As I sat on the couch scrolling through my camera roll, I couldn’t help but cringe at every single picture of myself. “Why do I look so bad in every photo?” I whined to myself. I’m a photographer, this is unacceptable!
Have you ever felt the same way? Like your reflection in the mirror doesn’t match the person you see in pictures? Well, fear not my friends, for I have discovered easy hacks to stop looking bad in photos.
In this article, I’ll take you through why you feel like you look “ugly” in your pictures, how mirroring works, and some easy tips you can to go from feeling like a gremlin to feeling like a model in every snapshot.
So, get ready to strike a pose, and let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Why Do I Look So Ugly in Pictures?
Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought, “Why do I look so ugly in that picture? Do I look like that to everyone?”
Being the self-conscious creatures we are, it’s a common question that many of us ask ourselves, and it can be frustrating not to know the answer.
Listen, we all have bad photos, even models! If you hit a bad angle or the lighting is wrong it can make for an unflattering scene for everybody.
There are several reasons why we may not look as good in some photos:
1. Cameras Distort Features
The first reason why you may feel like you look ugly in pictures is that cameras and the lens used can often distort our features.
Cameras can distort our features in a variety of ways, depending on the type of camera, the angle, the lens, and the lighting.
One of the most common ways cameras can distort our features is through what’s called lens distortion.
Lens distortion occurs when the camera lens bends the light in a way that causes straight lines to appear curved. This effect can appear more pronounced at the edges of the frame, so the features or objects that are near the edge can appear stretched or warped.
For example, if you take a close-up selfie with your nose near the edge of the frame, your nose could appear longer or wider than it actually is.
Another way cameras can add distortion is through perspective distortion.
Perspective distortion occurs when the camera angle can make an object or feature appear larger or smaller than it actually is. A great example of this is foreshortening.
An example of perspective distortion can be seen when you take a photo from an angle looking up, your chin can appear larger and your forehead smaller, possibly giving you the dreaded double chin and a more pointed face.
Lighting also plays a huge role in how we look in photos. In fact, I believe lighting in general is about 80% of what can make or break a photo.
With that being said, if the lighting is bad or you do not have a basic understanding of different types of lighting and you choose unflattering lighting — then you can have a photo that creates an unflattering appearance.
Harsh overhead lighting can cast the most unflattering shadows on our faces, making us look tired, aged, or even sick. If you have any pimple marks then harsh overhead lighting will emphasize these blemishes or marks.
This type of lighting can be seen with any direct overhead lighting that is not diffused and at times of the day when the sun is directly overhead.
The lighting that you will want to find and use will be soft, diffused lighting that will help smooth out our features and create a more flattering, even tone. This type of lighting can be seen with ambient light such as window light or light that passes through a diffuser.
If you’re outside and the sun is overhead (harsh lighting) then the best way to avoid ending up photographing in this harsh light is to find a place that has shade and then photograph in the shade.
Why I Look Bad in Pictures But Good in the Mirror?
It can be frustrating to see a version of ourselves in photos that don’t match the person we see in a mirror on a day-to-day basis.
There are a few reasons why you may “think” you look bad in pictures but good in the mirror:
1. Mirror Shows a Flipped Version
Firstly, the mirror presents us with a flipped version of ourselves.
While we get used to seeing our face and body this way, it’s not how others see us in real life or in photographs. This can cause a bit of a shock when we see ourselves in photos or in a selfie that’s not flipped because we look completely different from what we’re used to seeing in the mirror.
2. Comfortable with our Mirror-Self
The second reason why we may feel we look bad in pictures but good in the mirror is that we’re simply more comfortable with the way we look in the mirror because we’ve gotten used to it.
We see ourselves in the mirror every day and we know how to position ourselves to look our best, what way to part our hair, etc.
When we take a photo or see a photo of ourselves, we’re simply not used to it.
3. Uncomfortable Getting Picture Taken
The final reason we may feel we look bad in a picture but good in the mirror is that we might feel uncomfortable in front of the camera lens.
It can take a bit to get used to feeling comfortable in front of a lens especially when someone is pointing it at you and you don’t know how to pose or what to do with your arms.
If you have this nervousness, then that in itself can cause a facial expression that is not natural to you and may end up causing you to create an unflattering facial expression.
