A photograph won't steal your soul, but a bad one can certainly kill your ego. Especially once it's tagged, posted online and emailed round the office before you can say “cheese”.
Unflattering photos are no trivial matter in the digital age. You use the internet to organise your social life, stay in touch, meet new people and even look for love, so your pixellated portrait holds a lot of power. Here are our tips for looking picture perfect.
1. Stand up straight
When someone whips out a camera and yells “smile,” you'll feel immediately self-conscious and start exhibiting defensive body language such as slouching and shrinking. Which is a shame, because that's exactly the kind of thing that makes you look bad in photos.
If you want more flattering pics, take control of your posture. Ditch the slouch and stand tall. Pulling your shoulders back doesn't just make you look sleeker and slimmer, it also makes you feel more confident. But do remember that this is a photo, not a military exercise. Don't stand so tall that you can't breathe.
2. Stop gurning
Self-consciousness also has an unflattering effect on your face, as you'll know from those pics where you look like a contorted bulldog. It's a vicious circle: you gurn when a camera appears because you hate photos of yourself, and you hate photos of yourself because you gurn when a camera appears.
Break the cycle by getting a grip on your gurn. When you see a camera pointing your way, close your eyes. Breathe. Relax your facial muscles. Open your eyes in time for the click, and you will look fresh, confident and at ease. (Worst case scenario, you will have your eyes shut, but at least you won't be gurning.)
3. Ask for a countdown
Timing is all. Half a second can make all the difference between a winning smile and a total face fail, so make sure you know when the click is coming. Don't be afraid to ask the snapper for a “3, 2, 1” when they're taking the photo. If you're nervous, keep your eyes closed and your mouth relaxed until after the snapper says “2,” then break out the smile and open your eyes. You'll look a lot more relaxed than you feel.
4. Know your best face
Everyone has a best side and a best smile. Don't think you do? Then you haven't paid enough attention to old photos of yourself. Go and look through some right now. Why are the bad ones so bad, and why are the good ones not so bad? Don't get fixated on things you can't change (eg “the good ones were taken before 1988”). Instead, look for angles and expressions that flatter you.
Warning: the “best side forward” habit can be hard to break. Mariah Carey allegedly insists on being photographed only from the right, while Barbra Streisand reportedly likes it from the left, as did 1930s Hollywood actress Claudette Colbert, who had entire sets rebuilt to flatter her. Claudette passed away in 1996, a year before the cameraphone was born. Probably just as well.
5. Put away your double chin
Even the skinniest necks can grow a little flesh pillow when there's a camera in the room, so banish the wobble with this old modelling trick: touch the roof of your mouth with your tongue when you smile. Practice in front of the mirror a few times to make sure that you're getting the intended effect (taught chin, long neck, winning smile) rather than the unintended effect (lunatic with fat tongue).
6. Do the red carpet pose
Here's another trick from women* who get paid to be photogenic. When a camera threatens to photograph your entire body, don't face it head-on. The resulting photo will make you look broader than you are. It'll be like Gok Wan in reverse.
Avoid this by standing side-on and turning your upper body towards the camera. This posture slims your body and emphasises your waist. True devotees of the pose tend to stick one leg out the front and put their hand on their hip – voila, thinner-looking pins and an elongated upper arm. For more details, see Victoria Beckham.
(* Men who try this pose will just look like they're running away. Fellas should face the camera squarely and avoid making silly hand gestures.)
7. Have a laugh
Fake smiles rarely look real and are almost never flattering, but laughs are much easier to manipulate. This is partly because a laugh is a great tension-reliever, and a forced laugh often leads to a real one. Occasionally ridiculous; always effective.
8. Smile with your eyes
If fake laughs and toothy smiles are too cheesy for you (or you just don't like your teeth), don't worry: say it with your eyes instead. Body language can be extremely powerful in photos, and your eyes are the strongest weapon in your body language armoury. Smiling eyes beguile people for all the right reasons.
9. Beware glinty glasses
In person, your specs make you look gorgeous and smart. In a flash photo, your specs make you look like you're wearing mirror shades. Unless this is the look you were going for, we'd recommend removing the bins and showing off your eyes.
10. Direct light bad, indirect light good
Specs wearers and vampires aren't the only ones who should be wary of light shining right at their faces. A faceful of bright sunshine makes you squint, frown, sneer and screw up your features in a kind of double-chinned grimace. So remember, kids: don't look into the sun, especially if someone's got a camera.