There’s nothing worse than being caught unawares on camera, especially when we’ve been captured in an unflattering pose. Unfortunately, these are the pictures that generally find their way onto social media after someone records a social event and then uploads the evidence for everyone to see.
Suddenly, all of our lumps and bumps are open to public scrutiny—which in reality is going to be far kinder than our own harsh view of ourselves.
Safety in numbers
The good news is we aren’t alone in hating pictures of ourselves. In fact, 57.9% of us dislike seeing our photographed image, whether that’s shots other people have taken or our own carefully posed selfies. This was revealed in an independent survey that asked the British public: ‘What do you think of pictures of yourself that somebody else has taken?’
Despite having numerous attempts at taking the perfect selfie—not to mention the filters and edits we can make to our chosen shots—only 5% us prefer to take pictures of ourselves.
As much as we may want to, it’s impossible to avoid the camera forever. Aside from being photographed for work reasons or identity documents, there will always be the social occasion—such as weddings and family events—where it’s necessary to have your picture taken.
Obviously we don’t always know when we’re going to be photographed. But when you do know there’s a significant social event approaching, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re photo-ready. These include the following:
- Play around with make-up techniques—see our expert advice from professional make-up artists below—to emphasise your best features.
- Book a haircut—or at least a fringe trim—before the event. If you’re going for a restyle, give yourself time to get used to styling your new look.
- If you’re worried about stubborn fat ruining your facial profile, non-invasive surgery such as SculpSure could be the answer for refining your jawline.
- Likewise, if dieting and exercise isn’t removing lumps and bumps around your hips, thighs and stomach, SculpSure can help get rid of those lingering areas of fat.
- Take time to plan your wardrobe, avoid vivid patterns or overly bright colours, unless you’re aiming to stand out!
Listen to the experts
Instead of finding ways to dodge the camera, we decided to find out how to make the best of our photo opportunities, and what better way than to talk to the experts.
What camera angle do you find is the most flattering/slimming?
Sharon: I think the close-up portrait is most flattering. Not as many lumps and bumps to think about. Group photos also help as you can squish and hide parts of the body people aren’t comfortable with.
Abraxas: For a full body shot, turn the subject away from the camera at a slight angle and have them turn their neck so their nose is pointing towards the centre of the camera lens. A low camera angle can make a person look taller while a high angle tends to bring facial features out more. Blurring the background out of focus works really well on close-up portrait shots—again, turning the body to a slight angle tends to be most flattering. Make sure the feet are at the same angle as the shoulders—this stops the person twisting the top half of their body if the photographer asks them to turn a little to the left or right.
Do you have any tips for people who find it difficult to pose for photographs?
Sharon: My biggest tip is not to pose. It looks a little contrived and awkward. The best poses are natural moments. I tend to use little prompts or actions with couples to make them feel comfortable and smile naturally.
Abraxas: Trust your photographer! The best photographers will guide you effortlessly and make you feel comfortable immediately. Don’t practise your smile or any poses—some people aren’t natural smilers so a photographer forcing you to smile will just make you feel uncomfortable.
Are there any particular colours/patterns that don’t photograph well?
Sharon: Stripes and very busy bright patterns don’t photograph well. At engagement sessions I encourage couples to wear neutral or co-ordinating clothes. No bright colours or patterns.
Abraxas: Neutral colours like grey generally work best. Pastel colours are very popular, particularly blue, lavender, lilac and grey. Black is well known for being slimming and can be combined with cream or white accessories. It’s worth considering the time of year. Autumnal colours can be very rich and warm, spring and summer have a lighter feel while winter tends to attract rich tones such as black, red and brown tones. Olive is a colour that photographs very well in winter.
When posing for a picture, what types of backgrounds work best?
Sharon: Natural backgrounds—shrubs, fields and parks work well—as do walls. Anything that doesn’t offer any distractions.
Abraxas: Finding a location where you feel comfortable and yourself works best. This could be in the countryside or somewhere more urban and edgy. Different times of the day and year can change the feel of a background dramatically—for instance, the light during winter has a very blue tone which our eyes don’t really pick up but cameras do. As the year progresses, colour temperature changes and the natural tones in daylight start to become much warmer towards the yellow/red scale.
Do you have any tips for putting people at ease when you’re photographing them?
