While we’re coaching our clients into poses and smiles, we sometimes have to overcome an unexpected obstacle: bad photo tips and tricks floating around the interwebs. Here are four of the most common how-to-look-better-in-photos “hacks” that are really just ridiculous myths that need to be busted:
Don’t smile as hard, to avoid wrinkles. We see a lot of people struggling to tame down their smile in an effort to keep wrinkles at bay. What really happens is you just end up looking mean or with a bland, vacant stare that kind of screams Norman Bates… News flash: people aren’t looking at your wrinkles. When they see a photo of you, they are seeing how friendly and confident you do or don’t look. When we see lines on our own skin our brain says “THIS IS A WRINKLE THIS IS UNDESIRABLE IN A PHOTO I AM AN OLD FART,” but the only person it’s “undesirable” to is ourselves. Everyone else sees those lines around our eyes and mouth and cheeks when we’re smiling as the natural effects of skin moving to the side to make way for a confident, approachable smile.
What should you do instead? Have the photographer retouch the photo to remove or soften a few select lines if they’re just too distracting to you.
Don’t smile as hard, to avoid squinting. This one is just as common as trying to curb your smile to avoid wrinkles. Again, you just end up looking like a deer in the headlights trying to keep your eyes open while smiling. There’s a difference between “squinting,” which is what we do when something is too bright and our eyes are closing to protect themselves, and something called a “Duchenne smile,” which is an authentic, natural smile that reaches the muscles around the eyes (AKA, “smiling with your eyes”). A Duchenne smile is the ultimate goal, and that will involve the muscles in your eyelids tightening a bit.
Lift your head to avoid a double chin. Lifting your head too far away from the camera makes your neck and chin look bigger and more of the focus in the photo. Or like the photographer was really short and looking up your nostrils instead of into your eyes. If you want to get psychoanalytic about it, exposing your throat is a sign of submission in the animal kingdom (“here’s my vulnerable jugular, Mr. Lion, go ahead and take a bite”), and not as strong and confident of a look as tilting your chin down and leaning in, which is what we do in the human world when we shake someone’s hand.
Practice in front of the mirror. This is a waste of time for two reasons. First, a mirror is the mirror image of what the camera and the rest of the world sees. So if you’re practicing that perfect smile or angle in front of the mirror and memorizing how you want your photo to turn out, the actual image is the reverse, so it will never look exactly like what you see in the mirror. Second, you’ve just set an expectation for “exactly” what you want your photo to look like. If you’re spending your photo session trying to get the photographer to chase the mirror image of that “exact” angle, the laws of physics say it’s impossible, and you could be missing out on trusting the photographer to get a great, natural photo of you.