Let’s be honest, we all hate photos of ourselves.
We all carry around a mental picture of how we look – like a more or less normal human.
But your photo-self looks like your inbred backwoods cousin. Double chins, jug ears, squinty eyes, pasty skin, and crooked smiles – cameras add all this to you, and more. It’s like cosmetic surgery in reverse.
Looking good in photos isn’t a core presentation skill, but it’s useful, particularly for those of you whose entire existence is defined by Facebook. And if you become a professional presenter, you’ll get photographed all the time.
I’ve spent a bit of time recently doing photo shoots of insurance executives for their annual report.
Do I Look Gay In This?
Executive group shots are a particular challenge, because you don’t want them to look like an official sports team photo. So you overlap everyone. Because the lens separates people, you have to make everyone stand much closer together than they would in real life. Sometimes nearly touching.
That makes them look really nervous, because they all fear that the closeness might look like the Forbidden Love between one male insurance executive and another. It usually takes about 10 minutes of reassurance before they settle down and look relaxed. For any group shot, the closer the better.
Bad Man, Great Posture
John the photographer and I have worked together for years. He does a lot of big-end-of-town executive shoots. He tells me that if you want a textbook example of a guy who really knew how to be photographed, look no further than Hitler. Yep, that man again.
Hitler, no movie star in the looks department, applied the same level of fanatical preparation and attention to detail as he did for his speeches. The three-quarter angle, the weight on the front elbow, the clearly defined jawline, it’s all there. He would have practiced it in front of the mirror for decades. “When he was on the way up, in the thirties, you never saw a bad picture of the guy,” John says.
He also gave Nancy Reagan full marks for photographer-awareness, for sitting through every one of her husband’s speeches with a constant look of rapt admiration.
During a lull in the shoot we discussed posing tips with one of the clients, who was getting married soon and ‘hates every single photo of herself ever’.
So then, Top 3 Tips to Look Better in Photos
1. Turn At An Angle
If you stand front-on to the camera, you’ll look fatter than you are. Get yourself at a 45 degree angle, and you’ll cut a much better silhouette. Turn your head to the camera, though not completely straight. A slight angle gives you better definition of your facial features.
2. Put Your Best Foot Forward. Or Any Foot.
Now that you’re at an angle, one foot will be closer to the camera. Put all your weight on that foot, and lean toward the camera as hard as you can. It feels weird and unnatural, but it does a couple of vital things. It angles the rest of your body away from the camera, so you look thinner.
More importantly, leaning forward gets rid of that double chin you get if you’re pulling away from the camera.
3. Practise The Smile
Your normal smile looks wrong on camera. If you’ve got an important, wedding-style event coming up, do some smile rehearsal.
Get a trusted friend with a camera, and shoot a whole range of smiles. See how they look. Try smiling 50% more than your normal smile, which will feel weird, but it’ll often work. Try just pulling your cheeks back to expose your teeth without consciously smiling, so you don’t do the eye squint that comes with a big smile. Again, feels weird, like an animal baring its teeth, but see how it looks on camera. Different methods work for different people. Once you find a smile you’re comfortable with, practice it until you can do it on command.
Look at red-carpet celebrity shots in magazines. They all do this, instinctively after years of practicing how to look better through a camera. Well, most of them do. To show you the difference:
Getting it right.
And getting it wrong, like the rest of us usually do.
Now get out there and work it, people!