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Being Photogenic: Nature Or Nurture

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Credit: rajeevkapoor.in

There is no hiding from them, they are everywhere and anywhere, and there is a good chance that you will be captured by one of them sooner or later. That is, by a camera. We are definitely becoming more self-conscious about our image given the advent of personal digital technology and widespread social media platforms. If narcissism and vanity wasn’t a rampant disease before it is now!

Like most self-conscious/absorbed people these days, we become increasingly critical on how we look in photos, cringing and boisterously screaming at the sight of seeing a so called ‘photo-unhygienic’ shot of ourselves.

You might also have just accepted that it is either you are born with it or not. For those who think that being photogenic is an innate gift from the gods I’m here to dispel that myth for you. I have a strong belief that if someone else can do it, there is a good 90% chance that you are able to do it as well, given the right information, training and dedication.

I have worked in the Fashion and Entertainment industry for almost 10 years and have seen some ‘train wrecks’ (mind my crudeness) in real life however look like they just came off a Vogue magazine. It’s true, there are people who look great in photos and are aesthetically disappointing when you meet them in person we all know that. Apart from having great Photoshop touch ups, make up, lighting and a great photographer, being photogenic is possible with just one critical component that is, you! Of course the superficial adjustments are beneficial but not necessarily the best way to go about every photo.

It’s a daunting fact that throughout your life there will be literally hundreds of thousands of photos that will be taken of you irrespective of whether you know it or not, and I don’t just mean with a camera! Everywhere you go, there will be a video camera, mobile phone camera, and most importantly and often the most overlooked is our eyes. Yes, eyes!

Naturally Beautiful
Credit: beautythroughstrength.com

Being Naturally Beautiful

I’ve taken a broader approach to this article, instead of merely listing ways of being more photogenic I have merged it to one simple concept, how to look beautiful anywhere, anytime irrespective of what you put on your face or your body and visual enhancements your photos may go through. The fact of the matter is being photogenic is great in photos but you also want to look beautiful in real life too when you aren’t posing for the cameras.

Dispelling The Myths

O.k the first step in becoming photogenic is to dispel the myth that you are either born with it or not. Simple enough right? Just think about all the photos you’ve ever taken, I’m sure there was at least a handful that you could boast about and put it on your Facebook or Instagram as your display picture. This is proof that you can definitely be photogenic.

Secondly, the truth about any modelling project requires hundreds (if not thousands) of photos to be taken before one shot is actually chosen to be published in a high profile magazine. If you thought that a model’s job was to take one single shot in some sort of freakishly unnatural way giving attitude and getting paid ten thousand dollars for it, then you are seriously mistaken.

Having been a model for many years I can assure you that the superficial beauty portrayed in contemporary media is far from realistic and relies on several layers of 'smoke and mirrors' to achieve the idealistic and surreal beauty we are concerned with.

Just to briefly elaborate, models are mere mortals like the rest of us, the only difference is that they have been preselected on three

Taking these assumptions you can see that it's just a matter of capturing the subject (you) at the right moment and in the right way.

Health and Wellbeing

A lot of these techniques and concepts are quite obvious and intuitive however I will still list them so I can drill these down to your core habits. Being photogenic is highly correlated to your general wellbeing, the better you take care of yourself the better you feel and hence the better you look. This includes eating food that natural and hasn’t been overly processed and doing exercise regularly and that means sticking to a regime. There are a wealth of information on ways to keep active online, it's just a matter of finding a regime that works for you.  After a few weeks you will notice the changes, especially in photos. Try taking a very basic photo before and after to see an amazing transformation, not only will you look great but you will feel just as great!

Watch What You Wear

Solids and neutrals are probably the best, as stripes and patterns tend to be too distracting. Obviously, black will make you appear slimmer however you don’t want to fade into the background so contrasting colors (i.e. white) will over give you a better outline definition.

Tight clothes doesn’t necessarily make you appear slimmer, it can sometimes do the opposite especially if your stomach is protruding out. Try to focus on proportions, or wearing clothes that make you look like you fit comfortably in it, instead of something being so tight that you look rigid and robotic.

I don’t consider myself a 'fashionista' so I will just say wear clothes that suit your personality and have some sort of flair. Of course you can always opt for plain clothes, in that case there will be more focus on your body and face, and this is useful if you want to flaunt it!

You should also note your skin tone with the colors of your clothes, just put it on and look in the mirror to see if there is too much contrast or something just doesn’t feel right.

Shoes are also very important to complete the picture, if you want to look good in full body shots, make sure your shoes complement your outfit in terms of colors, design and height.

I’m not going to give any technical advice on make up as I’m not experienced in this however I do have some general advice. Avoid make up that clogs the pores around the ‘T’ zone (Forehead and nose) so that you won’t appear shiny in photos.

Natural make up is probably the best, such as mineral foundations. You don’t want to look like you’re wearing a wedding cake on your face as too much of a good thing can sometimes have the opposite effect.

