I'm Not Photogenic: How To Get Your Mind Right For Your Next Portrait Session
I have the privilege and honor of collaborating with some of the most amazing, intelligent and giving people in the world.
Authors, speakers, coaches, and various other thought leaders and change agents who get their clients unstuck, inspired and moving into positive action in order to be better than they were yesterday.
Although they are superheros to their tribes due to their immense amount of expertise they possess, they still, after all, have the permission to be human.
And usually, they exercise this permission within the first 2 minutes of our initial conversation.
“My nose is pointy, so we need to work around that…”
“I hate how my arms look, I need to cover them at all times…”
“My left side is my good side, please shoot me from that side only…”
“One eye is smaller than the other, can you do something about that…”
“My smile is crooked, can we avoid shooting me smiling?”
“My skin is terrible, what can we do about that?”
But, the overwhelming statement I hear most?
“Im not photogenic.”
Everytime I hear someone say this, my heart hurts, because it illustrates how this person feels less than, inadequate and lacking their full potential.
I was overweight, had horrible skin, and was an extremely insecure and self-conscious young man well into my 30’s. I avoided cameras as if I owed it money, and it was coming to collect. I would duck, dive and run away from friends and family looking to take a snapshot with me.
Looking back on this time in my life used to inspire a bevy of negative and pessimistic feelings, but now, I use this pain as a source of strength and inspiration for those that I serve.
And I leverage this strength every time I sit down with one of my thought leader clients.
You see, after I hold space for the client to rattle off all of their perceived imperfections - I refer to this as “head garbage”, that’s when I take a breath, let the dust settle, and then I seize the opportunity to step in and call bullshit.
There is no room for this type of fixed, negative mindset in front of my camera, not because it drums up bad memories for me, but because this belief will sabotage the entire portrait session for them.
This lack of confidence will be written all over their faces.
In every single photo.
If you have a slew of branded lifestyle portraits where you look unsure, lack confidence and look completely uncomfortable, you might as well trash them immediately, because these images are completely useless.
The whole point of having a high-volume, image library of magazine-quality, lifestyle portraits is to visually punctuate the stories you want to share about your business, brand and life. They also position you as the authority in your field.
As a result, if you leverage portraits where your facial expression translates to “I’m not photogenic,” you’re sending mixed messages to your tribe.
Your empowering thoughts express one sentiment, but, your face tells a completely different story.
Now, who the hell is going to buy in, engage your content, and trust that you are the solution to their particular pain with messaging as confusing as this?
You want to inform, inspire and entertain your tribe - not leave them questioning whether or not you believe the shit that comes out of your own mouth.
If your mind is not right before your session, you might as well burn the money you just spent on it.
This is why I spend a tremendous amount of time evaluating my clients mindset before we even touch on personal branding, locations, outfits, hair and makeup.
I want to make sure that each client truly understands the importance of seeing beyond their perceived flaws, and realize that the value of their game-changing insights MUST supercede their issues with their own vanity.
In order for my thought leader clients to create massive impact on those who need to hear it most, they first need to get themselves noticed through massive visibility, which means they must build a massive and memorable social presence, and, in order to achieve that, they need to constantly pull from a massive amount of branded image content.
Yup, it’s a massive amount of work, but, it’s worth it on many levels.
In order to help set up my clients for success, I did some heavy, introspective work of my own.
I participated in a certificate course in Applied Positive Psychology as a way to understand how the mind operates, what truly motivates people’s thoughts and actions, and how to live a flourishing life.
I wanted to leverage this newfound knowledge to strengthen and enhance the interactions I have with my clients, so that I can truly empower and embolden them to leave their nerves at the door, drop their guards, reveal authentic aspects of their personalities and show up powerfully, purposefully and authentically in their branded, portrait images.
By learning about positivity, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement and vitality, I am now able to complement my years of experiences directing different types of personalities in front of the camera with science-based principles in order to effectively prepare clients for a successful and valuable, branded, lifestyle portrait session.
I want them overflowing with positive, emotional capital, so that their mindsets are north of neutral and they’re mentally and emotionally present in the moment to kick ass in front of the camera.
This represents the ideal mental state before your session, and fortunately, it’s not an impossible mission to achieve.
It also doesn’t happen by magic - there’s several positive psychology principles and interventions in which you can engage before and during the portrait session in order to show up in the photos exactly the way you are in life.
The next, logical question is where to start?
Choose a lifestyle portrait photographer that’s right for you.
Although not a positive psychology principal, this happens to be the bedrock for every single, successful photography session, and one that many people take for granted.
Most people assume that the “right” photographer for them should be based on their portfolio and price tag, but, that is only a small piece of the puzzle.