Sharon: My biggest tip for putting people at ease before photographing them is talk and get to know them. We often have a coffee and chat first, and I usually share a few funny stories about me. I need to be their friend first and photographer second. I can always tell when a photograph has been taken by a photographer that the couple feel happy being with.
Abraxas: The best photographers make people feel relaxed in front of the camera without them even noticing, so even the most camera-shy people can photograph well. An experienced photographer will guide you and tell you what to do rather than you guiding the photographer. If a photographer just asks you to “act naturally”, this really isn’t enough guidance.
How many photos does it realistically take to achieve the perfect shot?
Sharon: Getting the perfect photo usually happens about two or three photos in. Although the best photos are often the “capture the moment ones” where something just happens and you capture it straight away. It was a moment like this that got me started in wedding photography.
Abraxas: One! Seriously, you don’t need to take hundreds of shots to get a great photo. Again, it all comes down to the experience of the photographer.
When would you recommend editing a photo or applying a filter?
Sharon: I do minimal editing and hate filters—especially the social media ones—with a passion. I would edit if there was a pimple on the face but that’s about as far as I go. I think if you take it too far it looks fake and isn’t a true representation of the person.
Abraxas: Filters have never been so popular and everyone can use them, particularly on Instagram. The downside with filters is that they date very quickly, even “vintage” tones which are currently popular at weddings. I personally believe in keeping photos looking totally natural. So although we edit imperfections and can naturally smooth skin and other unwanted detail, the best photos are the ones that will stand the test of time and where filters aren’t used.
Preparation is key
Even if you aren’t a huge fan of make-up, it really can be your best friend when it comes to looking good in a photograph. A little bit of tactically applied concealer and foundation can help even out your complexion and diminish any redness or shine. Less is more—especially if you wouldn’t normally wear make-up—so the trick is applying just enough to disguise blemishes and highlight features.
Are there any types of make-up that you would avoid using when you know you’ll be photographed?
Jacqui: I’d avoid high-definition (HD) setting powder. Unlike most setting powders, HD powders are formulated with silica, an ingredient that reflects the flash of a camera. In videos, HD powders can give the skin a totally flawless, Photoshop-looking finish but in photos, it’ll appear as bright white powder.
Helena: Matte skin photographs best, so I’d avoid any overly dewy products or too much added highlight in the base layer. I’d aim to matte the ‘hot-spots’ on a person’s face—anywhere that gets oily or hot quickly—as sweat produces shine that the camera will pick up.
Shimmery products are OK—I just wouldn’t go for glittery products unless that was the brief.
Avoid foundation products that have high levels of SPF/sunscreen in them as they can produce something known as ‘flashback’ when photographed with a flash. It’s caused by light reflecting particles in make-up and skincare and gives photos a white glow.
Do you think it’s beneficial to wear more or less make-up if you’re planning to be photographed?
Jacqui: If you’re working on a young flawless model then less is definitely more. Skin should look like skin. Smooth and glossy, even in the older generation. Skin should appear youthful and if you apply too much foundation or powder, it can make you look dull and dusty. It’s important to make sure the skin is flawless by concealing areas around the eyes, nose, chin etc. This should apply to all ages.
Helena: As a general rule, 10% more make-up is needed in photographs. Certain products and colours seem to ‘disappear’ in different light colours and sources. For example, I’d always advise clients to wear a little more blush on their wedding day as there are lots of competing elements and nothing quite like a white dress to reflect lovely light onto the face. Without a little more blush or bronzer you could run the risk of looking ‘washed out’.
Are there any make-up techniques you’d recommend for making the face appear slimmer in photos?
Jacqui: Subtle contouring and highlighting, but not in the ‘Instagram’ way. On a rounder face I’d contour the sides of the forehead and along the temples. Also, the area below the cheekbones, starting from the ears to the middle of the cheeks and curving down to the jawline. Then, I’d highlight the middle of the forehead and on the centre of the chin, finishing under the eyes in an upside-down triangle shape to brighten them.
Helena: Bronzing, contouring and highlighting are three useful techniques that can help give the illusion of a slimmer face in photographs. Look for areas to light and shade. I’d usually put highlight on the cheekbone and cushion that with a contour shade from the ear to the hollows of the cheek to create a slimmer face. Likewise, contour can be useful on the jawline. Apply bronzer across the top of the forehead—anywhere the sun would naturally hit and tan—as this will also help give the illusion of a slimmer face.
