February 23, 2018

The Secret to Looking Natural in Photos

Do you remember school picture day? Yeah, like from back in grade school– that’s what I’m talking about. That day where your mom would pick out a really nice outfit for you and you would choose a colored background that matched it, the photographer would have you sit on a chair or a stool and sit up real tall. I remember one specific picture day that I had many years ago. I was in the seventh grade. Now, by seventh grade, this whole picture day thing is secretly actually a big deal. Like, you kind of actually care about it now that you’re thirteen. I remember that I picked out my own shirt to wear– a bubble gum pink button up blouse with ruffles. I didn’t exactly love it, but I thought it was incredibly fancy, so I went with it. I also clearly remembering thinking to myself that I needed to do something new with my hair. This was seventh grade! I needed a fresh look, something exciting and more mature– and I knew exactly what it was.

I decided to part my hair down the middle. Game changer, right? Typically I parted it on the right side, but today, the earth was shifting. I just knew I was going to walk into that room and my classmates were going to think, “wow, summer treated her well.” Now, let me preface all this with this fact: I have the straightest, thinnest, finest hair in all the land. It’s baby hair. You can’t even tease volume into this stuff with a whole can of Pantene extra hold hair spray. I’ve tried.

So I went in with my pink ruffle blouse and awesome middle-parted hair, sat on the stool, smiled big (braces and all!) feeling like a changed woman. After picture day, I eagerly awaited getting the prints back. If you went to a school like mine, everybody got their prints back on the same day in these big white envelopes that you took home to your parents. The day we got those white envelopes, I ripped it open and slipped one of the prints out.

My little teenage heart sank down to my toes. My dreams of looking like J-Lo in a bubble gum pink button up were quickly doused: my forehead was shiny, my smile looked 100% fake, my shirt was clearly way too pink for the purple background (yes, I chose purple, friends– not even a neutral), my shoulders were hunched weird, my hands were clenched in my lap awkwardly, and MY HAIR– that middle part had the two sides of my hair slicked so tight to my head that it looked like a wig. My long bangs were almost in my eyes and I looked like a That 70s Show wannabe.  It was a disaster.

Have you ever had somebody take photos of you only to look at them and feel like you’re the most stiff, awkward human being on this planet? I’m with you.

The most common phrase that I hear at any session is, “please pose me, I am SO BAD at taking photos!”

If you fall into this category, welcome to the club. I’m pretty sure we ALL feel like this. Getting in front of a camera can be intimidating, awkward, and vulnerable. And maybe even just downright scary. As a photographer, I witness these feelings almost every time I put someone in front of my camera– but, I also witness these really great moments when I flip my camera around (when I’m shooting digital) to show them a photo I just took of them and they say, “Aw, wow! That’s actually pretty good!” You know what they really mean by that though? They mean to say, “Ugh, I actually like how I/we look in that photo! How did you do that?!”

Looking natural in photographs is not about poses. I repeat– It’s not actually all about how I pose you! A pose is just a position or stance that I’m putting you in to make you comfortable and compose a beautiful shot. No surprises here. That’s what I’m doing.  The real “secret” to looking natural in photos is actually all about the stuff that happens when you’re within that position or pose, and guess what? It’s totally doable, easy, and I promise, anyone can do it! Are you ready? Here are my top three tips on how to look more natural in photos!


Laughing makes everything better. It loosens you up, it gives you a natural-looking smile, and makes any photo look like the real you. The number one thing I’ll do during a session to make people look natural is not rocket science. I just say something silly or make a weird joke until they giggle. It works. Even when I ask people to “fake laugh” it still makes everything better! It’s okay to just randomly laugh or pretend like you’re laughing or laugh really quietly during your session because it will seriously make your face look awesome and natural.


Again, not rocket science, but you’d be surprised how tense you get once you step in front of the camera. Drop those shoulders and release your tummy and BREATHE, friends. A great prompt I learned from a friend to say when a client seems tensed up is, “take a big breath in and then just let it out in your own time.” It’s like saying “hey you’re way to tense right now,” but without saying it. And, it helps you actually relax. So next time you’re having a photo taken, just breathe!


Just kidding– you should totally smile! But you know that feeling when you’ve been trying to smile for 20 minutes and your face muscles are like twitching and your lips are sticking to your teeth? That’s a problem, friends. My advice is to not smile all the time. Vary your expressions. If that thought terrifies you, just keep this list in your head: Big smile, little smile, no teeth smile, relaxed smile/no smile. Even just by switching your smile up this little bit, you won’t fall into that fake smile look and will have more natural options to choose instead of 100 photos of  your big cheesy grin.


Keep some movement in your body going. It’s okay to move while in a pose. Try moving your arm or hand or head just a little but– switch things up. Just a little bit of movement diversifies shots and keeps you looking relaxed and natural.



This might sound crazy, but if you are able to let go and relax and enjoy yourself while having your photos taken, they will turn out better. I think people go into photo sessions thinking that they need to keep their personality under reign and be posed and very still, but really, the best photos are ones where you look like you’re actually having fun. Try not to worry! You’ve hired a professional who is going to ensure that these photos look amazing. All you need to worry about it enjoying the process!

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We're Shelby & Jared, Springfield MO wedding photographers passionate about meaningful living. We document timeless moments for free-spirited, elegant couples across the Midwest and beyond. As fine art photographers, we strive to create work that will leave a legacy of love for years to come.



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