Advice for older women getting their photo taken

Let’s talk about age and women. It’s almost always impolite to ask how old someone is, but never more so when the person before you is clearly not your junior. But being a photographer confers a certain access and intimacy between strangers that would not otherwise exist. The curtain gets pulled back, so to speak, and since this blog is all about what goes on on my side of the lens, I’d like to share a few tips for older women being photographed at events.

I think these guidelines would apply to any scenario, but I am specifically talking about women at events having a posed or impromptu photo taken of them in a group shot. Why older women and not older men? Well, as much as I can riff on the much higher levels of vanity / insecurities I’ve observed in men having their picture taken, that is not my focus today.

First of all, even saying “older women” can feel discomfiting if you happen to fall into that category. It is far from a neutral phrase, unfortunately, and I write it with some trepidation. Because it is laden with bias and a set of preconceived connotations, mainly held by the women themselves who objectively would fall into this category. For clarity, I am referring to women in the 50+ range, but depending on your own particular insecurity you may feel it applies to you as well even if you are below that rather arbitrary cutoff. That itself speaks to the point I am trying to make, which is: you look better than you think you do and smiling and confidence go a long way.

Let’s break it down.

The group shot at an event

This could be either one of those posed shots in front of a media wall or backdrop, or it could just be you and a couple of your friends having a drink or grooving on the dance floor. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Your hair looks wonderful:  Just keep your hair out of your eyes. If you have a style that tends to curl in front of your face, a very quick stroke down and slight pull back on either side can help eliminate fly aways or crazy unreal sprigs of hair that shouldn’t be standing up.
  • About smiling: you must smile and even better, smile with your eyes as well. No matter how you are feeling, if you consent to taking the photo or have been dragged in against your will by one of your drunken more narcisstic friends, you have to make the most of the uncomfortable experience. Do not grimace, look deflated, neutral, unhappy or pissed off. The entire experience will only last 45 seconds at most, but a surly expression will never go away once that photo is taken. Smile. Feel happy inside. Fake smiles look fake.
  • Teeth or no teeth?: You can hide your teeth if you want, but when you smile, think about something you actually smile about. How much teeth you show does not really matter. More demure looks work better with closed mouth smiles, but big teeth smiles are inviting, vivacious and look great too. Go with whatever feels natural.
  • Go Chatter-free: People tend to chatter when they are posing in a group. Drinks, old friends, smoothing over awkwardness, nervousness…there are a lot of causes for chit chat but you will have a much better looking photo of yourself if for the brief time you are being photographed, you stop talking. This ensures that your mouth is in a position you control when the photo is taken, and not some weird contorted hole that vocalizations tend to produce. You never notice it in real life, but an image of someone taken mid-word often reveals far more about your dental habits than you would feel comfortable sharing.
  • Take centre stage: Where should you stand? If your arms and shoulders are exposed, then you want to be in the centre of the grouping. Standing on the edges will distort the shape of your body and make your arm look big which is probably the number one thing women hate seeing in pictures of themselves. Of course, somebody has to be on the edges and if it’s you, do not, in any scenario stand sideways, or try to squeeze into the frame by bending in or towards the centre of your group. Taller women should avoid the edges if possible, as should larger women, but if you are there, twist your torso outward toward the edge of the group, never inward toward the centre (see next point for more on this stance).

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  • Face the camera, with a slight twist in your torso: you want your face to be straight on looking into the lens, with your shoulders tilted at a slight angle. I’ve noticed a huge trend as a result of selfies, where women in particular do a kind of strange head tilting thing which is I think some kind of attempt to hide their chin. Don’t do that. It may be part of the selfie lexicon but it doesn’t work when you have a real photographer in front of you with a real camera.
  • Better out than in: What to do with your chin? Don’t do that thing with your face where you kind of back up, and tuck your chin down or in towards your neck. Sometimes this is just an unconscious reaction to having a camera in your face. Or you may think that it somehow conceals flabby neck skin, or makes your chin look more chinny. . It does none of these things. What it does is distorts your face, and crumples up your chin line and almost always creates a double chin effect and makes you look awkward and uncomfortable. What you SHOULD do, if you are conscious of your chin at all is very slightly tilt your chin upward and forward. The key is doing it as subtly as possible. You don’t want to look like Robert DeNiro in the Godfather, but a very subtle yet deliberate protrusion of the chin up and towards the lens will have a flattering effect on your face. This is particularly important and relevant to women with slightly rounder, ampler faces.
  • Posture matters: I know we’re not in the 18th century any more and no one goes to finishing school, but posture matters in life and in photos. Whether or not you normally carry yourself well, when the time comes for the photo, you have to buck up. Stand tall, put your shoulders back and think poise. It shouldn’t look uncomfortable or too forced, but don’t slouch, fold yourself into some strange position, lean, or bend, or try to hide. Take a moment to compose yourself if you need to – the photographer will wait. There is no need to feel or be off balance. No matter what shape you are in or think you are in, having good posture will ALWAYS improve how you look in a photo.
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Nailed it

