Dispelling the Myth of "I'm Not Photogenic"

Most people are utterly shocked to discover how many 2-4 gigabyte hard drives I have that are filled with nothing but client's photos. I have taken so many thousands of photos that storage of all those photos starts to become a real management issue. :-) My point to this is that in my work with thousands of people of all types, shapes, sizes and colors, one common reoccurring theme I see on a near daily basis is a fear or discomfort with being in front of a camera. I've literally lost count of how many times I've heard, "I'm not photogenic."

It doesn't take long as a working photographer to notice that when it comes to getting their photo taken, there are basically three kinds of people:

1. Those who don’t mind and aren't particularly bothered by it
2. Those who dread it on nearly the same level as visiting the dentist to get a cavity fixed
3. Those who absolutely love it and can't get enough

couples anniversary portrait sunset hawaii beach

I hate photos...

"I surprised my wife with a trip to Hawaii for our 25th wedding anniversary. Although I despise having my picture taken, I wanted to schedule a photographer to take our pictures for us while we were there. I googled photographers in Oahu and had several pop up. After browsing through probably a dozen different photographers, I decided on Brett. What a great choice. Brett was so professional before, during and after our shoot. He made my wife and I feel so comfortable, even I enjoyed myself. Our pictures turned out remarkable. I could not have picked a better person to capture our special occasion. I would recommend Bret to anyone wanting great pictures in Hawaii. Definitely the best decision I could have made!!!" -Dennis S.

On average, group 3 is the smallest at about 15 - 20% of all people, with group 1 the largest at approximately 50% and group 2 hovering in the middle at 35%. What really surprised me initially, is that the people who dread the camera aren't the "ugly" or unattractive and those who love it aren't necessarily the "beautiful people." In fact, I've seen no correlation between someones apparent attractiveness and their comfort in front of a camera. 

I'm not photogenic myth

As a professional photographer, I constantly have people tell me that they “aren’t photogenic” or “I hate having my photo taken,” or “I hate how I look in pictures.” And, you know, I honestly get it. When I was a kid, I hated family photos and as a young man growing up I never liked seeing my face in photos... looking back with hindsight, I now know it was because I was seeing my own inner insecurities on my face while everyone else just saw the guy they liked. I remember being in my early thirties, running marathons in under 3 hrs, and feeling self conscious being shirtless because I always felt I still had a little bit of roll on my belly (OMG! - what I would give to have that body now!) In other words, there is a huge disconnect between how we see ourselves and objective reality/how others see us. But that doesn't change the fact we still feel awkward and uncomfortable in front of the camera. It brings up all our body issues and insecurities. We've had too many bad photos and less than pleasant experiences being embarrassed or shamed.

couples engagement portrait

"Hey baby..."

Is your guy uncomfortable smiling in front of the camera? No problem! Step 1. Don't look into the camera. Step 2. Whisper a dirty joke in his ear when he least expects it. :-)


The simple truth, however, is that there is no such thing as not being photogenic. What people call not being photogenic stems more from experiences of getting bad photos by bad photographers. No wonder you don't feel photogenic. You haven't had someone who was there expressly to help you relax, feel good, have fun, and use the best lighting and angles to get shots that flatter you.

Do we all look equally "attractive" in the world's eyes? Nope. I'm fast approaching 60, with permanent bags under my eyes, "character wrinkles" and a body sagging in ways it never used to sag. Catch me on a bad morning with only 4 hours sleep and no coffee and I look like sh*t (no amount of good lighting will change that!) But catch me rested and playing in the waves with a giggling 4 year old on the beach and that's a photo I'm happy to see. Then I see a happy, loving, grinning guy who looks like he loves what he does. And that is attractive in anyone's book.

Nearly everyone initially feels awkward and shy in front of a camera and no wonder - it pins us under a spotlight. The easiest way to get past the initial discomfort or shyness is to move... do an activity of some sort, like walking. I've discovered that 5 or ten minutes of activity photographs and people just naturally relax. Shy kids begin to smile. Tense shoulders relax. Smiles are less forced.

Kami was quite shy at first for her senior portraits so I had her walk this log.

Kami didn't stay shy for long! Movement can make all the difference!

The secret to being "photogenic" and/or getting great photos of yourself that you will actually like is very simple:

  1. Find an excellent photographer who knows how to use/create great light and that you feel safe/comfortable with.

  2. If need be, ditch the usual and make sure you have FUN (no one looks bad when they're happy).

  3. Stay away from formal, normal, look-at-the-camera poses at first.

  4. Experiment, try different angles, sides, lighting until you start to like what you see.

  5. And last, practice, practice, practice... you can't expect to be totally comfortable at something the first time out. Everything get easier with repetition. (I had trouble making my simple website videos - the first ten were horrible, after that I got used to it and relaxed and now they are much easier)

From my point of view, nothing is more fun than to watch someone who was dreading their time with me start smiling and actually enjoying themselves. I believe photography should be FUN and enjoyable, not a chore, not something to just "get it over and done with."

Super nervous and shy? Bring your dog.

Or hold your little sister. :-)

Everyone needs a little coaching to help them know what to do, how to stand, what to do with their hands (if really shy, hold something, anything, see pics above). A great photographer will help you and gently tell you exactly what to do. Unless you've studied to be a model and practiced for hours in front of a mirror and worked with professional photographers, you can't be expected to know how to pose or what to do. Right? 

You don't need to smile to make a great portrait.

You don't need to smile to make a great portrait.

You also don't need to look directly at the camera. This is a powerful photo!

You also don't need to look directly at the camera. This is a powerful photo!

The very first words 16yo Alexa said to me were, "Sorry, I'm not very photogenic."

The very first words 16yo Alexa said to me were, "Sorry, I'm not very photogenic."

The truth is, when you are happy and relaxed you are naturally photogenic without effort. If you want to  look your best when a camera is pointed at you, the first rule is to just chill out. Don't make it a big hairy deal. Make having fun and being relaxed your highest priority. In other words, if it ain't fun, don't do it. And last, it's imperative to have a great photographer. If someone takes a bunch of terrible pictures of you, it means they are a lousy photographer, not that you are somehow unattractive or not photogenic. In the end, it's the photographer's job to help you get great photos. You just need to be willing to show up and play.

This young girl was autistic and extremely shy. She flat refused to look at the camera.

But that doesn't mean you can't get great photos

But it might require having to hide in the bushes with a telephoto lens!