I can't tell you how many of my interactions with future clients have started by them stating: "I've gotta warn you - I am not photogenic". My standard response to it is "No one is". Which is not true, but it is the easiest way for me to move on from this subject, and hope they will give me a chance to prove them wrong. For a while now, I pondered on why so many of us have adopted this mantra - I AM NOT PHOTOGENIC. After all, I've photographed plenty of people who said that, and then walked away with beautiful portraits, loving and sharing them with their family and friends, and I've watched these people getting love poured on them through their social media circles and them shyly but firmly accepting the compliments...They now know, that negative statement they've been repeating over and over, is built of sand.
If we can step back and look at this issue, we will find a whole lot to consider. Most of the time when our picture is taken it is a result of a snapshot. Snapshot is something that is done in the moment, without any aesthetic or technical considerations of a trained professional. Snapshot happens simply because you are there and the person snapping has a device capable of capturing an image. Snapshots capture us having fun, they are photojournalistic in nature, sometimes taken without our knowledge and almost always result in an image you may laugh at but rarely want anyone to see it. I know that, I do it too! I don't tag snapshots of me on social media anymore because half of the time I can't recognize myself, and not in a good way. After a few dozen of these accidental captures a belief is born that it must be your fault. You are not photogenic and you have a million and one images of yourself to prove it. Snapshots capture a moment, an environment, but often do zero for self esteem or even worse, ruin it. I believe a common misconception is that anyone is a photographer as long as you can point and press a button on any image taking device, which also leads to a belief that photography is easy and should be priced at JCPenney studio prices. But that's a blog for another day.
A great photographer is an artisan, like a great painter, or a musician or a poet would be. A professional portrait is a carefully planned and skillfully executed image. It is normal to take 200 shots and only choose 10 as the best ones. So think before you tell your photographer, "it won't take long, I only need 4-5 shots" if you expect an image you will love forever. All elements have to be considered especially if you are working with a photographer who upholds her fiduciary duties as an image creator to you, a soulful and authentic person.
1. GET TO KNOW YOUR CLIENT. A professional portrait begins by getting to know a client, and their demeanor. For that reason I love having a face to face consultation with my prospective clients. Is she or he a firecracker, life of the party, easy to give you the biggest smile, very animated in his expressions? Or is he or she a thinker, a quiet soul, a shy individual, who longs to be seen in an unassuming way? Little facial quirks become known during such interactions and allow your photographer to better plan highlighting charming elements and compensating for less favorable features: those blue eyes...how do I bring them forward in my images? does he smile out of the side of his mouth? is there a visible face asymmetry? what does she think is her "better" side or feature? does she have any reservations about certain things about her and how to counter those concerns?
2. WHAT TO WEAR. In a professional portrait what you wear matters: does that color flatter you or overpowers you? is the style of wardrobe so outlandish that it dwarfs a person photographed in it? is it timeless or will it date you in a decade? I am often on a lookout for potential wardrobe for my clients in case their own didn't fit the bill and am actually thrilled to partner up with Genn Shaughnessy, the owner of Fifi's Frocks and Frills, a designer consignment store in Albany, NY, to give my clients an even wider choice for he best for their upcoming portrait session.
3. HAVE A MAKEOVER. A professional portrait should start with a professional makeover: can a different hairstyle enhance your image? will the makeup photograph well under the lights or will you look washed out? do both, hair and makeup, match the wardrobe and freshen up the person being photographed? you don't want to give a conservative grandma a mohawk hairstyle for her 80th birthday portrait session, do you? I work with professional hair and makeup artists, who come to the studio on the day of the photoshoot, and do their magic on the spot. A client always has the last word in final look, but the adjustments could be made right away to either change the look or make corrections.
4. HOW TO POSE. A professional portrait means you will be guided into poses. So don't worry if you don't know how to sit or stand or what to do with your hands. You also don't need to memorize the poses of supermodels in the latest Victoria's Secret promotion. Chances are none of us look like them. Only a person who is looking through a lens in front of you can see what pose is most flattering to you. Some poses can take 20-30 lbs off your frame without the need for a diet before the photoshoot. The knowledge of good posing techniques regardless of your shape and size is paramount to a portrait you'll love. Make sure your photographer is knowledgable and can also communicate the poses he or she is guiding you in.
