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?
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.
- 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.
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.
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.