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Pics Seem Staged? 5 Tweaks to Look More Authentic in Photos

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Authenticity is an important measure of a “good photo” today.

Years have passed since it was in vogue to pose for pictures in an unnatural way, like Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite:

It's no longer in style to pose for portraits in an unnatural way

Or any Glamour Shot from the 90s:

13 going on 45 #tbt #glamourshots #awesome

A photo posted by Renee Hirschberg (@eat.live.blog) on

Knowing the key differences between photos of the same person with low and high authentic ratings on Photofeeler, here’s our best tips for anyone who struggles to take good pictures without coming across as pose-y, staged, or fake.

1. “Real” it in

Pose for pictures how you act in everyday life

There was a meme going around about stock photos of women laughing alone while eating salad. The meme implored us all to think: in what world are salads so hilarious? Women don’t laugh at salads in real life!

To look natural in pictures, you don’t want to do anything in front of the camera that you wouldn’t do in real life. Do you purse your lips into a kissy face in your everyday life? Fan your fingers out in front of your face? Hold your head at an uncomfortable angle while sticking out your tongue? Chances are you haven’t, but you may have done so in front of a camera.

On the other hand, actual human beings have been known to hold a drink, slip a hand into a pocket, put their elbows up on a table, clasp their hands, and smile at other people. You can always observe those around you for more ideas.

2. Try sitting down

Pose more naturally for pictures by sitting down

Being photographed makes most people feel stiff and awkward, but sitting down seems to do a pretty good job of taking the edge off.

A theory: standing makes us feel wholly exposed to the camera and requires us to think about what to do with all of our extremities. (e.g. Do I lean back on my hip? Cross my feet? What do I do with my arms/hands?) Sitting, on the other hand, makes us feel a little bit less exposed and gives us some norms to fall back on. (e.g. I always cross my legs; I put my elbow up on the arm of the chair.)

3. Give your hands something to hold on to

Holding on to something can loosen you up in pictures

If you find yourself feeling the need to pose but not knowing how, find something to hold on to with one or both of your hands. Options include a railing, a back of a chair, a glass, a bag, or your friend’s shoulder, to name a few.

Holding something not only gives your hands a natural position, but it also subtly gives your mind something to focus on — helping to relieve you of some of the pressure you feel while having your picture taken.

4. Learn the Duchenne smile

Learn how to smile more naturally and genuinely for photos

Do people tell you that your smile looks fake in pictures? Chances are your flashing a fake “Pan Am” smile rather than a genuine “Duchenne” smile.

Duchenne smiles contract the zygomatic major muscle (raising the corners of the mouth) as well as the orbicularis oculi muscle (raising the cheeks and forming crow’s feet wrinkles in the outer corners of the eyes). As a result, you get:

  • an upturned mouth
  • a slight closing of the eyes
  • wrinkles around the eyes
  • more upper teeth than bottom teeth showing

Smile progression

There is debate as to whether you can smile the Duchenne way at will. Certainly not everyone can, but some people seem to come close. (See the example below, where “C” illustrates a fake smile that’s purposefully engaged the muscles around the eyes, and “D” is the involuntary, real thing.)

Faked and real smiles

All in all, the most reliable method is to trick yourself into actually feeling happy in the first place. Consider choosing a happy memory as your go-to when the need arises or getting yourself into a goofy mood prior to a photo shoot.

5. Let it go

There’s a certain tightness in the face of a person who is trying to look good for the camera. Some people lose their “regular face” altogether when the cameras come out. Maybe you know someone like that, or maybe you’re that way yourself.

A subtle sense of discomfort or tension warns us that a photo subject is putting up defenses, though we usually notice this subconsciously rather than consciously. The facial expression and body language just come across a bit effortful rather than spontaneous.

If you have this problem in pictures, the answer might just come down to something as simple as it is difficult: let your guard down and be okay with being seen the way you actually are, not as you’d like to be. Paradoxically, as a consequence of caring less about the outcome of the photo, you’re likely to take photos that look more natural, confident, and all-around attractive as a result.

Bonus: Get candid

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that many of the pictures with high authentic scores on Photofeeler are candid shots taken in the middle of some action. LinkedIn users and online daters really like to see a picture of you that’s taken straight-on to show your face clearly. However, if you are struggling mightily to make the right impression in a headshot format, a candid picture just might be your best bet for getting your true personality across.

And that concludes our tips for appearing less fake and more natural in pictures. Put them to good use and we’ll see you on Photofeeler with your next batch of pictures!