Control the camera to control your professional image

The techniques for looking good on Zoom and other video conferencing, as used by top executives, influencers and celebrities, are largely unknown to most business professionals.  Here our amateur volunteer ‘models’ demonstrate these universal photography principles, and what applies to them applies to all of us.

Five simple steps will transform how you look on video calls. Following them means you can sit down in front of your screen, click ‘start video’ and know that you are in control of your professional image.

It means exploring how you interact physically with your screen and with your camera lens: you are going to position yourself with them in mind. It means looking at your environment, and at what lighting and clothes flatter you. You will only have to go through the experiment once, and then you will be able to sit down knowing how to look great on all your Zoom calls.

Once you are looking your best, we will talk about the single most powerful thing you can do in a video call meeting or interview: make eye contact.

First, let’s find the tiny dot on your device that is the camera lens. You may have never even looked at it before, but now you are going to experiment with its height, tilt and distance to your face. 

Laptop and smart phone showing where your camera is for zoom and how to look good on video calls

Here’s how to take control of what that obscure little dot is seeing:


Show your whole face to look good on Zoom

Take a good look at where you are appearing on the screen. We want to see your whole head and a bit of your shoulders—anything else looks slightly uncomfortable. It reminds us that we are looking at you on a screen, rather than creating the illusion that we are in a conversation together.  It’s disconcerting.

Man off-centre in the webcam - don't do this on zoom
man central and showing his shoulders - how to look good on zoom

You want to appear as though you are at the distance of a normal conversation. Cutting off your chin, or slicing through your forehead, means you are too close to the camera, or that the screen of your device is angled badly. You don’t want your face to take up the whole screen either—as though you are checking for something in your eye in the mirror. It’s easy to make your new colleague feel that you are uncomfortably close.

Your whole head and shoulders appearing on the screen is what looks polished and professional.

So simply find the little dot that is the camera lens and adjust the tilt of your screen, or sit nearer or further away from it, to change what it sees and to make your whole face visible.

how to look good on zoom - man in the camera with his shoulders and full face in view

Choose your position

Usually your camera lens will be at the center of your device. You give a different impression to viewers if you place yourself right in front of the lens or to one side.

Being centered in your viewers’ screen gives you more presence. Your shoulders will take up as much of the width of the screen as possible, making you look larger and more broad-shouldered. You look more competent, confident, and assertive. You dominate your space.

how to look good on zoom - woman in the camera on an ipad with her shoulders and full face in view
how to look good on zoom - woman in the camera on an ipad with her shoulders and full face in view

Sitting to one side, in an asymmetrical position, is more casual and friendly. Asymmetrical poses can show more of the curves and the shape of your body, and look less assertive and  less authoritative.


Put your camera lens at the most flattering height

Every camera follows a basic principle that photographers use to change how we look in photos and videos. Whatever is closest to the camera looks the biggest. Closer to the camera = bigger in the photo. 

So whatever parts of your face are closer to the camera will look bigger than the parts that are further away, even though the distances are very small. You can see this in action—watch how your face is reshaped when you hold the front-facing camera below you, at eye-level and above you.

how to look good on zoom - woman in the camera on an iphone with her face central, and shoulders and full face in view

What you are doing is choosing whether your chin, your nose or your eyes are going to be closer to the camera, and so you are changing their relative sizes. On the left, Mona’s chin is closer to the camera. In the middle, her nose and cheeks are the closest. On the right, her forehead and eyes are closest, and her eyes look much bigger.

You may want to keep this in mind when you are thinking about how to look good on Zoom. When you position the screen toofar below you, it can be unflattering. Fortunately, you can change the height of any device.

Experiment with how high that tiny dot of a lens should be. You could try using a laptop stand, or propping your device on a pile of books. Or try tilting the angle of your screen to see how different parts of your face look closer to the camera. 

The height of the camera affects not only your facial features, but also the impact you make. Let’s see Sally video-calling with the camera lens below her, and then above her.

Lowering your device gives you the Emperor Effect:

  • your eyes look smaller, with your eyelids coming down over your eyes.
  • your lips and smile may look bigger.
  • your jawline is emphasized, making some faces look older, more confident and more dominating.
  • you seem to be looking down at your viewers.

This angle can give you an aura of authority, competence and power. The Emperor Effect is heavily used by business executives and politicians for still photos and videos – just don’t put the screen so far below you that all anyone sees is a pair of huge nostrils!

woman looking down at a laptop - not a good video call pose

Raising your device gives you the Baby Face Effect:

  • your eyes look up to the screen and your lids are raised, which makes your eyes look bigger.
  • your forehead looks bigger, and your nose and mouth look smaller.
  • your cheekbones cast a flattering, contouring shadow over your cheeks below.
  • you hide a double chin or a neck you don’t like.
  • you look more approachable.

