Everybody Loves Your Portrait

So why don’t you?

Many people feel uncomfortable at the mere thought of having their picture taken. Sitting for a portrait can be nerve-wracking even for the most self-confident among us, and so at our studio we always work hard to put our subjects at ease and make portrait sessions as relaxed, conversational and comfortable as possible. In the end we produce better portraits because of it, and that makes our clients happy. Clients almost always love the pictures: it’s the subjects who sometimes don’t.

When it’s your face being photographed, sometimes you just know you’re not going to like your picture. You’ve never liked one before, so why would you like this one today? No matter how much the photographer puts you at ease, no matter how much care is put into the lighting and the posing, some people simply don’t like the way they look in pictures—even when the pictures are great.

No matter how many people may see your headshot and say how great it is, “It doesn’t look like me” or “I look funny” can be fairly common complaints. For a long time I’ve chalked this up to the fact that we’re each more likely to focus on our flaws—the things we least like about ourselves—whereas our friends and family just see our picture and think, “There’s Kathy. She looks great!” She probably does look great, but to Kathy she looks nothing like herself. It turns out there’s a scientific reason for this.

Aside from issues of aging and weight gain (many of us are larger than we used to be, and we’re all older than we used to be) there’s a simple scientific explanation behind why our friends love our pictures and we don’t: we’re used to seeing our face reversed in a mirror.

Part your hair on the left and in the mirror you’ll see it on the right. The mirror image becomes the image we know as “the real me.” So when we see our face in photographs, it looks backwards. Something’s just not quite right about it, or so it seems.

According to a recent article in Wired magazine, researchers have a name for this. It’s called “mere-exposure,” and it basically means that we react more favorably to things we’ve seen more often. We look at our face in the mirror every morning, so the portrait that “doesn’t look like me” truly doesn’t look like the me I’m used to seeing, so I’m less likely to like it.

What’s more, it turns out that we all think we’re more attractive than we really are. Researchers tested this by merging a photo of a person’s face with images of more attractive and less attractive faces. This group of a dozen images was then rearranged and when people were asked to find their own face they unfailing chose a more attractive version of themselves.

When you combine these two effects, its a wonder anybody ever loves their own portrait. But it does happen. Some people, in fact, walk into the studio and proclaim, “I love having my picture taken!” These people are few and far between, but they’re out there. Most folks, at best, are fine with it—even while spouses, friends and colleagues rave.

When you’re working with an experienced portrait photographer, we bring to bear all sorts of specific knowledge that’s also scientifically proven to make you look better. We know about how to light different faces and how to pose different bodies in order to achieve the most flattering results. At Barlow Productions we do this with business portraits and headshots every day. If you’ve got questions about what to expect during your own portrait session, or for advice on how to increase your chances of loving your picture, please get in touch. We’ll be happy to provide suggestions on everything from hair, makeup and jewelry options to selecting the clothes that look best in pictures. We can’t promise you’ll love your portrait—after all, it’s scientifically impossible—but we can promise that practically everyone else will. And we’ll make the experience as comfortable, quick and painless as possible.