Want to improve the way you look in portraits, or improve the portraits that you shoot? Here are 9 common reasons people look awful in portraits and tips on how to fix them.
#1: The shooting angle is too low
Generally, the lens should be above your eye level for a more flattering photo. Here’s a pretty dramatic example:
Either hold the camera little higher (if it’s a selfie), ask the photographer to hold the camera a little higher, find a taller friend to shoot the photo, or bend your knees a little to even the odds. Also, tilt your chin down a little (but not too far) — no one wants to see what’s up your nose.
#2: You are too close or far
Faces look different depending on the distance between the lens and the face.
This is why sometimes people think they look great in a mirror but terrible in photos. To find your best range, have a friend use a camera with a zoom to take multiple shots of you looking at the camera with your face filling the frame each time — look through them and see which one you like best. You can usually narrow it down to close, medium, or quite far away. Once you know, ask the photographer to either back off and zoom in or come closer and zoom out so distance between you is within your most flattering range.
#3: Your eyes aren’t smiling
Obviously, you want to smile in photos, but the eyes are just as important as the mouth. To give a confident “eye smile”, try a technique called “squinching.” This involves squinting the lower eyelid while only allowing the top lid to come down slightly.
Give it a try in the mirror now. See how much more confident and appealing you look?
#4: Your body position is wrong
Having a photo taken of your head and shoulders at a 90-degree position to the camera makes the photo look a bit like a mugshot. Turn one of your shoulders slightly towards the lens to break away from that. Your shoulders should be at about a 30-degree angle to the lens. Here’s an example from a pro shoot for one Dr. Anthony Romeo:
Doing this is also really flattering if you are a bit wider — it slims you. Also, push your shoulders back and down a little to lengthen your neck and improve the look of your upper torso. We don’t want hunched shoulders, right?
#5: You smiled for too long and it went weird
Smiling for extended periods on command is hard, as I’m sure you know. The longer you smile the more fake it will generally look and sometimes, especially in a group photo, it takes a while for people to faff around and get ready. Ask the person taking the shot to count it down 3, 2, 1 so you can spend only a second or two smiling and posing.
#6: You weren’t paying attention or you weren’t ready
When a photo is being taken, give it your full attention to avoid those awkward mouth-open, crazy-eye shots. Don’t look away from the camera. Don’t take this moment to talk to or respond to someone talking to you. Try not to blink. Just do your thing and pose for these few seconds.
#7: You pulled a face
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re going for a photo where you look like you just don’t really give a rat’s how you look, go for it. But generally, poking your tongue out, pulling a face, pouting etc. looks stupid and can make the difference between a shot you’ll be proud of and something you’ll look at once, chuckle, and never want to see again. Resist the urge, or if you just can’t, ask the photographer to take two shots, one nice one and then one less serious. Compare them later and see which one you and your friends like best.
#8: You only took one photo and didn’t check it
Don’t be afraid to ask for another shot if you feel like you messed it up: you may only be in that situation once and sometimes you blink or generally just mess up. Ask to see the shot after it’s taken and do it over if you like. Get involved and interested in creating a nice image.
#9: You’re generally ‘not into it’
Some people don’t like having their photo taken, sure. But if you realise you are going to have to be in one, accept that. If you can’t avoid it, you might as well try to look your best, right? A lot of the time people hate having their photo taken because they think they always look awful or have low self-esteem. If you put in zero effort, you will probably get a poor result, just like most things in life, right? Reading through and understanding these tips will help to change that and have better photos taken of you.
#10: Bonus tip: You look good in your own way
We are all different and that’s what makes us wonderful so don’t shy away from having your photo taken. Be a part of it and put your best face forward with a bit of positivity and a little knowledge. You are not as ugly as you think.
About the author: Luke Appleby is a photographer, videographer, journalist, and Photoshopper based in Auckland, New Zealand. He’s good with cars, cameras, and cats. As an experienced freelance photojournalist, Appleby is available to shoot a diverse range of assignments. You can connect with him through his website, Twitter, and Facebook.
Image credits: Header photo from The Bride of Frankenstein/Universal Pictures, silly face photo by Adam Edmond