Why do some people photograph badly?

I’ve known some people who were quite goodlooking but for some reason photographs can’t seem to capture it-in fact they always look terrible. Obviously attractiveness is based on more than looks but why do they look so bad?

People don’t know diddly about lighting and use crappy snapshot cameras?

Combination of bone structure and lighting. Some people have good “camera bones,” others don’t. Lighting is everything: can make Danny De Vito look like George Clooney.

The makeup is also meant to simulate “camera bones”, hide shiny spots, highlight dark areas, even out skin tones.
Its either that or these people are just extraterrestrials and without their inate mental powers projecting a facade of normalcy, we just tend to see them as they really are on photographs and videos.

Hm, maybe cameras really do steal your soul and put it on film.


I dislike being photographed and can’t fake a smile convincingly, so most of the photos of me are terrible. The few good ones are either unposed or taken in places where I couldn’t be miserable if I tried.

Normative stereotyping.
We publish photos of people fit a long-standing cultural norm. Since that’s all we see on film, television, and print, our idea of who looks good on film is based on that.

I blame Life Magazine.

At least, that’s a theory.

Which came first, the chicken or the photographs?

Well, having demon eyes doesn’t help either.

Aside from the technical factors, some people are nervous in front of a camera. I’ve seen many people people who look fine in candid shots, but edgy and uncomfortable when they realize the lens is on them.

You ever notice that models aren’t so great looking when you see them on TV or real life? Someone can have really perfect features without being attrative. Some people tell me I’m a lot better looking in real life than in photos. My theory is that I’m just not as good looking as they think I am. I consider attrativeness and good looks to be two separate things.

And some people just don’t know how to pose.

When you’re tense and edgy, the muscles in your face tend to tighten up, making your face look a little distorted. That’s why you look more like yourself in candid photos. If you try to relax your face you’ll look better in photos but still a little artificial, since you’re still controlling the muscles consciously. People who photograph well are the ones who aren’t self-conscious about it, so they just continue looking like themselves. (I have no cite for this, I’ve just noticed it in myself.)

A photograph comes under close scrutiny. IRL, a person’s dynamic personality and/or body language can add a lot to how we perceive their attractiveness.

Many scenics suffer from the same problem. We see a grand view. Even feel connected to the place. Our photo of same scene looks flat. Guess what? It is flat. It’s 2 dimensional.

What’s generally needed is some control over apparant perspective, light and shadow, contrast, even basic posing.

An excellent book for lighting and posing techniques for portraits is 50 Lighting Techniques For Portraits That Sell

Similar books can be found for outdoor subjects.

There are any number of possible reasons, but here are some to consider:

  1. In real life, we see animated people who have their appearance influenced by their personality. Surely we all know that person who lights up when they speak…or listen. Julia Roberts comes to mind with her smile, which really puts a great spin on a face that is not really so beautiful in my opinion.

  2. People who hate to be photographed are the cause of some terrible pictures. I’ve just gotten through putting together a family portait collection. It was very hard to get good pictures of my wife, sons, and mother-in-law, as they all hate to have their pictures taken, and therefore are grim or fakey smiley or ???

  3. Some people are unattractive.

  4. Some people are not good photographers, and don’t create good conditions for their subjects, so the pictures come out lousy.

Some people really are coyote ugly.

It also may depend on the skill of the photographer. You don’t normally hold the same expression for extended periods, so a good photographer will usually try to make the ‘pose’ time as short as possible, either by setting up the shot quickly or by having the model keep moving and changing expressions, then catching them at their ‘high’ points.

A bad photographer, OTOH, will say “ok, hold that pose and… hold on… let me check the light… ok, keep holding… and… oh, wait, let me move back a little…” so that by the time the photo is snapped, your smile is sagging, your eyes are glazed, your brow is tensed, and you look like crap.

Photoshop deficiency.

I’m with Duckster. Some folks are just butt-ugly. Nothing in the photographer’s bag of tricks can compensate for pure-D ugliness.

My mother (God bless her) looks like shit in every photo of her I’ve ever seen. Well, don’tcha know, she’s as ugly as a mud fence in real life! She’s a beautiful person (hey, she’s my mom!), and she can’t help her looks, but she ain’t pretty!

Lucky me, I got my dad’s stunning good looks!:smiley:

That’s it, it’s the camera and…er…the photographer and that damn lighting, plus no makeup at all.

**[ul]Thank god, it isn’t me![/ul] **

From experience, I’d agree with most of the posts above.

For me, one of the most important factors for people of reasonable attractiveness is simply one of attitude. Some people simply act relaxed and natural in front of a camera, and it’s much easier to catch easy, natural-looking smiles. Others are tense, and the medium of photography is very unforgiving about capturing tension in a person’s face.

Also, some people’s faces and bone-structures just don’t seem to work well in two-dimensions. That’s why (in my opinion) people tend to look weightier in pictures. Models in real life tend to look deathly-skinny and fairly unattractive to my aesthetic, yet in photographs, the compression of three dimensions into two makes them look quite nice.

Lighting technique, make-up, and the such, of course, are great concerns, too. Photographs are very unforgiving when it comes to skin blemishes and oily skin. That’s why photographs under overcast conditions tend to be nicer, because the light is softer and much easier to deal with if you’re not sure of what you’re doing. That said, strong directional lighting is much more interesting (for me), but takes much, much more care to get a pleasing result.

Generally, women with big, colorful eyes, full lips and high cheekbones seem to photograph best. But even with those attributes, the ability to look and act natural in front of a camera is just as important, if not moreso. And that’s partly the responsibility of the photographer, not just the subject.