  • Arms and hands: What about your arms and hands? No one ever seems to know what to do with their hands. I recommend taking a position that is comfortable but not lazy. Don’t try to hide your hands. You can cross them in front, resting them just across the belly, or you can go for a slightly sassier / more playful pose and rest one arm akimbo on the hip with the other just straight down in front of you. This works particularly well for women wanting to accentuate or boost the curvaceousness of their appearance.
  • Do the leg work: Keep in mind, in many event shots you rarely get the full body. It’s usually just not practical in a crowded setting, but there are times and places specifically where you could have the chance to be photographed in full length and particularly so if you are wearing a long and luxurious evening gown complemented by those very sexy shoes you’ve been dying to show off. A good pose is one where you have one forward facing leg tucked in front of the back one. This works well if your dress has a slit in it and you want that leg to emerge through it. You can also keep them both together, but whatever position you take (and it can vary depending on the number of others in the shot with you), don’t point your toes at the camera. Remember, angles are your friends, so though you want your face to be straight on, the rest of you should be working on an angle (remember the torso twist mentioned above).
  • Don’t fuss too much: your photographer – if she or he is a good one – is not your enemy. When I take a picture at an event – every single time – I check for whether all eyes are open and if the people in the photo look good. Our interests are aligned. A photographer who does not try to make his or her subjects look as good as possible is not doing a good job, and won’t get hired back. So relax, trust the professional and you will look good.

Want more? What to wear, how to wear it etc? I’ll be publishing a few more posts like these over the next few weeks and will be collecting all the tips I have for a free e-book I plan to publish this summer. Sign up on this blog and I’ll email you the free pdf when it’s ready.

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How not to look awkward when having your photo taken

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This wind is ruining my hair!

I could have also called this, “What do I do with my hands?” but wanted to cover more than just hand placement as getting your picture taken is probably something everyone reading this has had done several times over, but may still be feeling uncomfortable and awkward while doing it. As a people photographer covering events and doing portraits, I have looked through my lens at thousands of faces and bodies and over time, have accumulated a few insights worth sharing to help ease the discomfort many people experience when a lens is thrust into their space and they are asked to “act naturally”.

First of all, I’m a photographer but I totally understand why someone would not like having their picture taken, and by extension may not even like having a photographer around. Photography can be intrusive, annoying, disruptive and greedy. When you’re at an event as a guest, you may not want your conversation bubbles to be regularly pricked by an event photographer coming round and positioning you into huddles with people you may be meeting for the very first time. You may be feeling annoyed at what the humidity is doing to your hair. Or more than likely, you are like most people (particularly, and sadly, if you are a woman) who just doesn’t like the way they look and doesn’t want to show up in any pictures. In short, you may be a rockstar on the outside, world’s best salesman, marketer, CEO or super star brainiac, but in that instant when the camera’s in front of your face, you feel small, insecure and want it to be over quickly. So what you can do about it?

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A smile by any other name

To begin – take a real look at yourself in front a full length mirror. Do it with clothes on and off. Do it when you are alone. And really take yourself in. What is it you don’t like about yourself (don’t love about yourself, hate about yourself)? Too tall, too short? Too skinny, too fat? Too top heavy, too flat? Don’t like the colour of your hair, the shape of your nose, the way your ears stick out? Think your mouth looks crooked when you smile? Do you think your eyes are too beady, too deep-set, too wide apart? Hate your teeth? Whatever your specific, highly personal concern/insecurity about how you look, I want you to realize right now that almost EVERYONE feels the same way about themselves as you do, and furthermore, nearly NO ONE sees the things that bother you so much the way you see them.

Stop for a moment and say that to yourself again: ” EVERYONE feels the same way, and NO ONE sees me the way I see me.”

