5 tips to look more relaxed in photos

Posted on: November 8, 2021

This is for you if you don’t like having your picture taken, if you get all stiff and awkward when someone points a camera at you, or if you think you’re just generally un-photogenic (or all of the above, lol!). 

[Full disclosure–this descriptions fits about 9 out of every 10 headshot and dating photography clients I work with]

1. TRUST

If you are anxious or self-conscious it *will* come across in photos. Trust is the antidote. Not only will trust help you look better in the photos (whether it’s your professional headshot or online dating photos), it will make your experience of having your picture taken much more enjoyable. 

If you’ve hired a professional photographer to take your picture, trust them and their process. Another way of looking at it–trust *yourself*.

You chose this photographer, right? You did your homework and decided that this professional photographer knew what they were doing? Once you’re in front of their camera, your best bet is to kick back and let your photographer lead.

And if you’re anxious as hell, think of it like this: You’ve decided to ride this little roller coaster (hiring the pro photographer), you’ve buckled yourself in (you showed up for the photoshoot), and now it’s time to enjoy the ride. 

For situations when an amateur photographer is taking your photo (aka a family member or friend), trust that you cannot control the outcome. In other words, let go, make peace. Accept that the photos might totally suck and be delightfully surprised if they don’t. 

2. EXHALE

If you’re nervous about having your picture taken, especially when the stakes feel high (like having hired a professional dating photographer or headshot photographer), you might not be aware of it but your breathing could be making things worse.

Many of us, when we uncomfortable or tense, don’t breathe normally. It could be holding your breath or taking shallower sips of air; it’s probably accompanied by an elevated heart rate. If it is more than a fleeting moment, not breathing normally begins to show on your face and in your body.

The most common way I see this show up during a photoshoot is with tense shoulders– shoulders that start creeping up toward ears.

When I see this happening with a client during a photoshoot I’ll stop for a moment, catch their eye, take a deep breath myself, and then say “exhale” as I myself am exhaling. It works like a charm!

The client mirrors me, responds to my chilling out energy, and takes a big deep breath followed by a soothing exhale themselves.

Exhales are magical for settling shoulders back down into a relaxed position and dissipating tension.

[ this isn’t usually a once-and-done situation. I’ll repeat this process throughout the photoshoot if necessary, each time helping the person reset to a calmer more grounded state ]

You can do this for yourself. When you’re in front of a camera, if you notice you’re not breathing normally, you’re holding your breath, maybe your shoulders are creeping up: stop, take a big deep breath, and then EXHALE. Do it as many times as you need.

3. BE PRESENT

Most people want to look effortlessly confident and relaxed in their professional headshots and dating app photos. The best way to make this happen is to set your intention to being fully present and in-the-moment while you are having your picture taken. Not thinking about what you look like. Not remembering all the photos you’ve looked terrible in. Not anticipating how these photos will turn out. Let go and be fully present in the here and now.

Think of it like this–when you’re on a date or in a meeting with someone who is distracted, you can tell. It’s subtle but it’s in their facial expressions and body language (and it doesn’t feel good).

Now contrast it with someone who is fully present and engaged with you, you have their full attention (it feels great!).

Photos capture these same nonverbal signals that tell us whether someone is present or not. Universally, we prefer to be with a person who is present.

Next time you are having your picture taken, tune into your senses, get in your body, and get out of your head. If you have a yoga or meditation practice, you’ve already got the skills. When your mind starts to wander during a photoshoot, keep bringing yourself back to the present moment.  

4. DO A QUICK RESET

If you’ve been having your picture taken for a while (maybe 5 min, maybe an hour, everybody’s threshold is different) and you’re starting to feel stiff or tired or disengaged, it may be time for a reset.

A reset is like a quick time-out and can be anything from breaking eye contact, to turning away, flapping your arms around like a goober, shaking it out, etc.. It really only needs to last a few moments.

It’s about breaking connection for a few beats (with the camera & the photographer), reconnecting with yourself, and dissipating stuck energy by moving your body, so that you can step back into the experience of being photographed, refreshed and back in the game.

5. ENGAGE YOUR EYES

You don’t have to fire up a full-blown toothy smile to look really warm and approachable in photos, you just have to have kind, engaged eyes.

It’s important to avoid falling into the trap of busting out a “say cheese!” smile that’s all mouthy but with dead/bored/vacant eyes–that will be recognized as a fake smile from a mile away or worse, look downright creepy.

A good trick when a genuine smile isn’t close at hand is to adopt pleasantly interested or what I call “active listening eyes”.

Look at the photographer (or around your environment if you’ve been instructed to look away), as if you’re *really interested* in what’s going on.

Physically, the muscles around your eyes aren’t totally relaxed or slack, they’re fired up a tiny bit. Not exactly a squint but definitely a tad squinchy. Your eyes aren’t dull or blank or bored–they’re bright and energetic; like you’re listening to a talk by someone you really admire, like you’re looking at your beloved dog or kid sister or granny, like you’re at the grocery store smiling at a cute girl but you’re wearing a mask so that smile has to come through your eyes. Get my drift?

Another bonus tip to look and feel super relaxed in


Alright, here’s a quick recap!

To look better in photos, and to feel better when you’re having your picture taken:

  1. Trust your photographer 
  2. Exhale
  3. Be present in the moment
  4. Do a quick reset
  5. Engage your eyes

Try any of these steps next time you find yourself feeling stiff or awkward in front of a camera.

Another thing you can do to look and feel more relaxed in your professional headshots and dating photos is to come to the photoshoot prepared by planning a great wardrobe. Here are some tips on that:

One of the benefits of hiring a great professional photographer is that don’t have to figure everything out on your own. You can just focus on the first step– Trust. Your photographer will walk you through the rest of it.

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