For example, when looking in the mirror you may smile and have a more comfortable, relaxed smile but in front of a camera, your smile may turn more nervous-looking which can tighten up your facial muscles causing a smile that is not your best.
Is a Mirror More Accurate Than a Picture?
Overall, one can say that a mirror is more accurate than a picture in terms of facial feature accuracy.
But to fully understand this answer, it’s important to define “accurate” in this case.
A mirror reflects the object in front of it and reverses it, so it is inaccurate in the sense of direction. For example, in the mirror, if you part your hair to your “right” then people will actually see your hair parted to the “left.”
A camera may capture the sense of direction more accurately, but it can distort certain features of your face due to distortion as mentioned earlier.
When using a camera, with all the new technology and lenses out there of varying focal lengths, your face can look different due to angles, lenses, camera quality, etc.
All in all, you could say that a mirror creates an accurate image in terms of what you see on your face when you look at yourself, while a camera creates an accurate image in terms of your facial direction.
Is How You Look in Pictures Really How You Look?
How you look in pictures is really how you look, to a certain extent.
As mentioned in the previous section, in pictures, since the image of yourself is not reflected like in mirrors, the direction of your facial features and body is really how you look.
The first time someone sees themselves in a photo, and since a photo is not reflected like in a mirror, they can be shocked.
For example, some people part their hair a certain way or have a certain angle or tilt in their smile that they get used to seeing in a mirror. When they see themselves smiling or view their facial features in a picture, everything looks completely different from how it looks in the mirror because it is no longer reflected.
X Ways to Stop Looking Bad in Pictures
Now that we’ve discussed why you may feel like you look “ugly” in pictures, let’s discuss some general tips that everyone should know to look their best in photos.
These are the tips I like to also tell my clients when I am photographing them:
1. Know Your Favorite Angles
The first tip I always recommend is to know your favorite angles.
This means knowing which side of your face you think is “better.” Most people have a side of their face that they believe looks better which could just be due to personal preference or because they have certain blemishes or marks on one side of their face that they don’t like to highlight.
For example, if I have to do a side profile photo then I prefer if the photo is on the left side of my face to avoid old acne marks I have on the right side of my face. If I have to do a straight-on photo then I prefer to tilt my chin slightly down.
If you’re going to have your photo taken, I recommend taking the time to analyze your facial features by using your camera in selfie mode with the “mirroring” off so you can see how your face will look in a picture.
Tilt your face at all angles and practice your smile in these varying angles to see the different facial combinations, you’ll notice you favor certain angles over others.
2. Avoid Harsh Lighting
The second tip is to avoid harsh lighting.
Harsh lighting, in technical terms, is when the highlights and blacks within the image are “spaced out” and the contrast is very harsh meaning the line between the light and shadow is very distinct.
You can often find this type of harsh lighting when the sun is very high in the sky and usually occurs around midday.
This is often why most photoshoots are not scheduled around midday when the sun is harsh unless you photograph in the shade.
3. Avoid Overhead Lighting
The third tip is to avoid overhead lighting. This tip ties in with the previous one, however, mainly refers to indoor lighting now.
Overhead lighting in indoor settings without the use of other lights such as a fill light, key light, or backlight, can create harsh shadows on your face and bring attention to any spot, mark, or blemish you have on your face.
With that being said, avoid any overhead lights that are directly on top of your face unless there is another lighting in the scene as well.
4. Opt for Soft Light
The fourth tip is to opt for soft light.
Soft light is the opposite of harsh light. Soft light is a nice, soft, diffused light — hence the name.
You’ll often find soft light either from ambient light fixtures, lighting coming in from windows, or when photographing outside during either Blue Hour or Golden Hour time windows. In case you aren’t familiar with those terms, Blue Hour occurs early morning just before the sun rises or after the sun sets and Golden Hour occurs right after the sun rises and just before the sun sets.
Soft light will create a nice, warm light that will provide a smooth illumination on your face that is very flattering.
5. Have the Light in Front of You
The fifth tip is to have the light in front of you.
If you are photographing and the sun is angled (not directly overhead), then choose to photograph where the light is in front of you and not behind you.
Photographing with the light in front of you will illuminate your face and if the light is behind you, the camera will have trouble exposing your face so you may end up looking “washed out.”