Although a photographer’s style and cost are, undoubtedly, important factors, working with a photographer with whom you feel comfortable enough to open up and be yourself is the more important goal to achieve.
A solid rapport between you two will ensure that the branded lifestyle portrait session will produce powerful portraits where you look comfortable, relaxed and natural.
I establish this connection with clients from our very first conversation.
While I am extremely passionate about my business behind the camera, I couple this aspect of my personality with my love of, for a lack of a better phrase, shit-talking, to create an atmosphere and experience that loosens up my clients and allows them to have a more natural and enjoyable experience.
In addition to good rapport, you want to work with a photographer that is willing and able to collaborate with you beyond pushing the shutter button with every shot they take and move they make.
Your goal is not to just capture pretty photos - it’s to capture a variety of portrait images that present you powerfully and authentically in order to visually punctuate the stories and expertise you want to share with your tribe - and it’s important to know the person behind the camera understands the game plan and has your best interests in mind.
Once you’ve booked a photographer who will capture you the way that you want to show up in the world, you can now look inward and work on generating a healthy amount of positive, emotional capital to help combat the anxiety demons that creep up on you the moment that you start thinking about lights and cameras.
Acknowledge the value you represent to your tribe
Your words move people to get off their asses and be better than they were yesterday, and since you are a fellow human being, you understand the difficulty that comes with creating positive change in one’s life and business.
Whether or not you are uncomfortable with your appearance, your thought leadership is game changing to those who follow you.
In other words, the image content that you create to visually punctuate the stories that will inspire and motivate is bigger than you. They are for the people you wish to serve.
Therefore, it is your responsibility as a change agent to share your thoughts with the world in order to help those who need to hear it most.
As a way to look past the self-defeating thoughts you have about your upcoming portrait session, I invite you to look through the comments section on your blogs and social posts, and read all of the responses.
I do this on occasion, and this seemingly innocuous exercise truly charges me up because it reminds me that sharing my thoughts and insights actually makes a difference to others.
How awesome is that feeling, especially when it’s directly linked to your sense of purpose?
Focus on creating trustworthiness, and not on yourself
Another great way to avoid falling down a rabbit hole of self-loathing regarding aspects of your appearance is to put those toxic, worrying thoughts aside and focus on building positive, emotional capital by creating image content that fosters a sense of trustworthiness with those you serve.
This activity, undoubtedly, is a more fulfilling use of your time and attention prior to your session than spending it worrying and catastrophizing that the session will be a total nightmare.
So, how do you go about establishing and building trustworthiness exactly?
Focus on establishing credibility
What is your body of work? Where have you shared this work in the past? Who and/or what influences your thought leadership?
Talk with your photographer prior to the session to strategize about the types of portraits you want to capture to visually punctuate these types of stories.
Have you written a book? Let’s see some branded image content of the cover, chapter titles and selected passages.
Given a keynote? If you don’t have actual, event photos of you speaking in public, you can simply fake it during your branded lifestyle portrait session. For example:
If the space in which you’re shooting has a lectern, stand at it and present
Write notes on a whiteboard or poster board
Sit at the head of a conference table with your slide deck projecting behind you
There are many other ways to establish credibility, but the key is figuring out the ones that work best represent you and your brand.
Establish an intimate relationship with your tribe
Although it’s always a pleasure to share your “wins,” it’s just as important to teach a lesson through your miscalculations and setbacks, as well.
Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be you.
And that will endear you to your tribe.
Talk with your photographer prior to the session about capturing portraits that show a more reflective, pensive and thought-provoking tone in order to visually complement these types of stories.
Be consistent and reliable with your social media posts
Are a once-in-a-blue-moon, social poster? When was the last year that you sat down to write a blog?
C’mon now, you know that that flaky, inconsistency isn’t exactly winning anybody over!
In order to truly gain your followers trust and attention, you must be deliberate about keeping a consistent, social media posting schedule. After all, this is one of the main reasons why you need a high-volume, image library in the first place.
Don’t be that person who just invested in a ton of amazing photos and spends more energy creating excuses to not post, then actually creating the content itself!
Don’t be a “Me-Monster”
When you do post content, is it sales-driven copy meant to pressure people into buying your product or services? Do you only talk about how outlandishly amazing your life is without attaching it to your purpose and showing gratitude for your success? Do you ever engage the comments section of your posts - answer people’s questions, point people in the right direction or at the very least, show some appreciation and acknowledgement of their engagement?
This is classic “Me-Monster” behavior - and it’s hazardous to your businesses and brands health.
If you seek to connect and provide value to a flourishing community of followers, you need to cut this shit out immediately before people only begin to notice the “Me-Monster” posts.
Remember, other people matter - otherwise, what would be the purpose of creating a highly visible, social media presence for your thought leadership?
