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Photography Myth: “I’m Not Photogenic!”


Photography Myth: “I’m Not Photogenic!”

“If you can make a Sonic look good, you can make me look good.”

Our client looked at us and smiled, half-joking, half-serious. They checked out our website and hired us for a portrait session based on an architecture shoot. Who would have thought a photo of a fast food restaurant would make someone say, “This is the person who will take my portrait.”?

exterior of a sonic

What a great interaction. This was one of my first portraiture shoots with John. On this shoot, I realized just how differently people feel about being in front of the camera. Since then, I’ve seen thousands of people get their portraits taken at our studio and on location. Despite all their differences, most people can be divided into one of three camps:

  1. Those who don’t mind getting their photo taken.
  2. Individuals who would rather get a tooth pulled (numbing optional) than pose for a portrait.
  3. The unicorns who absolutely love it.

Unsurprisingly, most people live in group two. We often hear people say, “I’m not photogenic” or “I hate how I look on camera.” We get it. It is easy to feel awkward. You wonder what to do with your hands. You’re suddenly aware of every single muscle in your face as you try to remember what a “natural” smile feels like. Some people are afraid that they won’t be able to choose the final photo or that the photographer will make them look silly. Many have had terrible experiences.

We are on a mission to change minds and turn everyone into a photo-loving unicorn.

People are beautiful. This is why companies like Dove and Aerie use real people to model their products, not supermodels. Everyone has something magnificent to share. They simply haven’t figured out how to show it to the lens.

Camera Tricks

To get the perfect portrait, you may need a little coaching from your photographer. John walks people through their smiles (no smile, little smile, big grin) to see which one looks best on camera. Somewhere in this range of serious to delighted lives a natural smile. You may be surprised to see that you prefer a toothy smile over your standard closed smile. Go with it.

Posing is another key factor in a beautiful portrait. This may bring back memories of the days when your mother would poke you in the middle of your back and say, “Stand up straight.” That’s not how it works in front of the camera. John may instruct you to tuck your arm or turn your head while pointing your chin down or move your feet closer together. He may tell you to do all of this at the same time. When he asks you to repeat it on the other side, you question his sanity. 

The camera plays tricks on human bodies. It turns three-dimensional people into flat objects. A pro will know how to pose you in a flattering way. They’ll also implement great lighting to add depth to your portrait. A master of studio lighting will showcase (or hide) certain features that bring out a person’s true beauty. Dramatic shadows can give a round face dimension. Bright lighting can soften sharper features. Photoshop can only take a photo so far, and many people want to avoid looking overly retouched. A photographer will assess the subject and create the most flattering lighting effects and poses.

Good vs. Great

Mary Lou says, “Great photos are not an accident.” Some people may get lucky and capture a good photo, but there is a major difference between “good” and “great.” While a pro photographer will help you nail the right smile, pose, and lighting for you, there are things you can do before your portrait session:

  1. Choose sleeves. Remember what I said about cameras playing tricks? Arms–even the most toned ones–will look flat in your photo. That’s why some people pose with a hand on their hip, right? That look isn’t always appropriate for a corporate photo, so choose tops with sleeves. Even a small cap sleeve will add just enough dimension to your arm.
  2. Trendy or classic clothing? This one depends on how often you want to get your photo taken. If you want a new photo every year or so, you can choose trendy clothing and accessories. If you want the photo to last a little while, you should explore timeless options. If you’re unsure of what to wear, you can consult with your friends or bring a few options for your photographer to review.
  3. Think about the crop. Most portraits are cropped at the chest. If you have a long necklace or a blouse with a flowy neckline, it may get lost in the crop. Think about how your hair, clothing, and accessories will show in a cropped photo before you arrive for your portrait session.
  4. Communicate. If you’re worried about something, please talk to your photographer before your portrait. They want you to look your best and feel comfortable throughout the entire process. A pro will work with you to turn your worries into successes.

Above all else, relax and have fun. Internally, it’s easy to say, “I’m not photogenic!” However, with a little help from your photographer and a whole lot of confidence, you’ll have a portrait that you’ll want to post all over LinkedIn. (Maybe you’ll even look as good as the Sonic.)

Need a little photo inspiration? Check out our portraiture portfolio.