Hate having photos taken? Tips for teaching the camera to love youFor as long as she can remember, Marla Thirsk has been the poor soul in photos with one eye half-closed, looking in the wrong direction, lips "doing something funny," as if caught midsentence.
By: Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune
For as long as she can remember, Marla Thirsk has been the poor soul in photos with one eye half-closed, looking in the wrong direction, lips "doing something funny," as if caught midsentence.
"My mother’s nickname for me when I was a child was ’ugly monkey,’ because that’s what I looked like in photos," said Thirsk, an artist who grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, and now lives in the town of Ucluelet. It bothered her so much she would go to great lengths to avoid being photographed.
Now 59, Thirsk no longer minds being a picture’s comic relief. But as the snap-happy holidays approach, many people who consider themselves unphotogenic dread fighting losing battles with cameras that seem to hate them.
The good news is that a slight turn of the head, tilt of the chin, wardrobe adjustment and, often, mood adjustment can improve how anyone looks when the flashes are flying. Lighting and camera angle also make a big difference.
We asked several photographers to offer advice for getting families to look their best in photos during this shutterbug season.
And if that doesn’t help, you can do as Thirsk has done: Embrace it.
"When I’m 90 years old, I’ll look back and think I was such a character," she said.
Create good vibes
Being photogenic "is really more a mental issue than a physical issue," said J.D. Wacker, a Wisconsin photographer and author of "Master Posing Guide for Portrait Photographers" (Amherst Media), which comes out with its second edition next year. If you’re not enjoying yourself, he says, "it shows through."
Feeling confident, comfortable and happy translates to better photos, so Fort Lauderdale, Fla. photographer Danny Steyn said he jokes and engages families in relaxed conversation to help them forget about the camera. Loosening people up also helps steer people away from their go-to smile or pose, which usually isn’t their best look, Steyn said.
When she gets a new model who is struggling on photo shoots, Los Angeles-based fashion photographer Melissa Rodwell has found that letting the model play her own music brightens her spirits. Playing music everyone likes, having a drink or planning a fun family activity to look forward to helps create a positive atmosphere, she said.
"The camera to me is an energy reader," said Rodwell, who maintains fashionphotographyblog.com.
Turn and tilt
Of course, plenty of people with great attitudes can take horrid pictures, so there is a physical element. But posing can fix that.
A more sculpted face, because of how the light hits the high cheekbones and other angles, can look good facing the camera straight on, said Bill Robbins, chairman of the still photography program at the Brooks Institute, a visual arts school in Santa Barbara, Calif.
A rounder face tends to look better when turned 5, 10 or 20 degrees to the side, Robbins said. People with asymmetrical faces or distinctive features, such as droopy eyes, very thick eyebrows or a bulbous nose, also photograph better turned at a slight angle.
A handy trick for most everyone is to stretch their head and neck forward and tilt their chin down a notch, which remedies multiple chins and emphasizes the eyes, Wacker said. Rarely is it flattering to tilt the chin up, which hides the eyes and gives a view of the nostrils. In the same vein, taking photos from a higher angle, slightly above eye level so that people are looking up at the camera, is almost universally flattering.
The more angles your body can create, the better, Wacker said. Tilt your shoulders and tip your head toward the higher shoulder to get a more feminine look; tip your head to the lower shoulder to appear more masculine.
To improve how a body looks in photos, Wacker likes to "divide and conquer": Position arms and hands in front of the midsection, or stand partially behind a family member, to create the illusion of less mass. To cinch a thick waist, turn your body for a three-quarters view, then square your shoulders to the camera, Wacker said.
Rather than have your hands hang at your side, which looks heavy, hold on to something or rest them on your thighs, hips, arms or pockets, Wacker said. Having some separation between the arms and body also highlights the waist.
Posing square to the camera is beneficial only when you want to accentuate size or strength, Wacker said.
As awkward as it might feel, it can help to practice these techniques in front of a mirror until you like what you see. Keep practicing until the effect can be achieved naturally.
Dress and groom
Most people know that darker solids and vertical stripes are more flattering than bright colors and loud patterns, but when cameras are snapping it’s really time to pay attention. It is not the time to show off your new horizontally striped neon shirt, no matter how trendy. It is also not the time to try a new haircut, spray tan or eyebrow waxing procedure, lest it not turn out as you hoped, Steyn said.
For formal group shots, Steyn advocates harmony of color — not identical shirts, necessarily, but some uniform palette — so that everyone gets equal attention in the photo. Pick colors that are flattering to everyone in day-to-day life.
Robbins recommends soft colors and advises against wearing white shirts, for all skin tones, because the brightness draws the eye and distracts from people’s faces.
When it comes to hair, men without any should position themselves so light doesn’t bounce off the tops of their heads, and women and men with thinning tresses should be careful of backlight and backgrounds that might peek through, Robbins said.
Makeup also is important, even for women who don’t normally wear any, said Janna Giacoppo, a portrait and fashion photographer based in LA. A foundation or tinted moisturizer will even the skin under a harsh flash, Giacoppo said.
Assemble the tableau
For the family shutterbug, there are various options for structuring a group, but one to avoid is lining everyone up on the couch, which creates a boring, flat line and makes people look a bit dumpy, Wacker said. Triangular and pyramidal shapes, with a larger base building up to a focal point in the center, are more dynamic, he said.
The focal point could be the patriarch in a chair, for example, positioned at an angle because a head-on shot of legs rarely does anyone any favors. Family members positioned around him can lean against a table, hold on to the back of the chair or shift their weight to one foot to give them something to do and break up the stiffness. For those who are sitting, sit up straight, lean toward the camera and extend the face forward.
Take people’s strengths and weaknesses into account when assembling the tableau, Steyn said. People who look good head-on might go in the center, while people who look better at three-quarters go on the sides. People with a wandering eye, pimple or other feature they would rather not emphasize can angle that blemish away from the camera.
Steyn likes to "bookend" the photograph with the "strongest" individuals — that is, those with the most commanding presence — because if they’re in the center the viewer’s eyes may never travel to the edges.
Be careful of awkward hands and feet, and of the "totem pole" effect where people’s heads appear stacked, Wacker said. Moms and dads, take note if you’re holding a baby under your chin.
Speaking of children, to minimize restlessness, have your setting picked, structure planned and positive energy flowing so kids don’t have to wait while you figure it all out, Wacker said.
Smile (but not too big)
Saying "Cheeeese!" usually forces a frozen, unnatural expression, so try bringing out a more natural smile through laughter and conversation, Wacker said.
Smiles are personal, so ignore this if you have a spectacular Julia Roberts grin, but a more toned down, less toothy smile tends to be more universally attractive, Robbins said.
And if you can’t get everyone looking good in one shot? Hello, Photoshop.
Sometimes a camera’s harsh flash can create unflattering images, said Bill Robbins, a photography professor at Brooks Institute. On a regular point-and-shoot, you can put a few pieces of frosty matte Scotch tape over the flash to spread the light out. If you have a detachable flash, swivel the head to point up to the ceiling so that the flash hits the ceiling first before hitting the people.