Remember your sense of purpose
Another way to add to your positive, emotional capital prior to your branded lifestyle portrait session is to remind yourself of your why.
Your sense of purpose is the active way you uniquely impact the world.
As a result, anytime that I am feeling anxious or out-of-sorts, I recall my sense of purpose:
“My purpose is to use my creativity, humor and personal journey to collaborate and inspire others so that I can guide my clients who feel anxious and self-conscious in front of the camera, to show up authentically, powerfully and purposefully in their portrait images.”
Simply by re-typing this statement just sent a jolt of awesomeness through my body - no BS!
When you create a purpose statement, that is a powerful commitment to yourself, meaning that despite the challenges you will face and the sacrifices that are needed in order to see this purpose through, you are ready, willing and able to make it happen.
As a change agent looking to create impact, one of these major challenges involves you getting past your anxiety demons in front of the camera in order to create the image content you need to attract those who need your help most.
As a intervention to move your attention past these anxious feelings, I invite you to complete your own purpose statement:
My purpose is to use my____________to__________and____________ so that______________________.
Once you’ve filled it out, put copies of it up all over your house as a constant reminder of why your service to others supersedes your own anxiety about your photos being taken.
Your words are powerful and create long-lasting change in others, how about we give it a shot for yourself, eh?
Another writing exercise that I find to be very helpful with creating a flow of positive, emotional capital is to answer this question in as many ways as you can in 60 seconds:
I love me when ________________.
Truth be told, when my instructor brought up this activity in class, I thought this was a bunch of lame, woo-woo hosreshit that really served no practical purpose.
But eventually, I stopped my bitching and committed to completing the exercise!
I’m glad I did because, guess what? It was an awesome experience to see this list staring back at me, reminding me how I feel when I am at my best.
I was pumped up afterwards, no doubt about it.
How are you at your best? How do you feel when you love the activities in which you
participate? Do you love yourself when you are serving others? Teaching a lesson? Helping followers discover their ways of getting unstuck?
Give yourself a full minute to brainstorm answers that finish this statement and see how you feel afterwards.
I invite you to post your “I love me when ________” statements right next to your purpose statements in your house in the days leading up to your portrait session. Give it a glance when you start to feel the anxiety around your session bubbling up to the surface.
Visualize how awesome your portrait session will be
Although not nearly as paralyzing as it used to be, I still get a few butterflies the night before every single, branded lifestyle portrait session.
Rather than crawl into the fetal position and allow the negative, self-talk to overcome me, I allow these butterflies to narrow and focus my attention towards visualizing the entire day tomorrow - from the moment I wake up, to the moment I give my client a warm, goodbye hug.
I include all the details - from packing my bags full of gear, jumping on the train, and setting everything up on location, to how I plan to direct the client in various lifestyle portrait scenarios, to the photo review portion of the session.
This is process visualization - acknowledging all the small steps that make up the whole, rather than visualizing the whole itself - and it is an amazing tool to leverage when feeling stressed about an upcoming event.
Process visualization helps reduce stress because it plays on a very interesting nuance of our brains.
You see, our brains don’t know the difference between what it’s experiencing and what it’s imagining, so, if you think it, it is so, as far as your brain is concerned.
(Mind was blown on that one, lol)
As a result, visualize yourself going through the entire process of completing an amazing, portrait session:
Choosing your outfits/packing your bags
Arriving at the location
Getting your hair and makeup done
Sharing a few laughs with the photographer before the session
Being engaged and loose in front of the camera
Observing the photographer reset from setup-to-setup
Transitioning from location-to-location and changing your wardrobe
Reviewing the images and selecting your favorites
Celebrating the completion of a valuable and empowering portrait session!
Rather than spend the days leading up to the session devolving into a ball of nerves, use your brainpower for good, and allow yourself to visualize a smooth, flowing process that leads to the best, branded lifestyle portrait session that you’ve ever had in your life.
Can’t hurt to try, right?
Create goals for before & during the lifestyle portrait session
A great way to create a wealth of positive, emotional capital is to focus your attention on setting and meeting a range of goals you have for your upcoming, branded lifestyle portrait session.
Before your session, create a checklist of goals in order to meet them, savor the victory and build positive momentum leading up to the session. Leverage the process visualization technique discussed before; turn many of those moments you visualize into actionable goals that will help keep your attention focused and narrowed on the tasks at hand.
Before and during the session, talk with your photographer about building in some smaller goals to keep your attention from wandering over into the dark side. For example, request short bursts of shooting (5-10 minutes apiece), and take more breaks to review the images to see what’s working and what’s not.
One very important goal - do not ignore your photographer in favor of the opinion rattling off inside your head.
