The Secret to Posing for Photos You Won’t Want to Untag on Facebook

November 11th, 2010 by Shannon Sweetser Leave a reply »

Wanna know a secret?

When digital cameras came into vogue, I was absolutely terrified of them.

I remember being home from college in 2001. It was December in Jacksonville, FL and everyone was showing off the Canon Powershot they’d just received for Christmas. The bar my friends were partying at had an outdoor patio; there were about a thousand empty Rolling Rocks on the ground. I had recently bleached out my hair into a revolting orange color, so when I’d see a camera edging out of a tight jean pocket, I’d hide…or worse.

Sometimes I’d cover my face with my hands like a mole person being showered with natural light.

I looked ridiculous. You don’t have to. Here are some tips on how to take better photos, build your photo confidence and keep your face on camera and out of your hands.

Take More Photos of Yourself


Though I wasn’t very cool in the first place, it was even less cool to lack self-confidence. To get over my fear of being photographed, I started photographing myself daily with my webcam. Though the shots were grainy, I eventually got used to the way I looked on camera. It’s not that I thought I looked good, either. I just knew what to expect.

Over time, I graduated from a webcam to my own digital camera. Though I’ve been known to take several slimming, forehead-first MySpace shots in my day, I also was more confident when I wasn’t in control of the image someone was taking. Instead of covering my face with my hands, I’d face the camera with confidence and fucking smile.

Remember Your Photo Math: 20% Looks, 80% Confidence

Not to sound like a hip cat on an infomercial whose “figured it all out,” but I wasn’t always this photogenic. I also don’t want to sound like one of those culty people who buy books called The Secret, either. I don’t always take great photos, but I would say that I’m happier than most people with the photos that are taken of me. I find this impressive because I’m a heavy person and heavy persons, according to society, aren’t supposed to ever like the way they look.

In fact, I think the last time I checked Marie Claire they were advising people like us to not even cross the room so we’re out of the eye-line of the skinny folk. I obviously call bullshit.

Despite these “flaws” to my physical appearance, I really like the way I look! More often than not people (who are far prettier than me) tell me, “Shannon, you look so photogenic!”  or “Shannon, you take such great photos. [insert dramatic girl sigh] I always look awful in photos.” When these poor distressed people look at me with their dramatic doe eyes, I look at them straight in the eye and tell them it’s all their fault.

It is their fault because taking great photos is 20% looks and 80% confidence. I’ve seen gorgeous girls who look like crap in photos or who cover their face when I pull out my (understandably intimidating) camera. They will always look like crap because they don’t care enough about themselves to try to be poised and happy with themselves.

Ladies and gentleman, you will never be more beautiful than you are at this exact moment. You’ve never been smarter or better or happier than you can be right now if you just loved yourself. Time is forever going forward. Your body is aging. In 10 years you’re gonna wanna remember this moment. So, just fucking smile.

Go Eye Level and Smile

Taking-Good-Photos-the-SecretOne time I was at a coffee shop when my friend spotted a guy she thought was pretty cute. Admittedly, the guy was an A++++  attractive indie type with a C.S. Lewis book and the easy-going looks of John Hamm. She begged me to be her envoy and send him a message of her affections. She was too embarrassed to be in the room with us when I asked, so I made some eye contact with the guy and when he smiled back, I made my way over to him.

We talked about books for a bit and about drinking blazing hot coffee during the summer and eating cold things in winter. I asked him for his number to give to my friend. He laughed and said, “I’ll give you my number, but it’s for you, not her. After all, you’re the one who seems to be the friendliest of the pair.”

I think of this story when I take photos. I think, “How can I look like the friendliest of the pair?

To look friendly, the important thing is to go eye level with the camera lens and look directly at it (almost as if it was a person).  If you’re a female and have bangs, I recommend turning your bang side toward the camera. This prevents having a big nasty triangle of sweaty forehead botching up the person’s photograph.

Think of something or someone you like. Your eyes will light up in the most amazing way.

Height-Check Your Photographer


Also, check out your photographer. Are they short? I’m a tall person and short photographers take the worst photos of me. I’m a chubby girl with a lot of neck. When someone who is 5’2 takes a photo of me, I almost always look like a breast-covered Sasquatch monster. Not cool.

So, when faced with a photographer who is shorter than me, I always try to adjust myself so that I’m eye level with the camera. This might take a little shlumping on my part. Therefore, I lean forward with my legs spread wide (I usually hide that spare leg behind the clueless drunk person next to me :D)

What are your tips to taking great photos? I’d love to hear them!

  • Sully

    Oh, Shannon,

    I’ve always been jealous of how great you look in photographs. Having met you in person, I just figured it was because you actually do look that good.


  • Shannon Sweetser

    Thanks a bunch, Sully. That’s an awesome compliment 😀

    I genuinely believe that a person’s life can be improved by loving the way they look in photos. We live in a digital world where our images are broadcast constantly and I think a lot of us have trouble looking at ourselves so often and accepting who we are. There’s something terribly sad about being terrified of the skin you’re in. I just want other people to face the camera and love themselves when they do it 😀

  • Nina

    I have to say, you have taught me a few of these tricks over the years and I am grateful for them. Feeling good = looking good. But hey, is my husband the clueless drunk person your leg is hidden by? Too funny!

  • Shannon Sweetser

    Haha, it’s a toss up! Looks like the clueless drunk in the last photo could be your husband or Sarah!

  • Amanda

    This is so true. When I’m feeling confident and happy, my pictures come out awesome. When I’m having a crappy day, they come out…. like crap. Just got back from vaca and there was a mix of both those kinds of days and you can see an obvious difference!

    And you’re right, you DO take great photos!

  • Another Sully

    Hey Shannon-great article! I always have issues with photos myself and your tips were really helpful. Confidence really does make a difference and your advice gave me some.

  • Shannon Sweetser

    @ Another Sully – So pleased that my post could give you a little kick in the butt to up the confidence 😀

  • Susan Johnston

    You really are photogenic, Shannon! Your post title caught my eye, because there was one photo in particular from our party which made Justin say, “You should ask Shannon to remove that from Facebook.” To which I said, “No, silly, I’ll just untag it. I’m not *that* insecure!”

    Love the concept of your blog, too! Cocktails + Marketing = Two of the things we all love about Shannon!

  • russ

    What I like the most about this post is that you can really feel your confidence shine in the way you urge others to do the same. Positive feedback loop!

  • Holly

    Love it, Shannon! Confidence and happiness certainly translates through as pure gorgeousness in photographs. Plus, the happier you are, the less flaws you have!


  • Autumn Bullard

    Exceptional post, Shannon!
    I couldn’t agree more about the importance of confidence. But you know, taking photos is like trying on clothes. You cannot possibly expect every photo to be a doozy. So if you are taking photos yourself, flip through, and don’t hesitate to make “snap” (hehe pun) judgements about whether you hate a photo or not. If it’s ugly, it was just a bad angle or misfortune. It doesn’t mean you are ugly or “unphotogenic.”

    I think too many people get hung up on one bad photo, loose their confidence, proclaim themselves as “unphotogenic” (which as you rightly said doesn’t truly exsist) and start dodging the lens again.

    To these people I have this advise: Take tons of photos, try different looks, don’t expect every shot to be glam, dump the bad ones and pick out the winners. The more you practice, the more likely you will be fab when you don’t have control over the delete button.

    Also, who is that HOT blond in the above photo with you. ; )