We’ve got the superficial elements out of the way. Now on to being in front of the camera!


Yes you heard me, angles are pretty much everything at the end of the day (and the lighting). You could be in your hung over in your pajamas on a Saturday morning and still look good if you know your angles.

The reason why they are so important in making you look photogenic is because they turn a 2D image into a 3D image, and they shade your face and body with light and shadows. Don’t underestimate the power of angles.

I can’t tell you which angles work for you as every person is different in shape and features, what I can say is that investing in a full-length mirror and practicing looking in different angles can help a lot. Our faces are generally asymmetrical meaning that one side looks slightly different from the other, so knowing which side is our strong side is quite important.

Once you know your facial angles it will also be a good idea to work the body into it, and work from a variety of positions as the camera is not a static observer like your trust vanity mirror. You don’t have to worry about this too much as a good photographer will often find the angle that works best, but if you want to experiment working the camera from different angles/perspective then by all means.

I use the word perspective because this is key in shaping a ‘look’. Everyone can look at a certain picture and judge it completely different from one another, as everyone has a unique perspective on life. Same thing with a camera, a camera in different angles (with lighting) can literally take a billion shots each with a different perspective on the subject. This is something to keep in mind when working your angles and poses.


The Art of Posing

A pose is simply the way you hold your body, and that includes the expression on your face, your posture, where your arms and legs are at and how you angle your face.

This is something you can control instantaneously, how you stand, how you hold your posture, the position of your arms, hands, legs all add to your pose. So what pose is best? For a straight on shot, standing upright, open posture (chest up and shoulders open) with a slight tilt to the side is probably going to work best. Basically, you want to look 3D in pictures giving yourself depth and looking real instead of a 2D image. The open posture and slight tilt of your whole body adds that depth to your shot. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed and open not hunched or stiff because that will dramatically affect the body language of the shot.

Also try to keep your extremities (arms and legs) close to your torso. Why? Having your arms and legs out wide can often distort appearances, where as if you have your arms and legs together it can make you appear taller and slimmer. Of course you don’t want to stand like a pole, just don’t have your extremities flailing in the wind.
I was told that you should have 45% of your body facing the camera to give you a more 3-Dimensional look, but then again who is actually going to measure this. It really depends on what pose you are trying to go for so play it by ear however keep in mind how much of your body is facing the camera.

You can also lead with one foot in the front and one in the back instead of having them horizontally aligned. Think about any modelling shot you have seen, does the model ever stand completely straight and flat? Most likely not unless they are advertising for a piece of flat paper.

Also try shifting more of the weight to your rear foot so that the stress is localized in the posterior section of your body instead of looking heavy and tense at the front.

Of course you can’t simply turn your whole body around to make yourself more 3D then it will be profile mug shot which is probably not as attractive. The key is to have a slight tilt. It’s true that every single subtle change in your body (including your expression) will completely change the energy or feel of the shot (why else would they take a hundred shots of the same pose!). So next time you take a shot, think depth - you want the camera to capture a slight hint of your character (metaphorically speaking).


Breathe Easy

You might think this is ridiculous however think about times when you’ve posed and taken a shot. Why does it feel so unnatural at times? It's because you held your breath! When you hold your breath you induce stress and hence stiffness of your body. We are not robots, and our movements should be free-flowing and relaxed. So next time you take a photo make sure you breath in a relaxed manner even if you are posing in some awkward uncomfortable position. It will make the difference between looking like a robot and a human.


Your expression is probably the biggest factor that determines whether a shot is hot or not.

I don’t need to explain why your expression is critical, instead I will give you tips on how to have great expression on your face without looking coerced or fake.

A lot of the time when people try to smile or show happiness it is often captured by the camera as just that, you will look like you are trying to smile or trying to show that you are happy. What’s wrong with that? You look your best when you are natural and carefree, think about that random shot someone took of you or someone you know that was just pure art, often the person wasn’t really trying to portray a certain look or emotion, instead they were just happily minding their business and someone decided to capture that moment. Now I’m not saying that these candid works of art are all a result of coincidence, what I’m saying is that often the best shots are the ones that are natural and oblivious to the camera.

The first thing to do to achieve such natural shots is actually really simple but in some cases not easy (especially when posing in awkward positions). Instead of focusing on the camera turn your attention to something other than the camera, and the best area of focus I have found is usually a thought. If I said to you, think of a time when you were simply carefree basking in the cool spring breeze with the sun gently warming your skin and enjoying the company of your significant other, not a single worry in the world, you just lie there smiling at them as if time and space ceased to exist, a picture perfect moment in your life. Did you genuinely smile? If you did it was most likely because your thoughts were focused on that vivid moment I described, all I had to do was to take a shot of you focusing on those thoughts and I would have captured one of those candid treasured moments. If I stuck a camera in front of your face and asked you to smile do you think I can achieve the same expression? Probably not, so next time you want to capture a truly genuine smile, try to visualize something that actually smiles instead of trying to smile at some random paparazzi with a cheese fetish.

