Can A Person Learn To Be Photogenic?

This life-affirming photo of Beyonce via Solstice Visuals

Hey you! Yes you. You consider yourself a marginally attractive person, don’t you? Have you ever caught a particularly heinous photo of yourself and wondered, “Ew, when did I get so ugly? Where have I gone wrong?”

Related question: Have you ever seen a photo of someone on the Internet or in a magazine, and thought, “Oh my gosh, she is so pretty…why do I have to look like such a deformed mouse when I have my picture taken?”

Wait, last one: Have you ever known a person who just photographs well? Like, all of the time? Without fail you’re like, “Dang girl, you have got this figured out!”??

I do. This friend of mine, she is what you would call The Photogenic.

Ah yes, The Photogenic. A subspecies of human I am entirely fascinated with. Tell me, do you think photogenic-ness is something that can be learned? Or is it an inherent trait? An either-you-got-it-or-you-don’t type of deal?

Well, it could be said “who cares?” Maybe looking good in photos is the least important thing in the world, and yes, that is most likely correct. However, in this day and age, when having your photo taken has become as commonplace as going to lunch with girlfriends, and when having that unattractive photo posted all over Facebook for all of your exes to see and feel smug over is pretty much guaranteed . . . well, learning how to look your best in photos becomes almost as important as finding the right shade of foundation for your skin tone, or mastering the perfect eyeliner application for your eye shape.

The fact of the matter is photography is a matter of light and angles. And faces (bodies too, for that matter) are made up of a whole lot of angles and shadows. Maybe mastering our angles is something we should all learn to do, along with knowing our colors and whether or not we look ridiculous in flat sneakers or something. Bear with me here.

I did some research and it turns out, holy yes, teaching yourself to be photogenic is entirely possible. Let’s learn this together!

And so I present to you a slideshow of tips for how you, yes you!, can learn to be photogenic. I’ve set it to some truly amazing photos from the Pretty Girls Making Ugly Faces page on Because if it fails and you don’t come away miraculously more photogenic, you’ll at least get to see a seriously life-affirming collection of photos. Because all of us, every last one of us, even the Queen Beyonce herself, has the ability to look positively hideous┬áin photos. And doesn’t that make you feel better about things?


