What makes a person photogenic?

Well, it sounds pretty straight-forward.
I know one girl in particular who wouldn’t catch your eye in real life, but every picture of her looks so damned good that it should be on a magazine cover. Hold her picture up and look at her, and they’re almost two different people. The opposite quality is true for me. I look descent, but every picture I have of me looks like hell, no matter whether I’m posing or completely ignorant of the camera. The concept of the camera “liking you” seems very real, and it comes up all the time when people talk about modeling. I wonder if the quality can be measured or quantified, or if indeed beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder (my mom adores ALL my pictures, even when I’m sneezing).

Visible nipples?

They’ve got all their teeth and their ears are in proportion to their head.

A lot of it has to do with people who are proportioned in a way that looks best when projected into only two dimensions.

Another thing to consider is how camera film perceives color and light vs. shadows. These details can be important factors in the perception of beauty.

Every skilled photographer knows the true answer: it is the PHOTOGRAPHER that makes a person photogenic. A wise portraitist once told me “photography is the art of turning ugly things into beautiful things.”

I’m not joking either. A psychological study once delved into this issue. It asserted that when people look into the mirror, they naturally move into their most photogenic pose, remember the good views and forget all the other unflattering angles. A photographer has to do this for the sitter, which is kinda tricky sometimes. Some modern photographers use video monitors so their sitters can see what the photog sees through the camera, so the sitter can adjust their pose for themselves. They say it works wonders.

One important thing to consider when taking portrits is to use a long focus length lens (not less than 135 mm with 35mm film) and take the photo from a good distance (8 - 10’at least). Anythings less and the distortion becomes very noticeable.

In portraiture, a good rule of thumb is an 80-100mm lens, at about 10 feet away. More important is a diffuse source of light. It can be from a window, or flash, placed at a 45 degree angle to the subject, with bounced reflection from below to alleviate unflattering shadows. A 3/4 angle under these lighting circumstances makes most folks look their best.

As to what makes people “photogenic”; in our culture, thin women are given more acceptability in the advertising industry. As a documentary photographer, I find that boring. The models in the NY Times Sunday Mag all look like sad miserable heroin addicts, but someone has deemed that as “photogenic” and ideal. Photogenic to me means an interesting face, an interesting person. Often I find that the interest leads to more intricacies than I would have thought.

This is kind of aside to your OP, in which case some people’s facial planes lend themselves to illumination in the studio, which might not be as obvious under the less flattering day to day light.

I agree. Unskilled photographers know this too!

But I also think that some people are good at posing for the camera, or just act naturally and don’t freeze up. Those people are really more photogenic than others.

The had an image in the Sunday newspaper magazine that was supposed to be a composite that was the most desirable face, or words to that effect. It looked like Laura Croft, pouty lips, stringy hair and all, which is a look I can’t stand. But I guess they determined people like even features, flawless skin, and very symmetrical face.

Most faces are not symmetrical. You can tell when a picture of you was printed backward, and not just from the part in your hair. If you hold a pocket mirror over a frontal view, like a driver’s license, you will see that reflecting so you get two right halves is better or worse that two left halves. That’s how you find your “good side” for publicity photos.

I find that photogenic people like having their picture taken. There are quite a few pretty girls I know that hide their faces or demand that you not take a picture of them. OTOH, I also know a few average-looking girls that turn out wonderfully on film because they enjoy having their pic taken, and view it as a game. That’s my kind of girl!

Speaking of being photogenic, I just thought I’d mention the famous 1985 photo of an afghan woman on the cover of National Geographic magazine.

I hate having my picture taken, usually because I end up looking like Helga the Axe Murderess, or Goofy or something. This is not just my opinion, but friends & family agree that very few photos of me end up really “looking like” me. This seems a sort of chicken & egg question…I don’t like having my photo taken because the results are rarely flattering. So maybe that makes me tense up unconsciously in front of a camera…I don’t know.

I do know a couple of people who look utterly fabulous even in their driver’s license photos, in candid shots, whatever. Both of these people are not stunningly gorgeous, but they both have very angular features, plus they are relaxed in front of a camera. Perhaps it’s not just one thing, but a constellation of factors that make someone more photogenic?

