This past month has been a pretty busy one for me and my cameras. I have been photographing a lot of people, most of which have been adults and I have been photographing them in all kinds of situations. I have been doing this portrait photography thing for quite a while now and something about photographing people never ceases to amaze me. What is it? The fact that nearly everyone hates being photographed and usually the reason is because they are self-conscious about ______. When I go to an office to do a company’s corporate headshots, I often literally hear groans from people when they realise why I am there. On Friday, I did head shot portraits of eleven people at my studio. After my camera was put away, I decided that I needed to write about this issue and the message that I tell everyone that I photograph: Own You.
What exactly do I mean by Own You? What I mean is: Be You. Suck it up, this is who you are, this is how you look. Be comfortable with it. Get comfortable with it. The fun thing about photographing kids is that they are so completely unaware of the world and themselves. They are free to like what they like and they talk and act without a drop of consciousness. We can learn a lot from them.
We all have our hang ups about ourselves. There are things that we see in our physical appearances that we do not approve of. I am no different in that. I wish that my face was a little less round and I wish that I didn’t have that little wobbly bit under my chin. I wish that my hands were a little more elegant, less wrinkly with longer fingers. Here’s the thing about those personal hang ups: no one else notices them. We spend a lot of time looking at ourselves in the mirror so our own face is more familiar to us than anything else. But no one else stares at you in the same way. When was the last time that you gazed at a friend’s face for longer than ten seconds? Likely never. Those imperfections that we think that we have? They don’t exist. They are just things that make us who we are. Would Josh love me anymore if I actually had cheekbones? I doubt that it would make a difference. And those wrinkly hands? Well my Grandma had the same ones so I should be happy to know that I carry something of her with me.
I have a tip for you: you will always look better when you smile. Always. Think of any friend or someone that you admire and I bet when you think of them, you think of their smile. Why? Because when someone smiles at us, it makes us feel good and that feeling is what lasts. A smile brings life to your entire body. A large majority of people that I photograph will tell me that they hate their teeth. As a result, they do not smile in photos. Instead they do a strange half-smile with scrunched lips that ends up looking pretty uncomfortable. I have been known to call people out on this. I will say straight out, “You are not smiling fully. Is this because you do not like your teeth?” They always say yes. I then tell them this, “Photoshop can fix your teeth, but it cannot fake happiness, I need you to let it go.” So they do, they forget about being self-conscious and we end up with some great portraits because of that. Hate your teeth? Let it go. Own them. They make you you and I tell you, no one is looking there anyways. They are looking at your lips, they are looking at your eyes and they are receiving that awesome positive energy that you are throwing out.
I Need to Lose Weight
Yeah, yeah, you want to lose weight. Just ten pounds and then you will be good. You will feel good. Everyone feels that way. Everyone that I photograph tells me that. Everyone. So again, I tell you: own you. You are this shape and size and you should stand tall for that. If we were all built the same, my life as a portrait photographer would be pretty darn boring. We are meant to look different. If you really want to lose weight (or if your physician told you to), then go out there and make the moves to do so. Change your diet and get exercising everyday. But seriously, if you do not put the effort out to do this, I suggest you stop thinking that way, that you need to lose that extra weight, and simply own you. Own your body how it is. Own your curves and accept that that is you.
As we age, it’s obvious that our skin changes. I woke up on my thirty-fourth birthday convinced that my eyes looked more baggy than ever before. A lot of my clients joke with me about taking out their wrinkles and lines from their final portraits. I usually smile and tell them that I will minimise them but that I will not remove them entirely. I once photographed a woman who was sixty-four who wanted me to make her look like a twenty year old and I flat out refused. Why? Because I believe that for a true portrait, you need to actually look like the person in the image. You want people to recognise you from your photo. And also: you earned lines. Those smile lines around your mouth, those crow feet around your eyes, they are proof of the good times that you have had. They show hours of laughter and smiles, likely while being surrounded by some great people that you love. Own those lines. You would not be you today if it wasn’t for them.
This is your life and this is how you are fitting into the world. No one that has your identical features (well, unless you are an identical twin!). No one that has your identical personality and likes and dislikes. You are unique. The world needs you and what you have to offer. Own you.