6. Use a Self Timer
The sixth tip is to use a self-timer.
When taking selfies, we extend our arms out and take the photo. This is how most photos are taken.
While there is nothing wrong with this, if you want a more flattering photo, then I recommend using the self-timer mode on your phone.
If you stick your arm out in the photo, there is a good chance part of your arm will be in the photo and it could also affect the angle of your face and facial expression because you’re trying to focus on taking the photo instead of focusing on getting your photo taken.
7. Watch Your Posture
The seventh tip is to watch your posture.
This is a fairly common tip for many things, however, it’s often easy to overlook. When getting your photo taken, don’t slouch as it will not only look horrendous, but it can affect your overall facial expressions as well.
8. Take Multiple Photos
The eighth tip is to take multiple photos.
Many people have this misconception that professional photographers take one photo of a client and bam — it’s perfect.
This is far from the truth and in fact, many photographers take multiple photos from within the same angle to ensure they have a wide selection of photos to choose from.
Speaking from personal experience, I’ll capture at least 3-4 images from within the same angle and pose to ensure I get a good image of the client. You’ll be surprised how many times this has saved me because in 1-2 photos the client is blinking or the image is a tad bit blurry.
I know some photographers who take around 10-20 images of the same pose and angle and they just hold the shutter button down knowing that within one of those photos, there will be a good one.
I think this is a bit overkill, but my point — take multiple photos and if using the self-timer mode, also set it to a continuous mode so it keeps taking photos every X amount of seconds and change up the angle or facial expression between each photo.
9. Clear the Background
The ninth tip is to clear the background.
This one is pretty straightforward, when taking photos of yourself, you’ll want to make sure there is nothing in the background to detract from the emphasis of the image being on you.
10. Shoot From Above
The tenth tip to not look so “ugly” in photos is to shoot from above. What this means is having the camera slightly above eye level and slightly tilting downwards.
What this will do is slim the face a bit due to the angle and cause you to avoid the dreaded double chin.
You’ll want to avoid going overboard though, make sure you don’t shoot from too high above and that you don’t tilt the camera down too much.
11. Avoid Lots of Salt Before the Photo
The eleventh tip is to avoid lots of salt before the photo.
Listen, I love salty foods just as much as the next person, but salt causes water retention, and water retention means bloated faces.
If you know you’re going to take photos either at a party or an important event, I recommend skipping the salty chips or meal before your photo opportunity so you can ensure you look your best.
12. Look Away, then Look at the Camera
The final tip is to do the “look away.”
To pull this off, all you do is look away from the camera, and then last second before the photo is taken, look at the camera.
What this helps is ensure you have a relaxed-looking facial expression when the image is taken.
Oftentimes, if you’re taking photos and you start staring at the camera holding a smile, your face can get strained. When this happens, your smile may appear forced and unnatural because you’ve been holding it for so long.
To remedy this, especially if you aren’t used to staring at a camera lens, is to look away before the photo is taken, and then look at the camera lens before the photo is taken.
You don’t want to look at the camera lens at the very last second or else you may end up getting an image where you look caught off-guard.
You’ll want to practice this on your own until you get the timing down of when to look.
In conclusion, although we may think we look “ugly” in photos, it’s often far from the truth.
We may just not be used to how we look because we’re so used to seeing ourselves as a reflected version.
To not look “ugly” in photos, it’s important to remember this and to also make sure you’re following the tips I mentioned above. Good luck and happy shooting you beautiful person!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I look bad in pictures but good in the mirror?
The mirror presents a reversed image of your face, which your brain has grown accustomed to seeing. On the other hand, pictures are a non-mirrored representation of your face, which can lead to perceived differences in facial symmetry, proportions, and lighting, resulting in a less flattering image.
Why am I pretty but not photogenic?
Being photogenic is not just about physical appearance but also includes factors like the angle, lighting, and camera used to take the picture. You may not be able to control these external factors and how they affect your appearance in a photo, even if you are considered attractive in person.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer based in Southern California and is also a photography author for Photofocus.com. When he is not photographing clients he is creating educational photography content that he publishes on his website as well as his YouTube Channel. He is also the founder of Imaginated.com, a search engine of educational creators. Learn more about me here → https://www.natetorresphotography.com/about/