What is 'Being Photogenic' anyway?

31st January 2017
In: Blog
What is 'Being Photogenic' anyway?
My previous post outlined three common concerns that some of my clients (and would-be clients) have about having a portrait shoot. You can read What's Stopping You? Part 1 if you missed it.
Out of interest I ran a poll on both my Facebook Group and Pages to see what was everyone's biggest concern, by far and away the biggest worry for most people was the subject, or more accurately, the feeling of not being photogenic.
I have covered this subject before from a boudoir point-of-view, but the answer to this particular concern is exactly the same.
So…let's look at my take on whether this is a genuine affliction, or is it something else?

Firstly I believe that everyone is photogenic, you are all amazing. Over the years I have taken hundreds and hundreds of boudoir and portrait images, and I have not seen one which is not 'photogenic'. I work with fantastic looking people who trust me to take their photos, yet I hear far too often that "You'll have you work cut-out…I'm not photogenic at all."

What is Photogenic?
The Cambridge dictionary definition of photogenic is 'having a face that looks attractive in photographs'.
However, I believe being photogenic (or otherwise) is not an affliction of certain individuals, pure and simply it's the responsibility of the photographer.

It won't be your fault!
Take landscape photography as an example. Given the huge variety of lighting conditions, a specific location can look completely different from day to day. This is why landscape photographers can spend many, many hours and several trips to a spot to capture the best shot. Dull, grey days are seldom inspiring, but a lively sunrise or sunset will lift the soul. It's their skill and experience which makes these shots a reality.
Photographing people is no different. There are a plethora of technical aspects to a portrait photograph that needs attention to create the most flattering images of a person.
Incorrect lenses, poor background, unsuitable lighting, badly timed shots and unflattering posing will make anyone look awful in a shot. A good photographer will ensure all these elements are the best they can be to capture the beauty of the subject.

It's a matter of comfort
Photogenic subjects are simply those that are happy to be in front of the lens. As adults, we are conditioned to 'pose' for photographs, forced smiles and false expressions are used to hide our discomfort whilst being photographed. Actors, models and celebrities are all very comfortable and relaxed in front of a camera, so it's no surprise their photos regularly look fantastic is it? This relaxed look isn't solely reserved for the rich and famous, a good photographer will, once again, be able to achieve this for the subject by doing their job well.
Making people feel comfortable is a skill in itself, one which will set someone apart great photographers from just technically gifted ones.

Be a Child...
How many non-photogenic children do you see? Not many, if at all.
Apart from the obvious fact they are cute, it's generally because they are very comfortable in front of the lens. Children don't tend to be concerned about the camera, they just take it all in their stride. After all, it's just fun to them...

Who do you compare yourself too...?
As a footnote, it should be mentioned that fashion or promotional shoots recording images of celebs, models and actors will have many, many hours spent on their photo shoots, with a bewildering array of editing techniques to fine tune and hone them. Many of which (if I may be so bold) result in a false reflection of the real person. This is the polar opposite of the purpose of portrait photography, which should capture the real person in front of the lens. So don't beat yourself up because you think you don't look like a major celeb in a photo shoot, the chances are it's not how they look in reality either!

So remember....you are photogenic, and if you don' come across that way in photos, it's the photographer, not you.

Don't just take my word for it...
These are the words of a Boudoir client of mine, that had major issues with seeing herself as 'not photogenic'.
I asked her to put into words what she thought during the photoshoot when she first saw her images…

"I remember you coming round and I was soooooo nervous that you were about to have to photograph your worst model and have to attempt to make me feel good about the photos...... but after you started and showed me some of the first photos, I felt massively embarrassed and awkward that they were me, they looked sooo good! It was like looking at a secret me, because I don't look good in photos, but they looked great! They definitely made me feel so much better about myself after everything….I was at a real low, but they picked me up and showed me that I looked great, even with all the doubts that I wouldn't because I'm not photogenic, or because I hadn't been to the gym and trained to look my best. So basically you managed not only to give me a self esteem boost, but a much needed emotional one. A huge treat after rough time."

When I read words like that from clients, it makes me think two things…
The first, it's genuinely sad that people see themselves in this negative way. I think the vast array of overworked, unnatural imagery that we are bombarded with on a daily basis only helps to enhance this negativity, setting people totally unrealistic pictures of what they think they should look like.
Secondly, and on the flip side of the point above, I feel that the real power of good portrait photography is being able to instil confidence in people that previously see themselves as 'un-photogenic' or even ugly. It's not a fluke, that I see this turn around in attitudes on a regular basis.

Carpe Diem
If you are one of those people that sees themselves in the 'Non-Photogenic' club, I hope this post has helped to change your view on the subject. It certainly shouldn't stop you having a photo session if that's what you really want. However, a post on a blog may not convince you entirely. if that is the case get in touch and we can have a chat. I'm more than happy to talk you through what's involved and how I work, which I'm convinced will convince to have that photo session. Carpe Diem!

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