Tips on Photography

How to look better in pictures.


Take photographs of kids at their level for better results.

Megan Small


The digital age has ushered in instant sharing of almost every image imaginable. Within seconds, images of you—including the good, the bad, and sometimes, the ugly—can be viewed by hundreds, even thousands of people. If you find yourself shuddering more than smiling at pictures of yourself, take the time to see how you can look your best before your next snapshot.

Lighting: When it comes to lighting, almost all professional photographers agree that it is the most important factor to looking good in photographs. Al Wright, owner of Raintree Studios, recommends taking pictures during soft light, like sunset or an overcast day. “Stay away from direct sunlight, because it’s going to give you bright spots in the picture and very harsh shadows, and you won’t be able to see the person in the picture.”

Do: Avoid squinting when the sun is directly into your eyes, by looking down for three seconds and looking up at the camera right before the picture is taken, Wright suggests.

Don’t: Take a picture in dark shade on a very bright day. For instance, you’ll appear as a shadow when snapping a picture in a shady part of a baseball stadium on a sunny day.

Do: Try turning off flashes during evening or nighttime events, as long as there are some light sources. Flashes can burn out details and features on faces.

Do: Avoid overhead light such as direct sun, which can create harsh shadows and highlight wrinkles and skin imperfections. Try toting a sun parasol, like the ones at Juniper Tree Vintage ($12–$15), to create softer light on your face when outdoors.

Do: Consider using apps for your smartphone or iPad. For photo filters and special effects, try Afterlight (99 cents), Magic Hour Lite (free), and Camera+ ($1.99). Erasing blemishes and wrinkles or whitening your teeth from your smartphone photos are a snap using Facetune ($2.99) or Photo Wonder (free).

Angles and poses: Ideally, have someone take a picture of you rather than taking a selfie. Most people have only a 3- or 4-foot length from their face to the end of their arm, which can distort features like your nose and forehead. For selfies, Wright says, “Holding the camera a little higher and pointing down makes your face more prominent than the mass of your body.” In addition, the angle from above helps hide the dreaded double chin and makes the eyes look larger.

Don’t: Always look directly into the camera a la your DMV photo. A full frontal shot can flatten your face. Instead, try different angles, and keep in mind that a three-fourths pose tends to look more flattering because it shows the angles and contours of your face while minimizing the width of your shoulders.

Do: Angle your body during full-body pictures; turn a little to the side, placing your weight on the back foot with your other leg relaxed in front, and lean slightly forward from the waist. Megan Small, owner of Megan Small Photography, also suggests placing your hands on your waist or hip. An angled elbow helps prevent the upper arm from appearing too fleshy in pictures.

Simple is best: Try to keep the background simple and wear non-fussy clothes. Solid colors or non-distracting prints work best, especially for events where there will be lots of picture-taking. Small recommends taking a walk around to spot ideal settings and backgrounds for momentous events like weddings and family reunions. When it comes to getting kids to pose for pictures, candid shots are best, because it captures their natural expressions. “Take pictures of kids at their level, and have them talk about their favorite subject while you snap away,” says Small. For babies, she likes close-up shots of a baby’s features, such as feet, fingers, and lips, that tend to change the most as they grow older.

Do: Bring a classic-looking picnic blanket as the perfect ground cover for spontaneous photo shoots for the whole family. Woolrich blankets, $80–$135 at Goods, showcase complementary colors without using distracting, busy patterns.

Do: Take lots of shots. Thankfully, digital pictures can be deleted as quickly as they can be taken. Sometimes it takes 20 to 30 tries to get the most natural and flattering shot of yourself or your subjects.

Don’t: Take pictures of kids at the end of the day when many of them are tired and less likely to be themselves.

Do: See what colors flatter your skin tone the most. Many people think white is the best color to wear; however, Small thinks black is probably the most universally flattering color for adults. Kids should wear comfortable clothes that reflect their personality.

Looking for a more professional photo shoot for a corporate or social media profile picture? Raintree Studios offers photo sessions starting at $95 for in-studio and $125 for non-studio locations, with the option of using a professional makeup artist for an additional fee. At Megan Small Photography, family and portrait sessions are $200 or $240 depending on weekday or weekend, and photo packages start at $275.

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