  • Try Not To Look Directly At The Camera 1 of 19
    The camera can sense your fear. No, actually the idea here is that you'll look (and feel) more calm and natural if you're not staring directly down the beast and instead look just slightly to the left or right of the lens. After all, the first rule in acting is "don't look at the camera!" (That's not true, I made that up, but it COULD be true.)
  • Lean Slightly Toward The Camera 2 of 19
    This puts emphasis on your face and shoulders, and is great for slimming the rest of your body as well. Make this a slight angle, though. Don't let it look like you're about to attack the photographer or anything.
  • Reduce Your Risk Of Chin Divas 3 of 19
    Double chins are an unfortunate trick of light and angles and have ruined many a photo for many a perfectly slender-necked individual. Avoid this common mistake by relaxing your shoulders (bunched shoulders will ruin a photo quicker than bad lighting), by tilting your head up slightly, and, if you're extra prone to the DC, time the shutter release to an inhale, or you can also touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth. (Someone once told me this was a classic Olson Twin photo trick?)
  • Determine Your Best Angles 4 of 19
    Mariah Carey is famous for only allowing photographs to be taken of her "good" side. Most of us aren't blessed with a perfectly symmetrical face. Take a moment with a digital camera or cell phone camera (NOT a mirror) and play around with different angles to see which produce the most slimming, most natural, most attractive photos. Sounds silly, but this is actually a worthwhile exercise if you'll be in front of a camera terribly often. (Note: you can't use the reverse cam for this, because it displays a mirror image of your face but then saves the photo flipped... which has more than once caused me to go, "Aw man! What happened?")
  • Good Posture! 5 of 19
    Lower those shoulders! And whatever you do, create a little space between your arms and your body. There's a reason so many celebs revert to the silly hand-on-hip pose on the red carpet: it squares their shoulders, removes their arms from their body, and accentuates the curve of their waists and hips.
  • Accentuate Your Curves 6 of 19
    A good friend of mine (who is highly photogenic) once told me she likes to "sit into her curves" for photos. She demonstrated for me and I will tell you, she looked ridiculous, but the photos came out great. To give you an idea of what this looked like: she sort of popped out one hip and settled into it, then moved and popped out the other hip and settled into it. Curves aren't what make you look thick in a photo, she pointed out. It's the absence of curves. Try not to look like a shapeless block and you'll do all right.
  • Always Position Yourself At An Angle 7 of 19
    Three quarters is the rule. Not straight on, not entirely parallel, but something in between.
  • Group Shot Tip 8 of 19
    It's tempting to get all cuddly in a photo by leaning to get closer, but as much as you love the person you're about to be in a photo with, you should NEVER lean. Or slouch, or squeeze, or any other form of affection. By all means, love them from afar, and sit up straight!
  • Think Of Someone You Love 9 of 19
    If you're having a hard time making your forced smile look genuine, try picturing your children, your best friend, your spouse or significant other, and make your smile for them. You'll look more relaxed, and your smile will be sweeter than a nervous "Cheese!" grin.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm 10 of 19
    People with "animated" faces (ahem, me) tend to get caught mid-expression and look awfully ridiculous in a photo more often than not. When a camera comes out, focus on making one expression, and hold it. Think of those cute kids of yours, and HOLD IT till that camera is put away! Whatever you do, do NOT tell that funny story you've been dying to share, the one that requires massive arm movements and millions of facial expressions? Save it!
  • When In Doubt, Show Less Teeth 11 of 19
    Most of the time, a less toothy smile will mean fewer facial angles for your camera to abuse. Not to mention, a nice sly smile leaves you looking more relaxed and natural. Go find a mirror and practice your half smile!
  • Tense Your Bum Muscles 12 of 19
    No that's what I said, yo bum muscles. The idea here is to create a "trigger," as it's called in the modeling industry. When a camera comes out and you need to instantly look perky and happy and relaxed all at the same time, it's helpful to employ a hidden trick, or trigger, to help you get there quickly. Many models are trained to quickly tense their butt muscles as they smile for a photo. I mean, try it. Don't you suddenly feel all at attention?
  • Be Confident 13 of 19
    This is a ridiculous tip. I mean, if we were all confident we'd not have this problem... But another way to address this is to tell yourself you WILL look good in the photo, and just abandon all thoughts that you won't. I will tell you one thing, as silly as this sounds, it actually works. But you gotta really COMMIT to it.
  • Hold Out For Good Lighting 14 of 19
    The definition of photogenic is literally, "produced or precipitated by light." Realize that when you don't look good in a photo, your eyes look too hooded or your nose suddenly looks like it's eating your face, it's likely because the lighting conditions weren't ideal and has nothing to do with your actual face. So what kind of lighting should you aim for? Early morning or late afternoon light is best, you want to try and avoid shadows at all cost. Noon is the worst time for photos. When indoors and professional lighting isn't available, I like direct light from the front blasted directly into the face.
  • Hold Out For A Good Photographer 15 of 19
    A good photographer can make anyone look good. FInd someone who can reliably take a nice shot of you and have them handy for when you need a headshot update or for your yearly family Christmas card photo taken.
  • If You Have A Big Nose . . . 16 of 19
    Solidarity, sister! My Internet research shows the best angle is straight on, minimal shadows, minimal angles. You're welcome.
  • Never Pose For A Photo Where The Camera Is Lower Than You 17 of 19
    Almost always a recipe for disaster.
  • Practice Makes Perfect 18 of 19
    The more you're in front of a camera the more comfortable you'll feel there.
  • If All Else Fails: Ignore The Camera 19 of 19
    If you can't seem to avoid the freeze-up whenever you sense a photo is about to be taken, your best bet is just to ignore. RELAX. Try not to make any sudden or complicated facial expressions. Focus on moving as slowly as you can. No sudden jerky movements means the camera won't get the chance to catch you mid-expression.

P.S. While it’s good to have a “camera face,” you don’t want to overdo it and end up like this: Expressionless Girl. Remember to aim for natural, relaxed, and at ease. (Warning, the music on this page is loud and, I don’t know, could this cause seizures? It’s awesome either way.)

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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