Now let’s move on. Here’s what you’re likely to do when the event photographer bobs up near you at your next event. If you’re tall, you will slouch or bend sideways trying to cram yourself into the frame you are imagining. If you have chubby cheeks, you’ll probably try to look away from the camera a little bit, or sink into your neck and slightly back away. If you don’t like the way you smile or the shape, spacing or colour of your teeth you may keep your lips tightly closed, or hold your hand to your mouth. Whatever trick or evasive technique you’ve learned either consciously or more likely, unconsciously, as your photographer I want you to realize you are not hiding – you are highlighting – what you are trying to obscure. You need to stop doing it.

Here’s how:

  • If you’re tall, stand tall. Shoulders back, spine straight. You’re tall and that’s fantastic and you are proud of it. If you’re short, do the same thing.
  • If you think you have chubby cheeks, rather than pull away or sink, face the camera directly, protruding your chin ever so slightly. Come towards the lens, rather than away from it. Ask the photographer to show you the before and after and you will grasp immediately how big a difference this little trick can make on the way you look in a photo and how pleased you will be with the results.
  • No matter what shape, height, colour or gender you are. You need to start believing something very important right now. You are beautiful. Yes, you are. You may not feel like it, you may not believe it, you may have a list as long as your arm of all the people you believe are much more beautiful than you are, but none of that matters because it isn’t true. You really are beautiful.
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We’re sexy and we know it

My professional life comprises many many hours of looking at many, many people from all walks of life, at work, at play, in their homes, alone, or in groups. Just by looking at them, and trying to see them for what they really are so that I can take best advantage of their look I learned something very important.  I’ve discovered that when you look at someone and want to see them look good, you do. It’s just that simple. When you look at someone with compassion and feeling, they look better. Simple as that. And when you try to look at everyone like that, amazingly, everyone around you starts to look good. Because the truth is, what you look like is not what you think you look like. What you look like is really, what you feel like. That’s what shows. If you are feeling down, you look sad. If you are feeling awkward, you look uncomfortable. If you are feeling nervous, you look tense. Your emotional state overrides any physical condition you are focussing on. Change the way you feel about yourself, and you will change the way you look. And you will be happier with the results.

Smiling, as I’ve written about elsewhere, and observed throughout my career as a photographer, is oddly something that many people find hard to do. So here’s how to fix that: Start smiling. Right now. Do it! Smile. Think of something that makes you smile, and smile. If you can’t think of something that makes you smile, stop doing whatever you are doing and go find something, somebody, some place that makes you smile and don’t do anything else until you do. Smiling naturally is something every human can do. You are no different, regardless of how much wearable technology you have on right now, you are still a human like me, like the person sitting next to you on the bus, or looking at you across the desk/dancefloor/hallway/room/dinner table/pillow/field of sunflowers. You can smile naturally and your natural smile is the most beautiful smile you have. So learn how to recognize what that smile feels like and practice it until you feel totally comfortable doing it everywhere at anytime no matter the circumstances.

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Good lighting helps too

Wonderful things will happen. Smiling makes you feel better. Smiling actually makes you happier. Smiling is contagious (like yawning it triggers neuronal mirroring behaviour) and makes people around you smile. Smiling literally lights up your face. Smiling shows up in your eyes. Smiling is how you become the most beautiful you you can be. And it is free and easy to do. So start doing it now and do it as much as you can. The more you smile, the better you and those around you feel.  Once you’ve practiced a little alone, take it out into the world and do it in public. Smile at strangers, smile at friends, co-workers, bus drivers, cabbies, homeless people, children, pets. By the time the photographer gets around to you after you’ve been smiling like this for a few weeks, your smile will be natural, real and warm and show the world that yes, you are beautiful. And you know it.

And when you finally learn to value yourself and really believe the truth that your unique way of looking and being in the world is the most beautiful way to be, you will suddenly find having a photographer around won’t make you feel so awkward and may even be kind of fun.

Oh yeah, and what to do with your hands? You can cross them for a professional looking, let’s-get-down-to-business look (both men and women), rest one on your hip with the other hanging loose for a ever so slightly provocative, confident pose (for women); put one hand in the suit pocket and let the other hang loose (for men); or if you are in a group, either put them around your neighbours, or stand at an angle facing the camera, in close enough together so that one arm is tucked in behind the body of the person next to you.

Or just throw them up in the air and photo bomb someone – you know who you are.