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How to Look Better in Any Picture

By Lois Joy Johnson, AARP

Level up your game with these easy tips.

Looking good on screens and in photos is an essential life skill whether you’re an avid Facebook/Instagram poster or not. You can control your own selfies but often not those other people take of you and display online. Who needs their double chin, tummy bulge or under-eye circles revealed to all? As a beauty and style editor who has spent a lifetime on photo shoots, I know a few tips to make all the difference between “forget about it” and flattery without using filters or special apps.

1. Know your best facial angle

Few people have symmetrical faces — especially at 50, when age and gravity take over. One side or the other is going to be better. Consciously playing to your good side by facing off-center (even slightly) instead of straight on helps. Test this by taking a few three-quarter face selfies from the right and left angles and compare them. Unsure? Know that many people unconsciously part their hair on the stronger profile side and are already giving it priority. Let your nose, cheeks and jawline be a guide, but don’t start dialing cosmetic surgeons. Looking great in photos has nothing to do with actual physical perfection. The more natural and animated you look, the better. Just be sure to smile with your eyes and lips.

2. Employ pro face-lift tricks

Models and celebs secretly chisel their faces and necks with every snap. “To define your jaw, elongate your neck and prevent a double chin, be sure the camera is above your eye level — not lower — but not too high up either,” says New York City portrait photographer Eric Wolfe. “Smile but keep your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth or behind your top teeth to tighten and slim the jaw and neck even further.” I’ll add two other DIY contouring tips: Imagine a string at the top of your head pulling it up and stretching your neck. Push your head slightly forward and chin slightly down — like a turtle or as if you’re holding an orange under your chin. Try it in a mirror! Subtly lift the corners of your mouth — this takes some practice but is actually easy to do (you’ll feel your ears lift slightly) and makes a difference. Last, say, “money,” not “cheese” for a more genuine smile without showing every tooth in your mouth (or any for that matter)!

3. Try out poses in front of a full-length mirror

It feels silly, but practice helps your on-camera body language feel more natural. Whether sitting or standing, you want to suggest movement and create angles with your body. Giving your hands something to do helps. They can prop up your chin when seated, lean on a doorway or chair, slip casually into your pockets, hold a bag, your glasses or a mug. No matter how relaxed the pose is, be sure to tighten your core, keep shoulders down, neck lifted and posture straight. This will feel fake at first but looks real and projects a confident, vibrant and healthy look regardless of size, weight or mood of the photo.

4. Keep changing your pose between shots

Take more than one photo. Do several at a time. Wolfe suggests “the click-click-click method, almost like a slow-motion movie, to prevent an overly posed result and find a worthy shot.” Many women make two big mistakes when staying in one pose: They do a face front “mug shot” with shoulders, hips and feet in a straight line or the red carpet “chicken wing pose” with one hand on hip, elbow extended straight out. One makes you look broader and more static; the other phony (like you’re trying to be a model). Try several takes of these instead: Turn your body to the side, your head toward the camera, shift your weight from one leg to the other and pop your hip out and/or create angles by bending or crossing your arms or legs. (FYI: Crossing your legs, either seated or standing, makes them look slimmer, and you appear taller!) You can even modify the “wing” to look more flattering by pushing that elbow back and down instead of out to the side, or put your hands on either hip to emphasize a still-trim waist. The secret is to keep varying that pose while being photographed, not to hold it.

5. Stay photo conscious

You never know when a photo will be snapped these days, but no need for full makeup or “done” hair. That said, I’ve yet to hear a better reason for keeping your teeth whitened (via strips or a pro dental treatment) and wearing a little makeup daily. Even a tinted moisturizer and cream blush provide radiance and just a touch of lipstick or eyeliner is all you need to give features definition. Be aware that natural lighting early or late in the day is a mature face’s best friend, especially on sunny days. Head outside or shoot in front of a window to benefit from that warm, rich light that diffuses lines, wrinkles and pigmentation issues. If possible, avoid bright midday sun, which casts unappealing shadows and emphasizes lines. In that situation, always look for shade — for example under an awning or umbrella. Cloudy? You’re in luck, overcast weather works the same way to blur away skin issues. Check your makeup on your phone’s camera to get a reading on how you look. Give hair a shake, tousle or downward head flip right before the photo for some extra movement and va-va-voom.

6. Act a little

Don’t be afraid to project or ham it up. Show some emotion! Keep changing expressions and positions, even slightly, between snaps, and keep it playful. Connect with the person next to you in group shots. If solo, think about someone you love, puppies or your last vacation. Give your eyes some warmth and sparkle by slightly squinting (this works!). Take deep breaths, laugh and giggle. And most of all, relax your jaw with a yawn to release tension before and between shots.

Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.

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