It took me too long to realize that I don’t take good pictures
‘Cuz I have the kind of beauty that MOVES
Ani DiFranco, “Evolve”
Two of my most gorgeous friends – one a man, one a woman – are also two of the least photogenic human beings I’ve ever encountered. And THEY KNOW IT. Years of mugging for the camera only to be confused and disappointed by the results have made both of them extremely shy of photographs. And, of course, the anxiety of anticipating every shot to be a bum shot makes both of them feel stiff and uncomfortable in front of the lens. These two people prove that it is definitely possible to be beautiful in motion, yet have a beauty that cannot be effectively captured by still photography. Another example? Mind-bogglingly talented actress Toni Colette, pictured above. This woman frequently looks stunning in her movies, and can do glamorous stunning, untamed stunning, and natural stunning with equal ease on film. And although she occasionally hits just the right smile and angle, most of her still photos just don’t do her justice. At least, in my opinion. She’s a knockout, but she’s just not terribly photogenic.
Sometimes being photogenic seems like a trait that a lucky few inherit genetically … and yet some folks appear to improve over time. Celebrities and high-powered executives often start out looking terrified and stiff in their photos, but after a few years in front of the lens they appear more natural and poised. So can photogenocity be learned and practiced? Does it just take time and about 60 bajillion shutter clicks?
Hard to say, of course. I have certainly become more comfortable in front of the camera myself, after nearly seven years of posing for blog and media photos.* My guess is that looking great in photos can be traced back to confidence and relaxation: If cameras make you nervous, you’ll involuntarily cringe, like my two friends do. And even an infinitesimal cringe will be magnified in a still image. If you don’t mind cameras, you’ll just grin and be yourself. And in the latter case, you needn’t be drop-dead gorgeous to take drop-dead gorgeous photos. I couldn’t say how, but I think cameras can capture – and even magnify – confidence. Confidence in a photographic subject is what makes an image compelling and mesmerizing. Lack of confidence makes an image strangely upsetting, and often causes the observer feel uncomfortable in sympathy with the subject.
Of course, it can be a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. If my two friends looked better in their photos, they might start to relax and feel confident in front of the lens, and their photos would improve further. But instead, they’re stuck in the negative feedback loop of posing anxiously, disliking the results, and posing even more anxiously the next time. Also just flat-out telling someone to relax and be confident? Especially when a camera is involved? Not typically very effective. A little like telling someone to think about anything besides zebras. You can do your best to fake relaxation and confidence by breathing deeply, rolling your shoulders back, and thinking of something truly funny or joyous when someone hauls out a camera. But can you fake it till you make it all the way to being wildly photogenic? I honestly don’t know. Since every phone is also a camera and every image likely to be shared across several media, many of us are hoping so.
I’m curious about your thoughts, especially since I know many of you are bloggers and photographers. In your opinion and experience, what makes someone photogenic? Is it tied directly to beauty, or confidence, or relaxation? Are YOU photogenic? Any pointers for someone who wants to look better and more natural in photos?
*My coworker Amy laughs her butt off at me when we do photos for Corset’s Instagram. I go into “pose mode” the second she holds up my phone to take a shot without even realizing it.
Image source // This post prompted some great discussion in the past so I wanted to revive and refresh it for any new readers. I’ve been struggling with professional balance lately, and will be bringing back the occasional archived post until things calm down a bit. Thanks for your understanding.