How to Look Great in Any Photo: Pointer #1 Happy Thoughts

So maybe you'll never really think you look 100% awesome in a photo because you're an adult and a woman (thank you media) but it is possible to have a photo you're proud to share. This is the first article in a series called "How to Look Great in Any Photo: Pointer #1 Happy Thoughts."  I learned this lesson recently while taking a self portrait.

Self portraits are hard. And not just because you have to run back and forth to the camera a million times.  They're hard because photography is intended to capture what's there and unless you're an actor you feel ridiculous smiling at the wall.  Ergo, you generally also look ridiculous.
The image below was taken a few months ago when I attempted a self portrait while my baby was trying to knock over the tripod.  I was stressed out, but I needed an image for my website and could not get a genuine smile out of myself.  There were much worse examples but apparently I didn't upload them.  Go figure.

Wow, what a terrible picture.  Do I get props for posting this atrocity for the world to see???

Then I picked up the baby (which always makes me smile).  The result was a happy but somewhat unprofessional looking picture, whereas what I was going for was happy and professional.  We have plenty of snapshots of me holding babies on my hard drive, but we didn't have any quality portraits of me.

Better expression... still not a great photo.  The baby makes up for it a little though...
So I had this photo on my website for a while but one day one of my awesome clients came by for a headshot.  I had my studio all set up, miraculously my clothes were clean, my kids were all sleeping at the same time (even more miraculous) and I thought it was the perfect time to give it another shot and then it came to me - what makes me smile?  

There I am in a room by myself and I need to get a genuine smile before my kids wake up from their naps, discover the backdrop set up and take over the camera remote.  So I literally started pretending that I was talking to my baby - down to the mommy voice and everything.  Then the thought of what I must look like was so amusing to me that I had no problem smiling after that.  I laughed so hard I almost cried.  I still took about 200 photos all said and done before I settled on this one, but most of the retakes were for reasons other than my facial expression (this series will touch on those too).

Finally, a photo I'm not embarrassed to show the world!

Through this process I realized that going into a photo session the #1 most important thing you can do to prepare is to think about what makes you and your family smile, whether it's a pleasant memory, a funny inside joke, a vacation you're looking forward to, bubbles, etc.  It seemed so obvious I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it before.  

What makes people laugh and smile is pretty unique to them.  As photographers we do our best to elicit that, but a little introspection about your sense of humor can go a long way toward having a photo of yourself that you would gladly put next to the logo on Google.


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