How many times have we heard, “A picture’s worth a thousand words?” I agree. Recently I was asked to write an article titled, ‘How to Photograph an Unattractive Person.’ I found this assignment odd, but rose to the challenge. I am including excerpts from my article. I hope it will inspire all you photographers out there.
“I am an amateur photographer and I never leave home without my camera. Honestly, I consider me and some in my family to be unattractive people and, despite the fact our photos may never market millions of dollars of Ralph Lauren clothing or designer perfumes, the hundreds of pictures I have of the ones I love are priceless.
How does one photograph an unattractive person? The way to photograph an unattractive person is for the creative genius behind the lens to utilize all the available skills of their craft to capture the uniqueness of every face on film so the person or their loved ones can have the lasting memory of that person or event shared forever.
Attitude – photographers influence the interaction between themselves and who they photograph. The truth is every person is unique and valuable and can be photographed. Remembering this and being confident in one’s ability to capture treasured images is paramount to success in photographing anyone. While it is true, the world places value on certain physical characteristics considered beautiful, most people are average in appearance. Even models and actors can be plain without makeup. People want real and meaningful experiences and they place value in the ones they love. Their hearts and minds do not see every imperfection or consider the photos substandard or shoddy. As artists, photographers can enhance the best attributes of the person being photographed. It should be the goal of every photographer to look for ways to make every photograph excellent.
Expression – this is the most important factor to consider for success photographing people. No matter how often I try to snapshot a ‘good’ picture of an eagle, this majestic, wonderful bird has a ‘mean’ or ‘stern’ look that I find unattractive even though I greatly admire the bird. People can have that same look, however, different than the eagle, they can laugh, cry, love, and show all their emotions to the camera. Life and other magazines have spent many years capturing various emotions. I find it easy to take film of young animals because their eyes and faces are filled with innocence and playfulness. Hint – have the person being photographed share something happy about their life. Perhaps it was a happy time when they were engaged or had a baby or how much they love someone in their lives, won a race or were surprised by a gift or party for a special occasion. Maybe a holiday makes them happy. When they share happy events, and they laugh and smile, these are moments that can capture the inner beauty that shines on their faces because this is what the camera sees as well. True happiness is real and makes everyone more attractive. No matter how many wrinkles they have or if their teeth are not perfectly straight or their hair is disheveled, their photograph will be priceless to them or the ones that love them – the reason we ‘take pictures.’
The value of smiling – everyone’s face ‘lights up’ when they smile. I once met a Holocaust survivor who was a patient in a nursing home. Most would not have considered her an attractive person. She left Germany and lived in Russia and then came to America. She did not speak English, but when interviewing her to assess her medical needs, she looked up at me and smiled. It was an endearing moment I wish I had a photograph of because my heart was warmed as I thought, “Yes, your smile says you did survive something terrible.” No matter how many wrinkles someone has, or how many blemishes or imperfections, when they smile, beauty comes into their expression. We can capture desperation on film and we can also capture happiness, excitement, joy, and love. Let the person on the other side of the lens make a genuine connection with you.
Choose a natural position – pictures of people doing normal, everyday things are easier to make more attractive because sometimes ‘posing’ makes the person twist their face oddly. Most agree that animated people are more attractive because as they come to life, their energy is caught on film. Make the photograph as natural as you can as you make them think they are not having a photograph taken at all and the result will be a higher quality photograph.
Pick an angle – it is a well known fact that faces are not the same (or symmetrical) on both sides. There is a more attractive and a less attractive side to every face. Angling toward the ‘more attractive’ side helps enhance the overall photograph as well as avoiding directing the camera to an obvious blemish. Also, if a person has ‘several extra chins,’ have their chin slightly elevated to avoid the exaggeration of these hanging skin folds. Sometimes a playful position of the head or a playful expression enhances a photograph.
Many photos and take your time – sometimes one photograph is not as flattering as another. To be as fair as possible, take many photographs. With today’s digital imaging, this does not waste film or time because one may take 100 photos and only like 2 or 3. This is a method utilized by many professional model photographers as well. There is a split second in time when the facial expression and all parameters are ‘just right.’
Remember what the photographs mean – My brother loved to have pictures taken. I believe it gave him a sense his being here would live on forever in the photo. He wanted us to have something of him to remember him by – and I have many. Some photos are lovely and his face is shining with a happy expression. Others are less attractive because I can see pain and worry over his poor health issues. I have pictures of family I have never met, but been told stories about. Keeping them helps preserve memories.
Beauty in the eye of the beholder – my best example are bulldogs. I think they are the ugliest breed of dog I have ever seen, however, my family loves them and would have nothing else. I, on the other hand, love manatees. and think there are no more beautiful creatures on this planet, but my girlfriend thinks they are the ugliest things in the world. My family are immigrants from Europe. Some are overweight, some with less than flattering hair styles, larger noses, and some aged. Every inch of their faces are precious to me. The imprint in my brain is enhanced by the photos I have to hold in my heart in that special way photographs do.
To photoshop or not to photoshop – photoshop is great tool, however, there are two ways consider this. Yes, many want to be thinner, bustier, less blemished, etc, but at what cost? Does the person in the photograph want to look like themselves or someone they wished they were? Also, while photoshoping out a temporary blemish that happened at a bad moment may be appreciated, making someone look like a completely different person may give the impression of just how badly they were thought to look to begin with. This may be crushing.
In conclusion – everyone can be photographed. Everyone wants to capture the moments or people in their lives that are special to them – no matter how young or old or injured or weak. I have many treasured pictures and am touched over and over with the cherished memories of those I love and spent time with.”
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