How to Look Calm and Natural in Photos
By Linda Knittel, Senior Editor
I have never felt very photogenic. As someone with strong features, I just can’t seem to take a good picture—or at least one I like. But in this age of smartphones and social media, picture taking has become part of our daily routines. So, rather than shy away from the lens, I set out to uncover how to look natural and relaxed in front of the camera.
“Honestly, nearly all of my clients tell me they don’t like being photographed,” says Portland, Oregon–based photographer Shelby Brakken. “That’s super normal. Unless you’re a professional model, I wouldn’t expect you to feel at ease.”
That’s why Brakken makes it her first order of business to help clients relax. Before even unpacking her camera, she spends some time talking and joking with her subjects, as well as getting them to walk around in the space and move their bodies. “A lot of people become a deer in headlights when the camera comes out, so I keep them talking, and sometimes even have them fake a laugh. You can often capture something really natural right after that.”
Of course Brakken has a remarkable talent for catching the perfect moment, but many of the techniques she uses can help all of us snap better photos and look calm and relaxed when it’s our turn to be the model. Here are her top six tricks.
1, 2, 3, Pop Up
“One of my favorite strategies to prevent blinking and create a relaxed expression is to have subjects look down at their feet. Then I count to three and have them look up at me. It produces the most natural gaze,” she says.
Alter Your Gaze
It’s okay to look at the camera lens, but don’t fixate on it. Brakken suggests mixing up where you set your gaze: look at the lens, then at the photographer, then beyond the camera.
Say the Vowels
Saying “cheese” does make you smile, but an ear-to-ear grin isn’t exactly natural. “I have people say the vowels—a, e, i, o, u,” says Brakken. “It keeps the mouth slightly open in a more flattering way.”
Smile with Your Eyes
Sometimes a full grin can look forced. By simply relaxing your mouth and “smiling” with your eyes, you can create a lot of expression.
Adjust Your Body
There’s a reason celebrities take those off-kilter poses on the red carpet—standing square to the camera can make you look awkward. To soften your look, Brakken recommends shifting one shoulder slightly toward the camera. “You also have to be mindful of the chin,” she says. “A good trick is to come forward with your forehead just a bit; it defines the jaw.”
Go to the Light
“You can take great photos if you have good light,” assures Brakken. If you’re inside, go to a window, and have the diffused light shine directly on you. If you’re outside, opt for areas in shadow—standing directly in the rays of the sun can create unflattering shadows.