I can go all day about expression and all the techniques in which you can invoke these different kinds of expressions however I found putting all your attention on to a specific thought and making it as vivid as possible (see it, hear it, smell it, feel it) works best in creating genuine moments.

If this doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to faking it or just trying to play out an emotion, but this never really produces the same results as the real thoughts that are conjured in our minds. Remember, it starts with a thought, then an emotional response to that thought (memory) then a physiological response in the form of an expression on your face.

Another great way to conjure up specific expressions without actually taking too much time visualizing, is the use of mantras or specific phrases or thoughts you chant to yourself i.e. I love you so much repeated over and over will create that loving expression, but you must mean the words you say otherwise the words become meaningless.

Play around with different ways to conjure up expressions as everyone will respond differently to different stimulus, but keep in mind the idea that keep yourself relaxed and focused on being true to yourself are usually the best.

Look Past Through The Camera

This is quite a strange one when I came across this tip, but nevertheless it appears to work. Basically the easiest way to do this is to look slightly above the camera lens, not directly at it. The reason, think about how off-putting it is when someone stares right in your eyes? Intimidating at times, however if the shot is supposed to be intimidating then destroy that camera with your piercing look.

The idea behind looking slightly above the camera or past the camera (again the key is slightly) is firstly to reduce that sense of intimidation, and secondly it gives a sense of purpose – i.e. you are looking beyond for something instead of simply staring at the lens. Think about how powerful it is when you see an image of a person with a sullen expression looking to the side or past the camera as if they were in deep thought.

The extent to which you want to employ this technique is up to you, and dependent on what kind of look you want to achieve. You could also personify the camera by pretending they were a crush, an enemy, friend or even a lover. This will require some good imagination to actually replace the camera with a person with certain characteristics.

Slight Smile

As I mentioned before every subtle change in a shot can completely shift the energy or the vibes an image projects. If you are posing for a group shot, what works best I have found is to do a genuine subtle smile the beauty of it is that is so easy to do and can completely change how people see you in photos.

You can always opt to do the wide grinned smiles which make even the Grinch look bad, or the complete opposite all down and frown 'Emo goth' style, however from my observation, the slight smile wins all contests. It gives the sense that you are mysterious, calm, relaxed, cool, deep and at the same time you are a happy person (after all who likes a grouch).

The expression is somewhat between a plain expression and a fake smile which people often turn on like a switch (i.e. How are you? Good thanks~ smile*). Better known as the Duchenne smile where the eyes are pulled up by the involuntary muscles around it, these muscles are extremely hard to control, hence if these muscles are activated then you can tell it's a genuine smile.

For those who are unsure about what I mean about a slight smile and how do achieve one, simply think of a happy thought or mantra you can call upon just before a shot, something that will shift your mood and induce a change in the biochemistry of your body to create a genuine smile. Once you have this thought or word that brings you to this happy place, simply suppress it by trying not to give it all away. It’s as if you have a juicy wonderful secret or news that you know but you don’t want to tell anyone yet. I guess it also depends on the shot you are trying to portray, however this technique can also be modified for a whole range of different shots. Simply, have an image or thought in your mind, try to suppress part of it but let it manifest in your body slightly.

After all, who doesn’t like a secret or surprise~

Duchenne Smile
Credit: youbeauty.com

It's All About The Eyes

An experienced modelling friend of mine was teaching me how to give the camera attitude, and he showed me some useful techniques to achieve this. One method which I found quite challenging at first was to pretend your eyes are lenses, so you can ‘zoom’ in and out and focus. Strange concept at first but his photos were testament to this.

Practice looking in the mirror and focusing your eyes directly at yourself, you should notice your eyelids slightly squinting and opening as if they were shutters. See if this makes a difference when trying to intimidate the camera. This also helps the whole concept about focusing on a thought to get a certain expression.

Your eyes are extremely expressive. Hundreds of muscles are working simultaneously to create very subtle expressions. This also includes your eye brows and surrounding muscles around your eyes (i.e. crow’s feet). Another useful tip is to slightly raise your eye brows. I’m sure you are aware of the one raised eye brow look, but once again subtlety is the key – practice playing around with the muscles around your eyes to generate different expressions.

Final Tips

Finally I’d like to say that probably the best advice I can give you regarding being more photogenic is to actually enjoy being photographed and ultimately enjoy life. The camera is a x-ray machine that can delve deep into every subtle thought you harbor so make sure your mind is in a happy place.

There you have it, a comprehensive guide on becoming more photogenic. Please note that you can always use a combination of these tips however every person is different and you will need to find what really works for you. I have found that these tips will greatly improve how you look on camera so take care and have enjoy being beautiful~



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