Move LifeStyle

Move LifeStyle

Accentuate the Positive

Do I look fat? Is my double chin showing? Do I look stupid, as usual? 
Having a camera on you can instantly bring all of your insecurities to the surface, making it almost impossible to look anything but stressed out, worried, or simply awkward while posing in a photo. Nobody teaches us what to do in front of the camera, and yet, we all expect ourselves to magically look and feel as amazing as celebrities do on the cover of Marie Claire, and then we are hard on ourselves when we can’t live up to our own unrealistic ideals.

The Sad Truth

These days, I get to direct people while my husband Adam shoots. We make people look and feel awesome, and we love it.

Since the awkwardly self-scrutinizing age of puberty, some of us have been lucky enough to discover how to cope with the social ritual of having our photo taken, or even enjoy it. Others of us have not, and continue to internally hyperventilate at the thought of having to pose for a photo, and maybe even flat-out refuse. Most of us are likely somewhere in the middle range, knowing that we can suck it up enough to just do it, but still might feel the initial flash of doubt and anxiety that we felt at age 12, and maybe grit our teeth through the process, and then, stillresign ourselves to the fact that we will hate the photo anyway.

8th grade: I hated my hair, my eyebrows and especially my nose. I thought that tilting my chin up made it look better in photos. My fake smile says I’m completely unhappy in my own skin.

What is it about having our photo taken that magnifies our every single insecurity? Is it the idea that we actually have to face the reality of ourselves, concretely and tangibly staring back at us in a photo? Is it the idea that others will judge us as harshly as we often judge ourselves? Or can it be more- an unforgiving, visceral time capsule of any and all of the current sadness, tumult and general dissatisfaction that surrounds us in our life?The truth is that we know exactly who we are on the inside.

Moment of Truth

While we can put on a face and believe that we can fool everybody on the outside, we know, with excruciating honesty, exactly how we are doing and what we are feeling on the inside. The truth is, we know exactly what we do in order to avoid the truth, and avoid our feelings. We shop, eat, sleep, work, drink and watch tv, really anything to distract us from ourselves. We say that we just want to be happy, but how many of us really stop to think about what that specifically looks like?

Having our photo taken could be the thing that makes us sit still and brings our focus back to ourselves,

We say that we just want to be happy, but how many of us really stop to think about what that specifically looks like?

our feelings, and all the things that we wish we did, or knew, or could be. No wonder it is so uncomfortable! Even if you’ve never thought about it, on some level, you’ve probably always known that having your photo taken is not as simple as saying “Cheese!” and looking amazing and loving the photo. There’s so much more than mechanics that determine whether or not you like a photo.

Freedom! Grand Canyon 2004

Let’s break it down: First and foremost, the most crucial determinant in deciding if you like a photo is how it makes you feel. Given a split second to make a choice between something that makes you feel anxious, judged and afraid, and something else that makes you feel confident, beautiful and loved, which would you choose? Kind of a no-brainer, right?

It’s the same thing when you look at a photo of yourself. If your negative feelings are about knowing and judging how you felt inside in the moment the picture was taken, then of course you will mirror and relive it all as you look at your photo. But if it’s a photo of yourself looking and feeling completely happy and content and comfortable in your own skin, you’ll mirror and relive those feelings instead.

2013: A New Beginning

Try something. Imagine accepting yourself just as you are, without judgement, and only love. Acknowledge that you are doing the very best that you can, right now, in this moment. Remember that when modern life is stripped away, through natural disaster, illness or crisis, the only things that still matter are the people you love and how you relate to them. The only thing left, even after death, is love and life.

Feeling ALIVE just before skydiving with my husband Adam at 8am, New Year’s Day, 2007.

Now, think of something that is truly alive in every sense of the word. It is not apologetic, or wilted or stale. Rather, it is exuberant, vibrant, spirited and vivacious. Imagine looking at a photo of somebody who embodies being alive. How does that make you feel?

Would it matter to a 90-year-old Italian Nona entertaining her beloved grandkids in the middle of her kitchen, that she has a double chin and a few extra pounds? Would a military wife care that she doesn’t have flat abs as she embraces her husband after another long tour of duty? Or a new mom seeing and holding her baby for the first time – would she care that she’s sweaty and gross, and doesn’t have makeup on? Of course not. All you would notice, as my mom would say, is that “You can see the love flowing.”

Our creepy, dead-behind-the-eyes and stale-everything self-portrait, 2011

It all starts with love, gratitude and acceptance. Loving yourself, today, in this moment, just as you are. Gratitude for all you have and all the people you love. Acceptance that all you can do is the best you can do, and that is good enough.

In this new year and beyond, resolve to be gentle with yourself, and do your best to accept and love yourself, just as you are, in this moment.

Now, coming from this non-judgmental place, there are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when you feel that camera on you. It’s a great idea to take some time to practice these in front of a mirror. It will enable you to see what actually changes as you make each adjustment, and learn what you like and what makes you feel comfortable. If you feel silly, that’s completely ok; it just means you’re on the right track. Even stars do this in order to learn to walk the red carpet. It’s a difficult skill that doesn’t just magically appear; you have to learn to work it!

Positive Posing: 101

If you feel silly, that’s completely ok; it just means you’re on the right track.

The dictionary says that to pose is to assume a particular attitude or position in order to be photographed, painted or drawn. However, going one step further by using “and” instead of “or” conveys the fact that neglecting either the attitude or the physical position will make any pose fall flat. Both are crucial. Posing can have a negative, fake, canned-for-effect connotation. That’s not what we want. We want a vibrant, genuine expression of life, captured in a photo. The trick is to learn how to convey that spirit through our physical position.


