Truth be told: I’m not a photogenic person. I’ve got decades of evidence to support this statement, starting with my very first portrait taken at the hospital. This image marks a phase in my life when I looked exactly like a mini Yoda. Thanks for pointing that out, Mom and Dad. But really, the camera causes my personality to retreat like a turtle hiding in his shell, and I become very, very aware of myself. Now that we’re living in an era where employers will check LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram before the first interview, having a professional headshot is more commonplace than ever. Personal photos are imperative when engaging with others in an online environment, and much to my dismay, the #selfie is here to stay for that reason alone. Because many people find the camera intimidating, I thought I’d share a couple survival tips I’ve acquired from those awkward moments spent in front of the lens.
A few weeks ago, I agreed to sit in front of the camera for my friend Colleen, a photographer who is interested in portrait photography. She’s an incredibly warm and wonderful person, so once I arrived at her studio I subsequently apologized for the work that was ahead of her. Colleen assured me that feeling uncomfortable was completely normal, and bringing out my personality was her job. And she did just that! Not only did Colleen work her butt off to make me feel comfortable and natural, she captured a different side of myself I hadn’t seen before. In short, working with someone who can coach you through your session changes everything.
This is the best tip I’ve picked up from photographers over the years. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or stiff, take a deep breath through your nose, then exhale through your mouth, letting your shoulders pull away from your neck. This relaxes your face and shoulders, and even helps your eyes engage with the camera in a more natural way. I think Oprah gave this same tip once, but that’s beside the point. It works.
I never know what to do with my hands when taking a photo. They sort of hang awkwardly and that translates into a bizarre-looking facial expression. To combat the “where do I put my hands” conundrum, I do a couple of things. 1. Turn on some music and start moving. I tend to flip and toss my hair a lot in general (a nervous tic), so I’ve coined my go-to move as “The Hair Flop”, which results in photos that start to look more like me. It’s weird, but it works. 2. Sit down and move. Posing in a chair feels more natural for me. I’ve found leaning forward on my elbows and resting my hand on my chin felt somewhat less weird. 3. Think about how you stand naturally when engaging in conversation. For some people, this is crossing their arms, or putting their hands in their pockets. If it feels good, it gives the photographer something to work with, and you don’t feel ridiculous. Smiling and laughing never hurt, but if you feel unnatural doing it, try something else!
When you start to get anxious in front of the lens, imagine a person who accepts and loves you for who the person you truly are. When I’m uncomfortable, I think about moments when unconditional love was given despite my quirks and insecurities. It brings subtle emotion to your face, which helps make the portrait a truer, more confident reflection of yourself.
Posing for photos is hard work. In fact, it’s deceivingly exhausting, and if you’re still posing for a headshot after 45 minutes, the likelihood of getting the perfect shot is going to decrease significantly. So feel free to tell your photographer to call it quits once you’ve given them enough time to work with what they’ve got to work with. I had a headshot session go more than 3 hours once and no one was happy with anything we captured after the first hour.
I’m just stating the obvious at this point, but if having your photo taken is uncomfortable, try to make the environment as fun as possible. My bestie Dee (pictured below) is always my cheerleader when it comes to getting outside my comfort zone. Friends like that are the best kind.
Above all, having your photo taken is uncomfortable, but marking a moment in time with an image is a great way to reflect on phases of your life. I treasure the photos my father took of my mother when they were in college, and even though she is still a little sheepish about them, they’re an incredibly powerful peek into her life. Someday when I’m old and wrinkled, I’ll look at these photos and remember my first year of marriage, the year I left a steady job and started a studio with five other creatives. And that’s pretty cool.
Many thanks for Colleen for taking these photos of me despite my reluctance. You’re awesome.
BY Kate Arends - April 29, 2014
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.