Do you have any tips for ensuring that make-up lasts through a day-long event?
Jacqui: Primer is a must for sure. I love Laura Mercier primer for keeping foundation in place all day and a good eyeshadow primer, such as Urban Decay. Waterproof mascara is also essential.
Helena: Make sure your skin is properly hydrated—drink lots of water and moisturise regardless of your skin type. Primers are useful products that help other products last, but are useless if you haven’t cared for your skin. A ‘long-wear foundation’ offering up to 16 hours of wear can help the base last and, in turn, any other products used on top. A good setting spray can also help make-up last all day. Cream eyeshadow bases will help eyeshadows last well and prevent creasing. For added longevity, set any liquid product with a powder.
What would you suggest taking in your handbag for touch-ups throughout the day?
Jacqui: Pressed powder—not HD though! A creamy concealer such as the Nars one, and a lipstick or gloss.
Helena: I’d recommend keeping blotting papers, powder and lipstick to hand. It’s essential to blot that oily layer of powder away before applying a touch-up, otherwise additional layers of powder will cling to it and make-up will appear cakey and heavy. Obviously lipstick is an important product to carry to stay looking good as it will disappear with drinking and eating. If you have dry skin, a hydration spray might be a good product to carry to keep make-up looking fresh and hydrated.
Are there any make-up tricks for men that will appear natural on camera?
Jacqui: Less is definitely more! A tiny bit of concealer under the eye and a gel bronzer—as opposed to a powder—to give a more realistic bronzed effect. Bobbi Brown do a fabulous gel bronzer.
Helena: Concealing—and possibly correcting depending on the darkness under the eye—will help men appear more bright-eyed and awake on camera. Applying a small amount of bronzer to the high points of the face can really work to add health to skin and improve the overall look. Concealing spots and blemishes can help give a better complexion and powdering down any shine with a translucent powder is essential. Brushing and setting the brows with a clear brow set can also make a huge difference.
Putting a face to a name
There are many occasions where a flattering photograph can be beneficial—dating websites being prime examples. Although an increasing number of sites claim to focus on personality as opposed to looks, a decent photograph will undoubtedly help with that all-important first impression.
To find out more about the type of profile picture that’s successful on dating apps, we spoke to dating coach Rachel New. Here’s what she had to say:
Do you find that potential matches decide on compatibility purely through the photo?
Rachel: No, but it’s always the starting point. We respond to the photo at a physical and emotional level.
In your experience, what are the most successful photographs on dating sites?
Rachel: You need to post about four pictures in a variety of settings. At least one should be a full‑length shot showing your body shape—honesty is really important when dating. They must be up-to-date—finding out your date looks 10 years older than in their photo is a very disappointing start to a date! You also want to give the impression of having a range of interests and a busy social life. I suggest one in a café, looking thoughtful or reading, and one outside, walking or up a mountain or by some water or similar.
What’s your opinion of action or party shots versus ‘posed’ shots?
Rachel: It’s good to show you have friends, so party shots can be useful. But it needs to be clear which one is you (perhaps add an arrow?!). You don’t want to give the impression that you’re always out drinking though, so you need a balance of healthy and indulgent activities!
Do selfies work as well as pictures other people have taken?
Rachel: No, selfies look really unprofessional and give the impression you haven’t made the effort. Selfies can also suggest that you don’t have any friends to take your pictures for you. They never look that good—it’s very hard to get the right angle without you looking down, and the light is never right. Pictures where your face is at a slight tilt are more attractive too, which is difficult to get right in a selfie.
Do people tend to go for natural pictures or heavily filtered images?
Rachel: Editing is normal these days, especially among those in their 20s and 30s. It’s difficult to get natural pictures that are good, unless you’re using a professional photographer (which many people now do). But, if you want to stand out from the crowd, authenticity is attractive and refreshing, so it’s worth making the effort.
Are there any big no-no’s when it comes to choosing a picture to represent yourself?
Rachel: No ex-partners, children, dirty plates (if your photo is in a restaurant), messy rooms, football shirts, beer cans! Don’t wear anything too revealing if you’re looking for something serious—even though it shouldn’t, it will give the impression you’re just after something casual. I would say no animals, unless finding someone with a love of animals is a deal-breaker for you. Don’t have pictures in which you can hardly be seen when it’s being viewed on a phone. Silly pictures with inane grins are quite offputting too!