woman wearing blue-framed cat-eye sunglasses with body of water background
She has the "turtle" down. You will be an expert too! Photo by Tamara Bellis

How to Look Amazing in Photographs

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the world’s first selfie was taken in 1839 by Robert Corneulius, an amateur chemist and photography enthusiast, in the back of the family store in Philadelphia.

Whether you remember taking rolls of film to the drugstore or only have ever taken pictures with a Smartphone, photos define our lives – our headshots invite potential employers and connections on LinkedIn, and we capture real life moments on vacations, with friends and family in real time.

There is something about seeing a photo you don’t look that great in -whether it’s the lighting, the angle, maybe a weird facial expression from being caught off guard. Unfortunately, we also happen to see the immediate results – whether a friend posts and tags you (don’t you hate when they don’t ASK), or you are trying to take good photos for a special occasion, like a wedding, holiday, or even professionally. Or maybe you just want to send a selfie to your bae. Even on digital meetings and calls, looking a certain way on video will up y0ur confidence and professional presence.

Fortunately, I have some real life coaching experience from various photographers, models, and my own personal research to tell you exactly how to look good in photos. There is hardly such a thing as “being photogenic” – it’s about knowing how to pose your face and  your body, so we will go in that order from the top down. I know it sounds like I may have done a master class, but in fact this comes from years of being in weddings, being a bride and watching a LOT of America’s Top Model when it was the it show. So now you can benefit from my best tips.

Why do dogs never photograph badly?

Your face

Is the window to your soul. It is what people see in your LinkedIn and other social media profiles, whether you are networking or looking for a new job, the impression you make from your face in photographs can be the ticket to opening a lot of doors.

Rule # 1 Never face the camera head on

Unless you are taking a mug shot or passport photo. Why do you think neither are ever flattering?

Rule # 2: Gaze at an angle

The most flattering angle for your face is at about 45 degrees, which you can see in the photo above is gazing slightly over your shoulder. When done in a full body photo, this gives the illusion of your head being bigger than your body, which also makes you look thinner.

Here is a comparison of head on v. angle:

The next tip, turtle, is also a difference maker in this comparison.

Rule #3: Do the “Turtle”

brown and black turtle on white surface
Photo by Craig Pattenaude

This is a classic photography pro tip, with a weird name, but it works excellently especially for headshots, and especially when combined with the tip on angled gaze described above.  What tends to happen is that people lean their heads back or tilt chins up, which can look good IRL but not so good in mirrors.

Doing the “turtle”, on the other hand, will make your eyes look bigger and your jawline more defined. What you want to visualize is the way that a turtle will lean the top of its head forward as it is coming out of its shell, then suddenly retract it back in. In human anatomy turns,  this means lean your forehead t0wards the camera and keep your chin down. We owe this technique to Tyra Banks from ATM days.

One thing you want to be careful of is don’t tuck the chin too much or you will get a double chin! Again, it takes practice but you can turtle any time as you are just sitting there catching up on binge watching.


Rule #4 : Smize!

Smizing works really well for selfies! See how the lower eyelids are lifted, that’s the trick.

Tyra Banks coined this in America’s Next Top Model, but the idea behind the “smize” is to make sure you are smiling with your eyes. Maybe you are not so happy when the photo is taking, but faking a smile is the worst. You can give the illusion of s real smile by smiling with your eyes.

How? It sounds weird but imagine that you are trying  to only lift your LOWER eyelids. Weird right? But this forces your eyes to crinkle up like you would if you were REALLY smiling, You may have never even used that muscle before, but after a while it becomes second nature.

If you don’t smize, you will just have a smile plastered on your face that looks super awkward and fake.

woman in black off-shoulder dress beside wall
Photo by Khaled Ghareeb @ Unsplash

Be Angular

If you pay attention to how celebrities pose, they always face the camera at an angle and have bent arms and legs. Angular, angular, angular. Besides your face being 45 degrees, you also want to aim at a 45 degree angle with your body. This will make you look slimmer and taller.

It’s also super cool to be angular AND not look in the camera directly, especially for cool vacation shots: 

Be on your back foot

You never want to have your weight evenly distributed, because you will appear super rigid. What you want to do instead is lean towards one hip or the other. Leaning towards you back hip with your legs wider apart but at a linear plane, as pictured below, will make your legs look longer.

Do something with your hands

Knowing what to do with your hands trips people up in photos. It can kind of be awkward. If you pay close attention to celebrities, you will see that they always have one had on their hip while posing – again, it’s the “angular thing.”  Two hands on the hips and you look like you are about to be the head cheerleader.

Here is an example of the hand on hip technique. Note she is also using the back foot technique and making her legs look slimmer by posing with one foot in front of the other.

Robert Daly/KOTO @ Adobe Stock

This pose below is a common pose called the “thinker”:

Gorodenkoff Portrait Shot @ Adobe Stock Photos

 Another technique that also makes the photo look more natural is to play with or hold something in your hand – your sunglasses, bag, even a pen can give your hands something to do rather than hang there awkwardly.

The Bottom Line

Confidence is everything. Embrace your inner boss and apply these tips to take great headshots, selfies, and vacation pics.

More resources

Here is a great video I like to watch on how to pose for photos:

YouTube player

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