5. IS MY FOREHEAD REALLY THAT BIG? A professional portrait will require a knowledge of lens distortions from your photographer. Have you noticed how in some of your selfies your head is as big as your whole entire body, the lollypop effect? Or your nose, or your forehead is out of proportion with the rest of the face at particular angles? Your photographer should know and use these peculiarities of his or her lenses to your advantage.
6. WELL, HELLO THERE! A great portrait has an undeniable connection with a viewer. There are some portraits we can stare at for several minutes at a time, and then come back and stare some more over and over again. Facial expressions connects a person being photographed with the viewer and your photographer should guide you through several different expressions that would enhance your image further. After all, how would you know what you look like when you are deep in your thoughts, or have a little smile on your face while daydreaming about something pleasant, or being coy and flirtatious, or simply listen attentively? You don't, but a person with a camera should be able to get these and other expressions out of you to create images that reflect your personality.
7. LET THERE BE LIGHT! OR NOT. A professional portrait requires scrutiny of the lighting used: is it a soft light that gives an angelic feel to your newborn baby? or the right light that helps hide deep wrinkles on a mature face? is it a light that allows you to showcase your chiseled physique? or is your portrait lit in such a way that softly hides the curves on your body if you wish to hide them? is it the light that gives dimension to your face? a light that puts a twinkle in your eye? is it creative enough to allow for portraits of several moods you'd love to capture?
8. LOOK BETTER! A professional portrait will go through a professional edit. Don't listen to those who say it shouldn't, it absolutely should. Why? Because I'd want you to have the best representation of yourself and if on the day of your photoshoot you happened to break out in acne, or get a chipped tooth, or had an unfortunate haircut, sunburn, frostbite, a scape, a bruise, a missed pedicure and/or brow waxing appointment, or had a sleepless night which resulted in redness in your eyes - are you that person? Is that what you should be remembered for? No! Should these nuances be left in your portrait? I say no, especially if there are tools to eliminate them! Unless you are going for something creative, to put it mildly. Those are temporary things which distract from your image, provide zero enhancement, would quickly be dismissed in real life interaction once your award winning personality takes the front stage to any of those little buggers. A photograph is an image frozen in time and what is in that image stares you in the face for the rest of your life, often passed from generation to generation. So why would you want to leave distractions like that in your forever portrait? They should and will be edited, and the edits should be done with skill, and respect to your wishes, and integrity of portrayal of things that have been rightfully earned (laughing lines, freckles, love handles, beach perfect body, etc) albeit perhaps manipulated slightly to once again not to allow to take a spotlight away from you.
Photographers who take great care in creating your images adhering to this list plus adding their own creative approach, have taken pride in ongoing education, study and practice posing, lighting, styling and guiding their clients to a better portrait. They study photography, paintings, sculpture, film and color theory to achieve a portrait that makes a client gasp in awe of how beautiful they find themselves to be in it. Because as creators, we, photographers, are suckers for watching you fall in love with our creations, especially if they go home with you.
So why do we say we are not photogenic? It is akin us buying a luxury car, and allowing people who aren't trained properly maintain and fix it when necessary. As a result the car starts to underperform and fall apart, and what do we do? We blame the car, instead of trusting a trained professional to get you the best performance out of your prized possession and to make it run smoothly for a long time.
Let's be clear - we are all photogenic. Find a photographer with a solid set of skills, whose style you admire and who you enjoy being around. Relax and trust her to show you what your best portrait looks like. After all you aren't holding a mirror to your mouth supervising the work of a dentist while he is working on you? Stop thinking you are not photogenic, or you are doomed to have ugly images of yourself. Instead research your photographer, prepare to pay for their skillful work, create beautiful portraits, for yourself, your children, people who love you. When you are gone, these portraits will give them much needed comfort and a chance to visit you again and again. At the end of the day, photographs is the only possession we'll ever have that appreciates in value with each and every year, and become priceless when we leave this world. You are worth having great images of you.