Why Do I Look Bad in Photos? And How to Change It

why do i look bad in photos

It can be disheartening when you’re feeling good about what you see in the mirror, but you reach for your smartphone only to snap a photo you hate.

Maybe you’re a bit curvier in the photo, your face is too asymmetrical, or you can’t put your finger on it, but it just looks wrong.

It’s absolutely normal.

Why you’d ask?

Others have felt the same exact way you do, so a lot of thought has been put into the topic.

That’s why we’ve put together some things that may be influencing your perception of why do you look bad in photos and how you can combat it.  

Why Do I Look Better in the Mirror Than in Photos?

mirror vs real life
Source: GETTY IMAGES

Many people prefer the way they look in the mirror over their photos. Mirrors usually make you look more attractive due to lights, flipped version of yourself and the mere effect. In other words, the mirror gives us a different picture of ourselves – the one we are preferred to see.

It may seem like a mystical phenomenon, the photo can be taken only a moment after a glance at the mirror and still turn out unattractive, but it’s actually quite explainable. 

Photographer Kim Ayres discovered that 90% of people will say they hate having their photo taken. And it’s because the image is not a flipped version of a person or from a totally different angle which we are not familiar with.

Think about it:

The camera is likely from a different angle so the lighting is slightly different as well. The shape of your body and features will also be warped depending on the lens and filters (and other technical parameters) you use.

Your Filters and Edits Can Make a Difference

You know all those photos you admire from magazines and Instagram models?

It’s obvious:

They often use a ton of filters and edits.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use them too, it can give you a better idea of social media.

Have this in mind the next time you’re surfing your social media feed. Keeping your expectations and beauty standards in check can help you see photos as they really are, instead of an unattainable goal.

Tip: It can often be difficult to get the perfect angle or lighting, but filters can help you brush up your photos and make them more in line with the shot you wanted.

Why Are the Camera and Lens So Important When Taking Photos?

Do you ever notice how professional photos seem to look a lot better than regular selfies?

Some may write if all off to Photoshop or image editing.

But the quality of the equipment can also affect the type of photo you get. Phone cameras are designed to be small and clear, but they can warp and exaggerate certain things.

Often the reason why you can look bad in photos is because of lens distortion or wrong camera settings.

For example, using a shutter speed that’s too slow may result in your photos becoming blurry.

You should also always watch for good exposure.

overexposed and underexposed example

Overexposed image is going to be too bright making you lose detail in the brightest areas. Underexposed image is going to be too dark making you lose detail in the darkest areas.

Shooting at too wide of a focal length lens can exaggerate any asymmetry in your face, significantly enlarge what is closest to the lens while reducing what is farthest, and exaggerate the distance between objects in the frame.

This could result in, for example, longer distance between your neck and chin and a bigger nose, making you more unattractive.

focal length difference in photography
Image source: SLR Lounge

Tip: Next time when you are taking pictures, try zooming in a little but keeping a longer distance between you and the subject. If you take photos often, try experimenting with different apps that compensate for shoddy phone cameras. Or invest in an actual camera.

Your Brain May Be Playing Tricks on You

There are two other things at play here, both deal with the way your brain processes your image.

Studies show that your brain is actually hardwired to view your body and features as more attractive than they actually are. 

This internal filter may make you perceive your nose as smaller or your waist as slimmer. But it’s automatically shut off when your image is displayed in a more objective way, like through a screen.

That said:

Just because your brain is playing tricks on you, doesn’t mean you’re not attractive in your own right. Most people think their photos are worse than they actually are, so try to approach your photos more openly and objectively.

Life is Dynamic and 3 Dimensional

This is a given, but many people overlook how important it is to see an object in 3D.

A lot of things contribute to how attractive you appear, like your gestures and facial expressions, but they don’t translate well to stationary photos.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, you may turn your face from side to side or look at the different angles of your body. Looking at a still photo, you don’t have the chance to take all of these things into consideration.

Tip: Why photos? Consider using more gifs or video clips on your social media, it’ll give you a chance to show people more of your whole self.

How Do I Take Better Photos?

It all comes down to understanding how photos work.

Whether you perceive a photo as beautiful or not is a combination of your perception and the photo itself.

By experimenting with things like your camera or lighting, as well as approaching your photos with a more nuanced perspective, you can have more satisfying and worthwhile photos. Try learning the rule of thirds to take better photos as well.

Don’t forget to try using all the tips we mentioned above.

Conclusion

Whether you’re updating social media or adding photos to your new online dating profile, photos are probably a big part of your life.

In an era where a lot of our social interaction takes place online, photos give us a chance to express not only what we look like, but who we are as a person.

While looking bad in photos is mostly our psychological thing, you can actually change it with improving a few technical things like a better light, angle and finding your perfect facial expression and posing.

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