How Selfies Can Make You or Break You

Smartphones have undoubtedly revolutionized the way we communicate, replacing calls with texting, and the way we shop and run errands by having our banks, restaurants and favorite stores at the tip of our fingers. 

What I also noticed, after teaching my workshop “How to Become Photogenic” for over two decades, was that smartphones also changed the way people deal with photos. If a regular camera had been embedded in the back of the smartphone, it would have been a mere inclusion of another device, like a flashlight or a calculator. No big deal. But a “selfie” camera allowing us to see ourselves on the screen is not just a new gadget. It created a new relationship with the experience of having one’s photos taken and dealing with their self-image.

Around 2015, I started hearing controversial opinions about using the “selfie cameras”, and I started to research the matter, asking a simple question: “What’s your emotional experience taking selfies?” My sample included 522 clients, friends and colleagues and resulted in a few conclusions. As a photographer, I will explain the technicalities of the use of such camera, and as a career and self-development coach, the psychology behind it.

When all we had were regular cameras, it was operationally hard for someone to take their own photos. Those who had practice, learned to stretch their arms in the right angles to do so; or professionally, we used tripods and a remote. Most people, however, just had their photos taken by others. With that, they had to learn how to pose and therefore, become photogenic, by trial and error. Someone would take your photo, you would look at it and find out whether or not that smile or pose favored you. If it did, you would repeat it. If not, you would try something else. Even models and movie stars would pay attention to what they did with their faces and bodies to guarantee a great shot. Others, after some frustrated attempts, would label themselves “not photogenic” and avoid being photographed as much as possible. 

With the creation of smartphones and their selfie cameras, we were introduced to this new technology that allowed one to look at themselves and pose until they were happy with their smiles, and only then, push the button. For some, the technology was considered “magic” and an opportunity to be in control and always look great. Over ten years later, here are the reasons why some people still don’t like selfies, and why selfies can be an obstacle to truly become photogenic.

It is all about self-knowledge, not selfie cameras

There are no magical tools. Becoming photogenic goes back to how familiar you are with your facial expressions. In my method, this study of your face is called “Body Mapping” and it is essential for one to look good on camera. In essence, regardless of which camera you use, or whether or not you can see your face before shooting, you will only excel at being photogenic if you don’t run from practicing.

People who love having their photos taken do benefit from taking selfies because as they look at themselves and try different poses, they are accidentally “body mapping”. They learn what angles and expressions work best for them, and eventually, by common sense, will repeat only the poses that work every time. On the other end of the spectrum, for those who don’t like having their photos taken, the experience can be extremely frustrating. In general, those who think they are not photogenic avoid cameras at all cost and therefore, don’t practice. If they hated being photographed before, it’s not different when they get a camera for selfies. Actually, taking selfies can even make the entire “photoshoot experience” harder, since these people will be spending more time watching themselves struggle to find the right pose. Anxiety will make them shoot before they are ready. They will probably dislike their selfies and perpetuate the idea that they are not photogenic. Note that their lack of familiarity with taking photos is the real issue. They may be shooting under bad lights that emphasize dark circles and facial lines, getting the camera too close or in a wrong angle.

If any of that sounds familiar, I recommend embracing the challenge of taking as many selfies as you can. Keep the camera above yourself and at some distance (not too close to your face). Shoot photos facing forward and of both sides of your face, with tiny, medium and large smiles. Then look at the photos as if the subject were someone else. Try not to be emotional or delete the “bad photos”. Look at them and preferably take notes of what you liked and disliked. Give it a rest, then a day or two later, read your notes and take a new setting of photos avoiding what you disliked. For example, I may think that if I smile too wide, many lines form around my eyes, so I will practice a medium smile. 

A common mistake is that people don’t explore the gray area between what they like and dislike. Let’s say I don’t like my big smile because the lines around my eyes make me look older, and I go straight to a serious expression, which causes my cheeks to sink, also making me look old. Because I disliked both options, I may give up, assuming “I’m hopeless.” Try not to go that way. I have been working with people from all ages and body types. By gaining knowledge of their bodies and practicing in front of a camera, anyone –and I truly mean anyone –can become photogenic. 

Try this: Get a small tripod for your phone and use the camera in the back, instead of the selfie camera. This way, you will practice like models do, and this offers multiple benefits. By looking at the camera in the back and not seeing your face, you need to focus on what you are doing with your eyes, smile, the positions of your head. Take your time, pose and before pushing the remote button, think about what you are doing with every part of your face. Then look at that one photo and see if the result was good or bad. If it was bad, again, don’t delete it. Analyze it and put into words what went wrong. Is your smile too big or too tiny, does it look fake? Are your eyes too open and you seem uncomfortable? Take notes so you won’t repeat the same mistakes. Also take notes of what works and try to repeat it. 

Selfies can be fun if you are a natural, or later on, when you are more experienced. While the camera in the back of your phone will provide valuable training not only for you to become more photogenic, but also more confident to pose for any photographers. 

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