Monday, December 17, 2012

How to get a beautiful portrait of yourself (part 1)

"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm..." Opening line from Gone with the Wind.

'Tis the season, folks.  It's that time of year when the air smells like cinnamon, pine, and sugar.  Our wee ones are bursting at the seams with excitement, our hearts are contemplating miracles, friends and family are left and right.  And everywhere you look someone always, always has a camera.

My memories-are-sacred spirit loves that about our cameras-everywhere culture.  My love for photography means I'm usually the one brandishing the camera while kids avoid me and adults (women, especially) boo and hiss and act like I just pulled out instrument of torture.

As I have delved deeper and deeper into my photography business, it has continually surprised me how much women hate cameras.  Obviously I'm generalizing, but the vast majority of my clients (meaning, the people who seek me out, hire me, and set up photo sessions for their families) are women and the vast majority of them are self-conscious about having their picture taken.  They want pictures of their children, they want pictures of their man holding their children, but as soon as the camera turns their way their eyes drop.  I was at a brunch recently with a bunch of women and the light in the room was hitting everyone's eyes so brilliantly.  I wanted desperately to take a take a shot of the friend across from me, the one with eyes so light blue they seem to radiate their own light.  She asked me not to though, and as a photographer, I always respect a person's right as to when (and when not) to be photographed.  And women- not men, not toddlers- are the ones who don't want to be photographed.

It actually drives me crazy.

Except I get it.  I so, so get it.

If you start hopping around the photography boards and forums on the internet, it comes up pretty frequently that those of us behind the camera, the ones getting frustrated with those who don't like to be photographed, don't actually like to be photographed ourselves.  How we have next to no pictures of ourselves.  How it's easy to see the beauty in others, and a little harder to find it in ourselves.

I get it.  I get it because I was 13 once, too.  I get it because I know what it's like to have your body change through becoming a mom.  I get it because I'm 28 and I'm starting to get wrinkles between my brows.  But most of all I get it because when I was 16, a horse kicked me in the face and despite five surgeries, I have permanent nerve damage in the right side of my face.

Oh the irony of how annoying I was to my sister to get this shot!
Now before I start sounding melodramatic, let me say that I know I'm blessed.  Not only did I not lose my life, break my neck, or lose my eyesight in that accident, but I also had some awesome doctors who did a great job putting me back together.  My nose was shattered like an eggshell, my right cheek bone was broken in two places and rotated backward, the orbital floor of my eye was broken in numerous places, and I had all kinds of other facial cracks and fractures.  I didn't lose any teeth (although four of them feel permanently loose from nerve damage) but I had to get stitches that went from between my eyebrows to the tip of my nose.  I know it could have been worse, and I am more aware than most of the suffering of the rest of the world when it comes to deformities and lack of medical care.  So I'm thankful, so thankful for insurance and doctors and our American health care system.    

But I will never forget the first time I was able to get out of the hospital bed to hobble to the bathroom and saw myself in the mirror.  I think I audibly gasped in horror, then called out, "Mama!  I look like a MANATEE."  My face was so swollen and I had a huge brace over my nose.  It truly wasn't far removed.

"Hey, Yo.  I'm commonly mistaken for a mermaid."
Image from Google Images
So that was me, at 16, one month before homecoming, except with an exceptionally small and skinny frame.  Wheee!  I like to think I took it like a champ, though.  I knew I would be healed and back to normal in no time.

You can imagine my surprise then when four months later I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror while I was laughing.  I literally jumped in surprise and asked everyone in the room, "You guys!  My right eye doesn't move when I smile?!"


"Um..." they stammered.  "You didn't know?"

See when my face is expressionless, you can't really tell that my right eye droops.  I knew it drooped a little, but when you're looking in a mirror getting ready or doing your hair you don't usually smile.  And I hadn't allowed any pictures of myself to that point.  So no, I didn't know.  The nerve damage makes it so that when I smile, right side of my face doesn't really move on its own.  My doctores said to give it time to heal, and then they went in and tried all kinds of methods to remove scar tissue but to no avail.

One night I cried myself to sleep thinking about how much I was going to hate my own wedding pictures.  If anyone would even have me, that is.  

It's taken me awhile to heal from that, both physically and mentally.  For several years, whenever anyone would point a camera at me I would inwardly cringe and then try my darnedest to smile as little as possible.  The result was a terrible photo that I would instantly trash.  

Thus began my hate affair with having my photo taken, which is ironic, because it was also about that time that I began my love affair with taking photos.  My junior year was when I took my first photography class, and we constantly had to point cameras at each other.  

It was then that I learned the number one secret to a great image of yourself.  Ready for it?  


Ladies, I know that camera is a foe.  A great, snapping black dragon with one huge glassy eye and one little red beady eye and sometimes a great white flash of fire, ready to grab all of our insecurities and paint them in the sky of the internet for all to see.  (Can you tell I'm dying to see The Hobbit?)  But take heart, girls.  Lift your chin (well, actually- drop it a little; it's usually more flattering), look the dragon in the eye and smile.  Don't pause, don't primp, don't do anything other than fling the smile that feels the most natural, the smile that feels the same as the smile you have the moment after a delicious belly laugh.  Forget your wrinkles, forget your scars, forget your crooked nose, forget your nerve damage and just smile. 

I promise that more often and not, if you can just put those insecurities aside, the image is going to be so much better.  Maybe you'll delete a few less.  It's why we often love shots that are taken when we don't know about them, because they are taken in moments when we are just quietly, confidently being ourselves.

For the record?  I didn't hate my wedding pictures.  I loved a lot of them, because our photographer was awesome and because I faced my foe with courage that day.  I was so happy and so in love and I just threw back my shoulders and dared that dragon to just try and capture anything other than the joy on my face.  

This is just the first in a series of posts I will sharing this week on tips for helping your photographer get a great shot of you.  A couple of the posts will be a little more practical in nature to help us feel more confident, but I promise that this is the most important: confidence.  Confidence is lovely.

Images by Peter Casey


  1. Beautifully said, Taylor! Confidence is such a gem and usually noticed by others rather quickly. Easier said than done at times but so true as having confidence brings out our natural attractiveness :). Your sister did a great job at getting a beautiful picture of you and your smile ;)

  2. YOU are lovely!!! XO

  3. YOU are lovely!!! XO


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