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Why You’re Not Photogenic

And never will be

As a photographer, every time a person I’m photographing tells me they’re not photogenic, guess what? They’re almost always right.

There’s a difference between being photogenic and being beautiful. Indeed, there are hideous people who are actually quite photogenic because their faces are interesting, they have character, they’re expressive and natural. Ever seen a photo of Biggie Smalls?

And yes, there are bombshell beauties who are awkward on camera. I’m talking to you.

I’ll tell you the key to having a good photo taken of you: let the photographer take a lot of photos. The tragic flaw of the “non-photogenic,” and the reason it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, is because they do not let the photographer take very many photos.

As a photographer, when I really want to make someone look great, I go through 50, 100, even 200+ photos of that person, looking for the best one. Selecting the “best” is a very subjective, very involved process. I immediately delete the obviously bad ones, then I start picking out the good ones and removing duplicates, until I’m left with maybe 10% of the total photos. Then I start to think: “What is the audience here? Who will be seeing this?” An attorney’s portrait on her website calls for a different look than her Facebook page, and that might be different than what she sends her parents for Hanukkah.

When someone tells me they’re not photogenic, and only lets me sneak off 4 photos, I have too little to pick from. To have a good photo would be like hitting a bullseye from across the bar.

Typically the look that makes a good photo is one where the subject isn’t really trying. Like anything in life, we want a person to look easy and natural in a photograph, regardless of the emotional state being conveyed (angst, joy, boredom, etc.). While there’s no cookbook for “just being yourself” in front of camera, I can say from experience that once someone takes 20, 30, 40 photos of you, you become numb to it and begin to let your guard down. That’s when the magic happens.

So in short, my advice to the supposedly non-photogenic, is to open up and let the the photographer to do their job, especially if they’re your friend or you like the photos they have taken of other people.

A note from the author: Thanks for reading and sharing this piece, which has become one of my most popular pieces on medium! You may also be interested in what I do at my day job, which includes designing and launching awesome consumer products like GO CUBES: Chewable Gummies. — Michael