs in really strange positions. Now I can't say any of this actually turns you into a slim supermodel, but it does (sort of) help. Mind you I still hate the full body shots, and boy I never thought my hands looked so big or clumsy before (even though I know they're far from delicate). This was made worse because the corporate colour was black, so there are these huge white paws stuck onto a black-suited body. So if you're the type to get your nails done, do it to add some length to your fingers, although I wouldn't go with too strong or flashy a colour. Also wear heels. Give yourself as much added height as you can to help balance out your width.

Like others have said, I'd recommend a monochrome palate for your clothes so you do break in the middle. So if you want to throw a colorful or patterned piece on, have a consistent pillar of a dark colour underneath running from top to bottom. Black can be hard to photograph properly, so I'm going to second advice from above: navy or charcoal or even a really dark aubergine is probably a better choice.

The other advice I'll have to echo is try to relax. Believe me I know how impossible that sounds but the photos do come out better when you're going with the flow than when you're having a crying panic attack about your looks and your body, and that advice comes directly from personal experience.
posted by sardonyx at 10:26 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Makeup makeup makeup
Proper foundation and highlighting / shading does wonders.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:31 AM on November 23, 2016

Assuming they are hiring a corporate photography company for the shoot, contact your rep for the shoot and ask if there are makeup/wardrobe services they offer in conjunction with the shoot and take advantage of them. It's very much okay to ask the professionals for help in making you relax and look and feel better about the session.

And I totally get where you're coming from. I'm the person responsible for sharing the pics from our fundraisers every year and there has yet to be a pic of me used.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:05 AM on November 23, 2016

Personally, here's what I would do, as a creative director who isn't far from 40.

Don't compete with the children. Be *above* the children. You are not their mother, you're their boss. (Even if you're not, pretend you are!) Arrange your body, and your space in the crowd, in a way that screams, "I own the place."

I'd dress in black. Severe haircut. Geometric and huge accessories. Think a stereotypical gallery owner. Think Cindy Gallop.

Sit down or stand at 3/4. Cross your arms. Whatever you do, look straight into the camera. It's okay to smile, but I wouldn't give the sunniest smile ever. More of a smile of satisfaction that you've worked hard and earned your place.

Anyway, that's what I would do! (Apologies if this totally isn't you.)
posted by functionequalsform at 11:23 AM on November 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm a content strategist and one of the things I do is give my photographer very explicit instructions about how to take photos and how to pose/instruct the folks who are in photos.

I don't have to point this out to you, but women really don't like being in photos. So, here are some of my best go-tos for you:

- get your hair done (this boosts your confidence)
- dress nice but comfortable (ditto)
- stand at an angle to the camera (de-emphasizes size)
- if it bends, bend it (don't stand straight like a pole, bend a knee and/or elbow)
- stand up straight then shove your head forward (penguin pie mentioned this; it separates your head from your neck and reduces double-chin)
- don't tilt your head (it reads as submissive)
- don't wear red (red on women signals sexual availability)
- "squinch" your eyes (this helps make a Duchenne smile convincing)
- look directly at the camera lens (when we look at photos, we look at the eyes or follow the gaze, so engage the viewer and make them focus on your eyes)
- you might want to put your best cheek forward (also, this advice is worth looking at)
- don't cross your arms, go for an open, expansive pose

And finally, you're going to look good because you'll be with other people.
posted by jdfan at 11:24 AM on November 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

I widened my eyes and softened them a bit. It's kind of hard to describe, but think of a shocked expression in a cartoon where the character's eyes get bigger and rounder. And change the focus a bit so you're not staring directly at the camera or the photographer but inward a bit like in a slightly dreamy state.

I do this exact thing to look good in selfies. The way I do it is to look down briefly with my eyes and chin, then immediately look up at the photographer (not the camera) right as the shutter clicks. This is how you avoid blinking in a photo, plus it softens your face and rounds out/enlarges your eyes. I think I read this in an article about tips for people walking a red carpet? This, plus being on the edge of actual laughter, is what has made me look at least OK in photos. Someone said "Smile in photos, because if it's a bad picture, at least you won't look like an angry jerk" and I've found that to be true.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:29 PM on November 23, 2016

If you have any kind of hat you feel comfortable in, you could wear that. It can be (as mentioned above): surprising, sassy, and eye-catching. I'm also short and round, plus in my 60s. I hate how I look in photos, but hate it less when I'm wearing a newsboy cap, with a classy vintage pin stuck in it, which is my headwear of choice anyway.

And yes to standing up straight, and pushing your face forward. That helps a lot more than you'd think.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 12:31 PM on November 23, 2016

Number one is definitely, most importantly-- enjoy yourself! Have a big happy laughing smile and bright happy eyes, and that is the number one thing that will make you look awesome.

Number two is that, since you have long hair, try putting one side of your hair forward over your shoulder/ear, and the other side of your hair back behind the shoulder/ear- that way you show both some neck (elongating!) and some hair (pretty!). Having both sides of your hair tucked back behind your shoulders / ears can make you look severe. Having both sides forward can be very flattering if you have terrific hair, but if you just have normal hair, or lots of hair, it can make you look hairlogged. One side forward, one side back is a great happy medium. It is surprising how often this is done in professional photos.

Number three, if you roll that way, is lipstick in a slightly bright (rather than dark or intense) shade. Highlight that smile!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:47 PM on November 23, 2016

Lots of great advice already. I wanted to add that if you don't do your brows, this can make a huge difference. I started using Benefit's Gimme Brow and I really like it. It's super easy to use, and makes my light brows a little more prominent without being too severe. There are also a ton of other products similar to this--it looks like a mascara tube and has a tiny mascara-like wand, but doesn't feel crusty like mascara.

Oh, and blush too. I like Benefit's Posie Tint which is a liquid and for some reason looks better on me than a typical powder blush.
posted by radioamy at 6:49 PM on November 23, 2016

I came on to say exactly what functionequalsform said. Wear all black, with one quirky accessory, whether it's red eyewear or a striking necklace. Red lips. Get your hair blown out and cut in a geometric bob or something quite modern. And then own it. Smirk slightly, or place a finger thoughtfully on your cheek.

I find it really interesting that function said they were a CD (I was too), because this is totally a creative director look. In fact, if you want to see how other older industry folk have pulled this off - and it's a very common photograph to get done - Google creative director head shots or similar and there's a variety of interesting yet arresting poses done by people in similar positions that are exactly what you're looking for. Most have their arms crossed or a finger placed artfully under their lips.

So far as it being a group shot, it doesn't necessarily have to be. A decent photographer should be able to shoot everyone individually, get the best pic and then place them together. Or maybe have them interacting individually with a different mural.

Best of luck, you'll look great. Oh, and congrats on the job!
posted by Jubey at 7:09 PM on November 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm an art director in my forties, and functionequalsform is spot-on. Don't worry about trying to fit in with the kids; you're older and wiser than the kids, and you want to stand out from them.

One of the best books I ever picked up was How to Pose the Model by William Mortensen. I bought it for a photography class so I could direct people better, and was halfway through the book before I realized that Hey, I could pose when MY photo's taken, too!
posted by culfinglin at 9:55 PM on November 25, 2016

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