Over the last 10+ years, I've seen a common phenomenon. Someone who is really vibrant in person, but has a really hard time looking like a living being in photos, and not, say, a robot. But it's completely natural. In life we're in motion, smiling, laughing and moving. When a camera is pointing at our face we tend to get rigid and static because we can still see the flash from that horrible holiday picture last year that made all the rounds on Facebook. Boo.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
Here's a list of 5 tricks that I use with every client to help them photograph like a living, breathing, brilliant being. Oh, and I use them myself.
1. Don't Try To Hold It—The moment you freeze for the camera it's over baby. Our eyes are used to seeing people in motion so it automatically feels unnatural. This is because our body tenses up in order to hold that position. The best thing to remember about photography is that the camera stops movement, that means you can keep moving. Models do this all the time, they jump, leap, walk, and dance in order to get that one still image. So loosen up, and move it, move it.
2. Access Your Body Language— Another reason not to tense up is because our brains assign emotions to that physicality (anxiety, fear, anger). Since happiness is expressed when the body is relaxed, in an open position, with a smile it's important to make sure that everything is aligned.
When we perceive threats our body language will naturally close and we'll start to cross our arms and change our stance. When we do this it's hard to show our brilliant authentic self. If camera = threat for you, you'll want to change that. What's the easiest way to change your body language? Change your mind. Think a happy thought.
3. Imagine Angel Wings— And here's your happy thought. I do this all the time when I need to feel some gratitude or connection toward someone. I imagine them with angel wings and a halo (sometimes the halo is bedazzled, just sayin'). It sounds silly and it is. But, it immediately puts your mind in a loving and creative state where you are full of warmth. That warmth will come through in a photograph. When you feel that way it will also change your body language, so it's a 1-2 punch.
4. Check Your Pedicure— In other words, look down for a few seconds. It's a chance to relax your face and reset. When you do this ask yourself, " am I holding any tension in my body?" Then when you look up, BANG! you'll give the camera mirror eyes.
What are mirror eyes? They're the eyes you give in to yourself in the women's bathroom while you're jushing your hair. The eyes that you turn off the second another woman walks in. Ask the photographer to count and for 1 & 2 look down and 3 look up. You'll be surprised by the results.
5. If You Want To Smile, Giggle— There's nothing worse than the plastered on smile in family photos. I should know, I'm guilty of it all the time. But our brains can scan a face in mili-seconds and tell if a smile is fake. It's because a real smile induces the involuntary contraction of the orbicularis oculi (your crow's feet muscles). The only way they contract them is with a genuine smile, which means you have to make yourself laugh. Now, you could laugh loudly and boldly. It would probably ensure that everyone else's smiles are real too. But if you want to be discreet, giggle to yourself. It can be completely silent, but giggling gives you the real thing.
Here's a little proof.
Recently I needed to make a picture of myself for the contributor page in 1859 magazine. It was me by myself in an apartment. I wanted to make a picture that felt like it communicated fun and warmth. So what did I do? I played around with my body language and giggled to myself.