pho·to·gen·ic (fō′tə-jĕn′ĭk) adj. - caused or produced by light
Well, here we go down the rabbit hole.
As a photographer, I hear many statements about why someone doesn’t want to have portraits/photographs taken. Undoubtedly, the most frequent reason given is “I’m not photogenic.”
The "labels" (such as "I'm not photogenic") a person attaches to herself in a portrait are the result of 4 very important components. Those components are; lighting, makeup, posing, and self-concept.
Let’s address the "I'm not photogenic" portrait objection on the two most important fronts; photographer skills/knowledge and self-concept. We'll start with the easier points.
1. It’s all about the lighting.
Take a good hard look at the pictures above. It’s probably very easy to decide which one is the “Before”.
First, this was taken under the LED ceiling lights in my studio. Every light around us has a color tone, whether we “see” it or not. The effect of these ceiling lights is to project a blue/green coloration to my skin, hair and shadows. Hence, my hair color is dusky, dirty grey.
Second, the lighting is “from the top down” which means the light is projecting downward, This form of light projection increases and brings out any shadows in the face. If you happen to have deep set eyes (such as I do), your eyes will disappear into “eye caves”. Any wrinkles will be deepened and much more visible.
Third, I am standing in front of a white wall in the studio. Doesn’t look white does it? Again, it’s because of the color tone from the overhead lights. There is no real distinction between my hair and the wall. They are almost the same color. (Aaacckkkkkkk!)
Now, examine the lighting in the “after” portrait.
You can tell the lighting is much more “straight on”. It is purposefully positioned to decrease shadows, wrinkles, etc. The position of the lighting allows for my eyes to be more visible. Did you notice the “catch light” in my eyes? Catch lights make us see the subject as “alive”. There were no catch lights visible in the Before photo.
The position of the lights also allows for “sculpting” of my face. Did you notice the shadows trail gently off the sides of my face? This technique allows the viewer to focus on the most important part of any person’s face: eyes, nose and mouth. These three features are what show us the inner person.
Also, I deliberately selected the grey backdrop behind me. I wanted my hair color to stand out. In art composition, this is known as “figure to ground”. The artist specifically separates the figure (me and my hair) from the ground (the grey background) via shadows/light/color.
2. Let’s talk makeup
Back to the before picture…notice all the uneven skin colorations? (I am not wearing any makeup in the before picture.) My skin color is a yellowish tone with lots of red splotchiness.
Many women want to skip the services of the makeup artist. Perhaps, they’ve had a bad experience with a makeup artist in the past. Or they’re afraid of “not looking like themselves.” Others have said they were uncomfortable with being the “center of attention”.
A professional makeup artist knows how to correct skin tones and shadows for portraiture; and this includes women of color. This is the reason I offer the services of a professional makeup artist in my studio. She (or he) knows how to make your skin look even and healthy.
I’ve mentioned before how I audition any makeup artist who will work in my studio. I am delighted to have a very experienced professional makeup artist. She has a multitude of experiences. She can do perfect makeup for women of color, theatrical makeup and she understands that different genres of portraiture require different styles of makeup. She always listens for your comfort level with the makeup.
3. Facial expression and posing
The Before picture highlights my “tight-lipped-Yeah-I’ll-do-this-but-I’m-not-into-it” look. The effect is to tighten the muscles all around my mouth, chin, and neck. This pose shows facial stress.
Facial stress shows up every single time in the early stages of a portrait sitting. It might be because people are generally self-conscious, they may not like their teeth, or they think they “must smile” for the photographer.
Not every portrait requires a smile.
And the best smile is from someone who is “outside of her own head” and having a good time. Oh yes, this state of mind requires a lot of relaxation. That relaxation builds more and more during the session. The more relaxed you become, the more relaxed and natural your facial expressions become.
Posing, or body position, also affects the final portrait. Straight on portraits are rarely, if ever, beneficial for anyone. Your body posture will convey a message all its own. In the before picture, you can see I am facing forward with my shoulders squared and my head is tilted back and to the side. This body position says, “I really want to withdraw from this situation.”
The after portrait is more open, inviting with my face and body leaning into the picture.
This is the gift a professional photographer brings to your session. She knows how to pose you to your best advantage. She knows how to ease any stress in your face and body. You don’t have to worry about posing; she’ll direct you gently.
How everyday life influences the false perception
Whomever invented/put fluorescent light bulbs into Ladies Rooms of every building in the world should have his lighting credentials rescinded.
Seriously, how can anyone feel good about her reflection in a mirror where she looks yellow, orange, shadowed and lined? Those same lights are everywhere; your grocery, hardware store, department store, physician’s office. Arrgh!
Can we pledge right this moment that we will never believe what is reflected back to us in those self-concept torture rooms is the REAL US?
Go ahead… pledge right now. I’ll wait.
The role of self-concept
Conversations with women in my studio indicate the belief about not being photogenic is most often based in a false belief. Somewhere, somehow the story was planted and grew that the woman wasn’t “worthy” or “not good enough”. There is a deeper fear the portrait session will “prove” she is not photogenic, and ipso facto, she’s “not good enough”. She is afraid to challenge the false story.
Combine the very strong hold of a self-concept story with the effects of ugly lighting in everyday places; the end result is a woman who holds herself in low self-esteem - a woman who is “not worthy or good enough” to experience how beautiful, how strong she really is.
Lighting + Makeup + Posing + Self-Concept = True Portrait
When someone tells me she is not photogenic I reply she has never experienced a professional portrait session. A professional portrait photographer has learned and understands the power of light, art principles, uses of makeup, the role of posing. These are skills and knowledge that only an experienced portrait photographer can bring to your session.
A professional portrait photographer also understands how the depths of feeling “unworthy” can inhibit choices, not only in portraits but also in life. It is not surprising that most often, women who have experienced a glorious portrait session feel stronger about themselves. The women see themselves in a way that frees them to be their true selves.
If you’re ready to challenge the belief you’re not photogenic, call me. Together, we’ll present the real you.