Allow him or her to explain to you how a third party will interpret these particular portraits and how best you can leverage them, and not cloud your opinion with your head garbage.
I know this is a difficult step, but, it’s absolutely vital that you allow for criticism - and praise - from someone who wants to present you in the best light possible.
And then, don’t forget to celebrate the completion of each, short burst to help savor the moment and allow yourself to really feel the sense of accomplishment.
Perhaps a quick coffee/tea/non-alcoholic drink of choice break? Maybe a short, celebration dance? Share a High-5 with the photographer? Doesn’t have to be some over-the-top thing - just an activity that will positively resonate with you and allow time to let the accomplishments sink in.
Take your M.E.D.S.
I love this acronym - one of my Positive Psychology colleagues came up with it during class, and, it truly resonates with me.
My hope is that it will now truly resonate with you, :)
Unlike many of the other interventions mentioned above that are more mental and emotional-based, this one involves physical activity in order to produce a ton of positive, emotional capital.
Make sure you take your M.E.D.S once a day for the week leading up to your session:
Rather than sit at your desk or on the couch freaking out as the days draw closer to your upcoming branded, lifestyle portrait session, how about you get your ass out of that chair and walk around the block?
Creating motion helps alleviate stress and also, fosters more creative thoughts, so, give that a whirl!
I know that for some of you, a photo session equates to starving yourself everyday for a week beforehand.
Please don’t do that.
Aside from the awesome mood swings, your face will scream, “I need to eat - NOW!” and that will render your branded lifestyle photos useless.
You are participating in a portrait session meant to promote you authentically and powerfully - and starving yourself will be counter-productive to all of your goals for the session - unless you’re going for the gaunt-looking, pissed off vibe, of course.
...lots and lots of booze - uhhh, I mean water! :)
Drinking a lot of water helps benefit a slew of bodily functions, as well as hydrates the skin and lips, which is, clearly, an important factor leading up to your branded, lifestyle portrait session.
Don’t skimp on this one - it will show up quite prominently in your photos if you do!
Are you one of these people who prides yourself on being able to function on 3-4 hours of sleep or less a night?
Awesome - well, cut that shit out the night before your session!
Even if you can function normally, your face will be telling a much different story.
Just like water, if you skimp on the sleep, it will be written all over your face, and remember, it’s your appearance that has you all worked up in the first place!
So, opt for a solid 8 hours the night before so you don’t look like you’re sleepwalking through the session.
Have you ever tried to meditate?
One of the best ways to calm an agonizingly, anxious mind is by shutting out the rest of the world and focusing all of your attention on one thing - be it a body part, a chakra, a mantra or simply your breath.
Honestly, this is another practice that I used to think was a bunch of bullshit...until I opened my mind to the possibility and gave it a shot.
And now, I actively schedule time for meditation a couple days a week.
There are hundreds of apps, thousands of Youtube videos and countless other audio recording of all different types of meditations, so, I invite you to dip your toe in the water and give a couple of these options a try.
There is a mediation out there for pretty much every occasion - waking up, in the shower, commuting to work, at your desk, energy boost, during lunch, before bedtime, etc.
In the weeks leading up to your branded lifestyle portrait session, when you feel the pre-session jitters coming on, carve out a couple minutes of your day to quiet your mind to concentrate on the present moment.
Feel gratitude for your branded lifestyle portrait session
“A sense of gratitude? But, I’m freaking out over here? What the hell am I grateful for exactly?”
Many of my clients who have anxiety in front of the camera treat their sessions like as if they were attending a funeral.
Flip those thoughts on it’s head and treat this session as a celebration complete with lights and a camera.
What’s the occasion?
You’re adding to your emotional capital reserves by celebrating the fact that you’re in an amazing position with your business, that you need to grow your visibility to a place where you will be able to create impact at a once, unimaginable level!
But, if you are in a position to hire a photographer to create a massive, high-volume, image library, then, clearly, you’re in a financial, creative and logistical position to set yourself up for achieving another level.
I think this definitely calls for a round of gratitude, don’t you think?
If there is one thing that I’d like to leave you with, it’s this:
When it comes to service of others, don’t be afraid to own the moment. Own your outfits, own your expressions, own your goals, purpose, and last but not least, own the shit out of that camera pointed directly at you!
There is no one else on this Earth like you, from your education to the experiences you’ve lived through, and since you have something amazing to share, please don’t be afraid to own the space to do so!
Your tribe will thank you kindly for it, :)
After reading this article, did any questions pop up in your mind?
Are you thinking about creating some branded lifestyle portraits but not sure where to begin the process?
I can definitely help you with that. I’ll walk you through the process, step-by-step, and set you up for a successful and empowering, branded lifestyle portrait session.
Schedule a call with me and let’s see if we’re a fit to work together.