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How to Look Great in Every Photograph

Tips for posing, smiling and choosing your best side

spinner image Family posing for a graduation photo
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Thanks to ubiquity of smartphones, it feels like you always have to be ready for your close-up. And with wedding and graduation season upon us, the photos are sure to be flying. For most of us that's daunting. As for those of you who post like mad and think you have posing nailed spot-on, based on the thousands of shots I see posted online daily, many of you are definitely way off.

Knowing how to look your best in a photo isn't a knack. It's a skill; it takes practice and patience; and once you master it, it doesn't matter whether Annie Leibovitz or your youngest daughter is taking the shot. Follow these 10 steps and you will always be, “Looking good!"

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1. Photography is about taking three dimensions and reducing them to two. Consequently, check yourself out in a three-sided mirror, and/or open your smartphone camera roll and go over all your photos to find your best side and most attractive angle. Everyone has one. Barbra Streisand only gives her left side, and Donna Karan often rests the right of her face on her right hand. Find your best angle and stick to it.

2. Pose. We mean it. There's nothing natural about a photo, so why pretend to behave that way? Nor is the camera going to reveal your inner thoughts. Want to look happy, sexy, excited or romantic? Then act it! More on how to do this in a bit, but trust us, Chris Pine and George Clooney are posing nonstop every time they're on the red carpet.

3. Avoid being photographed at noon outside or directly under a chandelier or halogen lights. Overhead lighting casts the worst shadows on your face, and if your hair is fine can make you look as if you are losing it. Even the worst photographer should know better than to backlight you, but just in case, kindly refuse. Choose early morning or dusk for outside, and shoulder high angled lighting for inside.

4. Never:

  • Be photographed with your jacket unbuttoned if you are wearing one. Ever. When left open, the space created between your waist and arms adds inches to your midsection, and it looks sloppy, not relaxed.
  • Be photographed with a drink in your hand, unless they're catching you make a toast. Otherwise put it down for the shot.
  • Be photographed with your tie pulled loose. Either knot your tie properly or take it off. The last person who looked cool with a loose tie and open shirt collar was Frank Sinatra. You'll just look drunk.

5. Here are some fine points to posing:

  • Position your body but forget about your hands. Just leave them by your side.
  • More importantly, put one leg slightly forward, twist your body slightly away from the lens (thins your waist), and square your shoulders.
  • If you want to look really strong and grounded, open your legs a bit — not like John Cena about to pounce, but just enough to look anchored to the ground.

6. Most folks thrust their chin forward and look up when being photographed. Do the exact opposite. Look slightly down and up through your eyelashes. Sounds coy and girlish, we know, until you see the results.

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7. A classic model's trick (both male and female): Instead of looking directly into the lens, look at the top of it. It opens your eyes a bit more, which is real helpful after the sixth toast at a wedding.

8. Whatever your chosen expression (full, half or no smile), always imagine seducing the person taking the picture. Substitutions are fine.

9. Best tip ever for standing tall, straight and pulled together: Once your feet are planted, squeeze your butt. You read that right. And I mean really squeeze! The tightening drops your shoulders, lengthens your torso, pushes your hips forward, and brings in your stomach. When you finish smirking, try it. It's foolproof.

10. Finally, once you strike your chosen pose, don't break. Ignore everything until the camera clicks, whether it's seismic tremors or your buddies teasing you for not trying to “be spontaneous.” Once they see how bad they look, and how good you do, they're going to ask for this list.

Hal Rubenstein is a founding editor of InStyle and former restaurant critic for New York magazine. He is the author of five books, including 100 Unforgettable Dresses.

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