Zheesh…I don’t even know where to begin. Part of it is the photographer, as Chas said, but there are certainly people whom the camera likes more than others. With the National Geographic photo, I think most of us would agree that the most striking feature is the eyes. That’s what draws me into the picture. The eyes are big, wide, and colorful. However, what also makes that photo pleasing is the whole blue-red color scheme. The background, the eyes, and the rip in the garment all have similar tones.

Sailor is not quite right about not using anything less than a 135mm. My favorite portrait lens is an 85. A 105 is great too, as is the 135. Same with anything higher. Your picture will not distort unless it’s under 50mm, which is the normal lens for a 35mm.

But that doesn’t really answer the OP. For me, if I’m shooting color, then it’s certainly the eyes that give the photo psychological pull. For black and white, I find eyes are more drawn to the shape of the face. High cheekbones for women are a plus. Full lips. General symmetry of the face. Oh, and attitude is a big, big plus. There are just certain people who know how to come alive in front of the camera, who can play and have fun. These are the people who I like to photograph, and who often end up being more photogenic then prettier, more subdued people. Part of the photographer’s job is to get people to drop their defenses, to relax, to have fun, but certain people are just naturals in front of a camera.

I was hoping a big belly makes people photogenic.

pulykamell, when using a 35 mm camera, the distortion is caused by the distance to the subject , not by the lens focal distance. Selecting the right focal lens is a consequence of that. I would not get closer than (say) 10 feet. You can do that with a 50mm lens but rather than a portrait the picture becomes a landscape (if you know what I mean). You can even use a 35 mm lens, then enlarge the center and crop the rest. The distortion is caused by the ratio of the closest to the farthest objects from the lens which only changes with the distance to the subject. I find 50 mm way to short but (as I say) if you step back far enough then you’re ok except that i wouldn’t call it a “portrait” any more.

But I guess the object of this thread is not to discuss techniques but why the camera likes some people better than others. My camera seems to much prefer naked young women. No idea why, but that’s the way it is. :wink:

Could it be that the girls who run from the camera have failed to be photogenic in the past, so they run from the camera because they know they’ll look bad again. And the ones who love having their picture taken have always had stunning looking pictures, so they have no problem with having another one taken? (As in the cause and effect are backward?)

I know someone who looks like a really handsome, intelligent guy in pictures. Dark hair, handsome face, big smile, he just looks wonderful. In real life, the way his face moves and some of the expressions he makes really make him less attractive. His body language, lack of self-confidence, and constant references to himself as a loser also make him less attractive.

Here are two things that I consider odd:

  1. I look best in small pictures. My driver’s license picture is the best one ever taken of me, and I prefer the wallet size of my prom picture to the larger version. I think it’s that my complexion looks flawless in smaller photos, not sure though.

  2. I have a friend who looks boring and washed out in regular photos. In black and white pictures she is perfectly stunning, I mean, she looks like a young Marilyn Monroe.

sailor - ok, ok, ok. Yes, yes, yes…you are technically correct.I should have qualified my statement. With a 50mm lens, taking a headshot, there will not be significant distortion, given the distance you’ll be away from the subject. When I shoot, though, I don’t think in these terms. 50mm is good enough for many portraits. In fact, in an upcoming issue of Business Week, one of my portraits taken with a 50 will appear. I would have preferred to use the 85, but I didn’t have the luxury of space. That said, I generally do NOT use the 50 for portraits, as the 85 is more pleasing to the eye. These telephoto lenses also distort, by compressing distance. That’s part of what makes them pleasing. In a full-framed headshot with a 24mm, (yes, because of the distance to subject) the tip of the nose and the back of the ears will seem elongated. A 50mm will render it more or less as your eye sees it. An 85 will slightly compress it, and the higher focal lengths even more so (but not enough to be disturbing, in fact, it’s generally more flattering.)

The other advantage of higher focal lengths, is their decreased depth of field. I shoot most of my 85mm portraits at f2 or f2.8 and focus on the eyes, of course. The background becomes blurred, and your eye jumps straight to the eyes. Check out some of my portraits on my web page. All the head shots are 85mm, and the one with the Hasselblad in the photo is taken with a 50mm macro, and the Hassie is also fixed with a slight telephoto. My distance to subject is usually around 6-7 feet. The one with the Hassie, the camera (the Hasselblad, that is) was maybe 3 feet from the subject.