Forget everything you’ve ever learned about “Cheese!”. Nobody looks good with a canned “Cheese!” smile on. Nobody. Instead, take a second to reset your intention, take a deep breath and get centered. If the photographer is counting to three, it’s ok to look down while you do this, and look up to the camera on “3!”

Deep breath. Accept curly hair. Chin down. Real smile.

Remember your mission to be gentle with yourself and create your best life for yourself and for the people you love. Now aim all of that love and energy straight into the camera. If that makes you smile or laugh, keep it directed into the lens. All you have to do is not judge and not filter. Get out of your own way and allow your genuine, fabulous self to shine through.

Posture: Think Tall

Even if you don’t admit it to her EVER, your mom was right. Posture is important. It’s the slightest, most subtle adjustment that magically dissolves tummy rolls and keeps the ladies up where they “used to be”.

Imagine an invisible string that starts at your heel, travels up through the base of your tailbone, lengthens your spine and extends up from your head. Your shoulders should naturally fall back, and your chest should already be perked up.

If you feel stiff, take a deep breath and shake it all out. Now go back, and try shifting your weight to one side (the one with the heel that the string starts from), and sinking comfortably into that “just hanging out” position.

This is your go-to.

Chin up or chin down?

If you go too “Chin-Down” then you get a few additional chins and instantly look like you used the Fatify app on your phone.

Here is the age old question. If you go too “Chin-Up” then we see up your nose, all the way to your brain. If you go too “Chin-Down” then you get a few additional chins and instantly look like you used the Fatify app on your phone.
If we want people to feel something, then we want people to focus on your eyes, since they’re the windows to the soul. That means making your eyes pop by positioning your head so that the camera is just above your eye level. Usually the person holding the camera is about the same height as you, so you can adjust by bringing your chin just slightly down.
In order to avoid the double chin look, imagine that you’re holding an orange under your chin. If it’s a grapefruit, it’s too big, and if it’s a tangerine, it’s too small. Picturing an orange will lengthen your neck and position your head perfectly, creating that up and over sweet spot.

What do I do with my hands?

If you’re in a photo surrounded by other people, put your arms around them if you like them. If you’re not there yet, then put your hand in your pocket, or make a fist and just put your thumb in your jeans pocket or beltloop.

I’m genuinely happy (obviously!), but my eyes look sleepy and my elbow looks huge. Adjustment: Chin down, elbow back and away from camera, or better yet, arm around my friends!

You can use only one hand or both, whatever you feel comfortable with. Another idea is using your purse as a prop to hold onto.

Now take a deep breath and allow yourself to sink into that position.

One idea to use sparingly is the hand on the hip. It looks great, but can start to feel pretty stale if you use it for every photo. Challenge yourself to tell a story with your body language.

Body Language

Position your body at a 45 degree angle from the camera. That will add some dimension and curve to your frame, as opposed to widening and flattening everything out with a straight on position.
If you want to convey the warm fuzzy feeling you have for the person (or pet!) in the photo with you, turn into them, and open yourself up to them.

Cheers to an amazing 2013!

You may lean in that direction, or put your arm around them, or tilt your head toward theirs. Conversely, if you want to relate the facetious anger you have toward somebody, (a statue would be funny), turn away, close off, and tighten things up by crossing your arms or slouching.

This is a great starting point, but there are so many other possibilities out there. Check out photos of celebrities and start to pay attention to how they make you feel. Do they feel genuinely happy and in the moment? Why, or why not? Are they with somebody they are completely in love with? How can you tell? What are they doing with their hands? Are they engaged with their environment? Does it seem like a stale, posed moment, or does it feel like a spontaneous moment caught on film? A picture can be worth a thousand words, but only if you allow it. Remember to tell a story. Your story. It’s important. And you’re worth it.

This month, we’re serving up bite-sized advice from experts in different fields to help us all make life a little brighter, more creative and more efficient for 2013. Think of this month as a chance to connect with yourself on a deeper level, get closer to what makes you happy, and take control of the balance in ‘work-life balance’ for yourself this year.

Author Description

Sylvia Hendershott

Sylvia Hendershott is co-owner & Social Media Manager of The Headshot Truck. Sought after for her keen eye, honed working with celebrity/comercial kids’ photographer Adam Hendershott, Sylvia has sculpted images for over a decade. Her work has been featured in E, Esquire, People, US Weekly, and Maxim, and her writing can be found here on Move LifeStyle and Ms In The Biz.

  • Jenn Wong
    Great tips!
    • Sylvia Hendershott
  • Autumn Reeser
    Syl, I love this!! This is my favorite line: “Remember to tell a story. Your story. It’s important.”
    • Sylvia Hendershott
      <3 u :)
  • Melissa
    Thank you! This is so helpful for a chronically deer-in-the-headlights photo subject like me. It’s wonderful to get the perspective of an artist like you.
    • Sylvia Hendershott
      Melissa I think you always look gorgeous in photos!! Hope this helps you feel as beautiful as you look. MUAH
  • Pingback: Featured on MOVE Lifestyle: Accentuate the Positive – the hendershott blog()

  • Anya Zhukova
    This is very helpful. Thank you, Sylvia!
    • Sylvia Hendershott
      Thanks for reading Anya! :)
      • Anya Zhukova
        Thank you for writing :) Oh,and I like your “Deep breath. Accept curly hair. Chin down. Real smile.” photo, you look so pretty and relaxed!
  • Sylvia Hendershott
    Thanks so much everybody, I’m so thrilled you guys like this post!

Move LifeStyle is an e-zine for the modern working woman created by Autumn Reeser, Jenn Wong and Ashley Fauset.

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