There’s nothing like the mood boost that comes with seeing a great photo of yourself, especially if you’re prone to disliking the way you look in pictures. But being in front of a camera and trying to appear relaxed—when you’re anything but relaxed—can make for some pretty awkward photos, all but ensuring you won’t end up looking anything like the real you.
If that scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Feeling uncomfortable the moment the camera turns toward you is so common, there’s even a term for it: camera-shy. But with a few tips and tricks, it’s possible to (finally) enjoy being photographed. Eventually you’ll get to a point where you may even forget that you’re being photographed. Suddenly, self-awareness dissipates, you’re having fun, and the whole experience is anything but awkward. Here’s how to get there.
1. Have someone you like—and trust—snap the pictures
It’s hard to appear relaxed with a stranger, especially if you already don’t enjoy being photographed. So, if you have a friend or family member who has photographic prowess, ask them to snap some pictures of you. If you don’t, get together with your photographer before your session so you’re not starting from scratch when you arrive. It’s easier to appear relaxed when you’re around familiar faces.
2. Wear something you love and feel good in
Sure, that princess gown you saw online might look great on the model—and perhaps even you—but if it’s too tight or poking you in the wrong places, the discomfort will show in your face and make it hard to stand or sit comfortably. Choose clothing that is tailored to your body but most of all, makes you feel like a million bucks. Everyone has that outfit or two that single-handedly raises your confidence level. So the next time you need your picture snapped, wear that!
3. Bring a prop or two
It’s hard to know what to do with your hands, for example, when you’re having your photo taken. Props can help with that by giving you something to hold. Even if you’re just taking headshots for your company website, holding something like a coffee mug or stuffed animal out of the frame might help your upper body relax and keep it from tensing up, which can show up in your facial muscles. Other people use stools or a ladder they can lean on. Using fun props that make you smile can help you enjoy being photographed. Whatever makes you comfortable is key.
4. Angle your body instead of facing the camera directly
No matter how big or small you are, everyone looks better at an angle than when photographed straight on. Avoid squaring up to the camera and instead angle yourself about 45 degrees from the lens. This offers a more flattering body position.
5. Don’t call them family pictures, or headshots, or anything that immediately makes you uncomfortable
Say “family photos” or “portraits,” and many people instantly cringe. As a result, these photos don’t bring out the best in everyone, says advertising, kids, and lifestyle photographer Amy Mikler of Amy Mikler Photography in Austin, Texas. “Mom wants everyone looking perfect, the kids grumble in clothes they don’t like, and the tension ramps up, making a good photo increasingly elusive,” she says, adding that in some cases, it forces photographers to turn into drill sergeants.
Instead of trying to pose yourself and everyone else just right, try dancing to a favorite song or even just taking a stroll. “It helps everyone forget they’re there to have their picture taken,” says Mikler. “If you or your kids are grumpy, have the photo snapped anyway. Chances are if you show it to them right away it will lighten the mood and help you get some happy photos next!” A relaxed atmosphere can be key to helping your family, especially the kids, enjoy being photographed.
6. Close your eyes and think of something sweet or funny—anything that makes you feel good
While your peepers are shut, tell your photographer what you’re thinking about. Include specific details, such as what it looks like, sounds like, and maybe even what it smells like. Tell them why that particular memory is a good one while you open your eyes. You’ll likely be a lot more relaxed than when all you could think about was the fact that someone was about to take your picture.
7. Keep the conversation going
It’s much easier to stay relaxed if you’re chatting effortlessly, so keep the simple everyday banter going with your photographer or anyone else in the room. Generally speaking, people appear more relaxed when in the middle of a pleasant conversation than when put on the spot and asked to smile at nothing in particular.
8. Choose the location wisely
It’s hard to get comfortable if you’re in a cold studio with all eyes on you. But if you’re outside in the fresh air, that may make all the difference. Other people may prefer the privacy of the studio—it depends on your comfort level. The key is to select a location where you think you’re more likely to feel relaxed and avoid those that don’t.
9. Consider the first 10-15 minutes an icebreaker
It takes most people at least this long to begin to get comfortable in front of a camera. This is especially true if you’ve never had your photo taken professionally before. But that’s true of even everyday snapshots. If you’re at a family gathering or party, wait to take photos after you’ve been there a while. That way, everyone has had a chance to loosen up a bit.
10. Create a shot list
This is a good idea if you’re taking family photos or you need a lot of different takes, such as for a company website or marketing materials. Every great photographer walks into each shoot armed with a list of photos they hope to capture. Think of positions, poses, locations, props, and any outfit changes. Doing this removes a lot of the negotiations and guesswork that can cause anxiety on the day of your shoot. Leave a little wiggle room for bursts of creativity and impromptu moments; sometimes those shots are the best. If you really don’t enjoy being photographed, prepping a bit beforehand can help you feel more relaxed and ready.
11. Check out photos you like
Whether it’s an image of you, a friend, or even a stranger, examining a photo that you think looks great can help you plan for a more relaxed photo shoot. What is it about that frame that speaks to you? Is it the look in the eyes, the way the camera caught a candid moment of you, or something else? You don’t have to do tons of research and create a whole mood board (unless you want to, of course). However, keeping in mind some of the key attributes of photos you like can give you some ideas on how to recreate that experience the next time you’re being photographed.
12. Try swaying
If you’re feeling so stiff and uncomfortable you’re ready to call it quits on your photo sesh, Mikler suggests swaying from side to side. “It’s a silly gimmick that can lighten the mood and make for real laughter,” she says. “This is also a great trick if you’re taking a group photo, and everyone’s feeling weird about being so close to each other.” It may feel silly at first, but swaying a little bit from side to side helps prevent your body from getting stiff and it will invariably make you giggle.
13. Check some photo frames while you’re shooting
When someone is taking your picture, ask them to show you some of the best frames. (If you’re shooting yourself, take breaks to check your progress.) If the shots are good, it will give you a confidence boost, knowing you’re on your way to having great photos. On the other hand, if the images make you cringe, it’s the perfect opportunity to consider what you don’t like about the photos. If it’s your too-wide smile or the way you’re standing, this pause provides an opportunity to make corrections so you’re more likely to take great photos.
14. Whatever you do, don’t “fake it ‘til you make it”
If you’re not feeling it, you’re not feeling it. And no amount of encouragement in the world can change your mind. That’s okay. You’re better off putting off your photo sesh than forcing yourself into it because it will show in the photos.
15. Snap lots of pictures instead of just a precious few
This is a great rule of thumb when you know you’re being photographed and it’s anything but spontaneous. The more pictures you snap, especially during those in-between poses, the greater the likelihood you’ll like at least some of the photos and come to enjoy being photographed. Says Mikler, “Sometimes the pictures we thought were outtakes turn out to be the best ones!”