James Walters
James Walters

Looking Good in Photos

         Outstanding images of people looking comfortable and natural don’t happen by accident. I could walk into a wedding with the biggest, baddest camera ever made, I could show up with all of my fabulous lighting and seven thousand years of experience, but if I don’t communicate well with the people who are in front of the camera, the resulting images will look beautifully lit, well composed—and horribly uncomfortable.

         On some photo sessions, I find myself being more of a body language coach than a photographer. Body language and expressions are a huge but overlooked part of photographing people. I have said it before and I’ll never stop saying that subtlety is the backbone of sophistication. The nuance of body language in an image can tell the viewer volumes about the person in the photo. Most people only know how to, “Look at the camera and say cheese.” What a waste that is. Facial muscles can convey so much more than a superficial “cheese.” People are so conditioned to do this when a camera is pointed their way that there is little hope of rehabilitation.

         Then there is the issue of wardrobe. It’s unfortunate, but some folks just seem to choose clothing that fights with their body shape or size. Of course, everyone wants to look his or her best for photographs. That’s part of the reason why they go to so much trouble to dress all fancy and put large amounts of product in their hair. Choosing the right outfit is a key source of stress for people who are getting ready for a photo session. Wedding couples have it a little easier because whether they look great or not, she’s wearing a light colored dress, and he’s probably wearing a suit of some kind. That greatly simplifies the wardrobe at least.

         Most people are self-conscious enough with a camera pointing at them; add in a crowd looking at them, uncomfortable outfits, and a hectic schedule, and it’s a wonder that we get anything done at all. There are however, a few things to keep in mind to be sure that you are looking good and feeling comfortable in front of the camera.

 

Ladies, Relax Those Shoulders

         When being photographed, nearly every female does something I call the Hollywood shoulder. It’s that move where she turns her body to the side away from the camera, turns her face toward the camera, and raises her shoulder until it nearly touches her chin. It must be genetic, and I would go as far as saying that 90 percent of the women I photograph do it. Even my two-year-old daughter did this when I photographed her with a camera phone. No one taught her how, and she didn’t see someone do it. It must be in the genetic code. Interestingly, guys never, ever do this. Ever.

Hollywood shoulder creates a few issues. First, the body language of having the shoulder up along with the rest of the body turned makes the subject seem either unapproachable or coy, depending on the facial expression. The second is that it covers a large part of the neck. That might not seem like a big deal, but visually, this move shortens the neckline and can make the person appear much thicker than in reality. Eliminating this problem is simple and it’s the easiest ten pounds a girl can lose. Just relax, bring those shoulders down, and have a good time.

 

Guys, Put Your Hands on Your Woman

         Guys are funny. There must be an unwritten rule somewhere that says if you are caught being affectionate then all of your college buddies will call you a fairy. Guys want to play it cool with their hands in their pockets, as if to say, “Yeah, I love you, I think you’re great, but not really enough to show how I feel about you in front of other people.”

My biggest pet peeve in wedding photography is when I see images of couples kissing each other and the groom’s arm is dangling straight down by his side. Go ahead, look for them. They’re on every website and in every magazine. I call it dead-arm love, when the groom’s lips are saying, “I am so into you right now, I could sop you up with a biscuit,” while his arms are saying, “Girls are gross, she’s probably got cooties!”

All the man needs to do here is show a little interest by gently putting his hand on her waist and pulling her ever so slightly toward him. That’s all. Simple, and I promise no one will make fun of him for doing it.

 

Ladies, You Don’t Have To Smile In Every Photo

         Seriously, sometimes it’s okay to have an image that just looks like you when you’re not high on life. Non-smiling images can be beautiful. Forcing a smile for the sake of a happy picture is a recipe for fake expressions and sore cheek muscles.

If your man makes your smile, that’s great. If you’re just a happy person then we love that too. But don’t tell me that you think you look mad when you don’t smile. You can look fantastic whether you smile or not, unless you start thinking about it too much.

 

Ladies, Sparkly Makeup Is Bad for Photos

         It might look great when you’re droppin’ it low at the club, but clubs are dark and the eye shadow and powders that have shimmer in them will make you look like a clown once the light of day hits you in the face. People will see your pictures and wonder, “Why does she look like a surprised space alien?”

 

Guys, Lean toward Your Woman!

         Similar to the ladies’ phenomenon of the Hollywood shoulder, guys seem naturally inclined to maintain their personal space. When directed to get close, they habitually pull in close with their body and pull away with their face.

This leads to some interesting mixed signals from the perspective of body language. The resulting photo says, “My lower torso wants you madly, though the rest of me finds you to be hideous and repulsive.” Leaning back like that can also create about four more chins that were probably not visible before. It’s a hard truth that of all the things in life people want more of, chins never make the list.

         So guys should remember to lean in. Not necessarily in a, “I want to lay you down by the fire,” way, but rather to give off the vibe that he’s slightly interested in her.”

 

Ladies, Avoid Leaning Back

         Similar to the shoulder suggestion, do everything in your power to avoid leaning back, whether it’s away from your man or away from the camera. It puts your jawline closer to your neck and can easily add twenty pounds. I’m not talking about people who think they’re overweight either; I’m talking about anybody with a chin and a neck, which includes most folks I’ve worked with.

It doesn’t take much, but when you lean slightly forward, the skin under your chin either flattens out significantly or, depending on the camera angle, may not be seen at all. The jawline is better defined and if the photographer is worth a damn, they will be sure to create lighting that casts a slight shadow under the chin to further define and separate the jawline from the neck. This technique can easily take away ten to fifteen of those pounds I hear people complaining about.