Larger foreheads, big eyes and smaller jaws appeal to us, since we associate them with a childlike appearance. This angle can make you look more friendly, more approachable and more personable. But you might look younger and less competent. Consider the trade offs and how you want to be perceived on your video calls.

woman looking up at a raised-level laptop, which is a good video call pose

Adjusting the camera height gives you more control over your image than a meeting in person. Sally can choose one extreme or the other, or pick a more neutral height in between.

Here’s Olivier, adjusting the height of his Ipad to try both effects. 

man looking into an ipad camera


Give your background the once-over

You want the camera lens to focus on you. For personal calls, go ahead and let your kitchen or your bedroom express your personality. But for work calls, a fairly blank wall puts the focus on you and what you have to say. A window with blinds, or a large headboard on your bed, can work too. 

Why do you want to keep it simple?

Whoever is on the other side of the call may be seeing a lot of clutter in their own environment. And if you are on a big group call, your own photo can be tiny and hard to distinguish. A plain backdrop makes sure that you, your expressions, and your gestures stand out.

woman looking head-on at a laptop camera

You can try to find a background that is different in color from your hair and your clothes, so you don’t fade into it. If you have to take video calls in a cluttered environment, try wearing a single solid color to pop out from the background.

Some video services let you blur your background or put up a photo or virtual background—especially useful if you have family or friends moving back and forth behind you. Just check that, when you are actually on your call, your background isn’t too distracting, and doesn’t make you look like you have a plant or a lamppost growing out of your head!

Find the best light for your video call

Everyone looks bad in bad lighting. It’s worth giving just a moment’s thought to what kind of lighting you have, and where it is before you start your video conference.

The best place for a video call is facing a window. Many of the complicated lighting arrangements in professional studios try to mimic window light. 

If you have daylight, whether it’s sunny or cloudy, just turn off the indoor lights and face your window for a uniquely flattering light. Try it and see.

man taking a selfie/video call from above in front of a window

If you have blinds, you can diffuse the light to give your face a slightly smoothing filter. Some video conferencing apps have something similar, such as Zoom’s subtle ‘Touch up my appearance’ option under Preferences/Video, which is designed to help you look good.

woman on a video call in front of a window

If you don’t have window light available, see if you can find a desk lamp to use for video calls. It will let you choose where to put the light, which will make a big difference. It is most flattering to sit with your light source in front of you.  Here’s why.

A light directly above you or directly below you casts strange shadows on your facial features.

And a light behind you creates a highlight for the camera lens: it will burn out part of your image with a patch of pure white, which is tiring for your colleagues to look at for more than a few minutes.

woman on a video call with light in front of her

But a light in front of you smooths away undereye shadows and softens your features and your skin, as you can see in the photos below.

If you can sit in front of a window, or put a desk lamp on the other side of your device, so it shines gently on your face, you will see the difference.

how to look good on zoom
how to look good on zoom

To get the effect of daylight, a light therapy lamp can be rigged up to your computer for a flattering white light (these are popular in Nordic countries with short periods of daylight).

Influencers and celebrities invest in all kind of lighting products to help them look their best on video calls, but any light shining in front of you will help you put your best self forward. 

lighting equipment attached to a pc


Hide distractions

What you are wearing can distract your viewers. Patterns can be overlooked in everyday life, but then spring out at us distractingly on the screen.

woman on zoom in mismatched clothing
woman on zoom in matching clothing that complements her background

The same thing happens if you have a slogan or logo across your chest. You may have forgotten you put it on, but we can’t help reading the text repeatedly, sucking attention away from you.

Instead, try wearing solid colors to let the camera highlight you. You may not want to fuss over your clothes for every Skype call, but consider keeping something helpful on hand wherever you usually make calls: a blazer, a solid-colored sweater, or a scarf that will stop a pattern dominating, cover up a distracting slogan, or even just hide that you are still wearing your pyjamas.

If it’s really important, wear white

Your laptop camera, unlike the human eye and brain, cannot adjust and compensate for different types of light, and might turn you inexplicably orange or blue!

Including white somewhere for the camera to latch onto – either something white on your clothes or in your surroundings – will prevent this.

man looking good on a video call


Now you’ve located the small camera lens and positioned it so that:

  • it can see your whole face
  • it is at the right height for your face.

You’ve chosen your setting for important video calls, trying to have:

  • a simple background
  • light in front of you (daylight, if it’s the right time of day)
  • an accessory that camouflages your pyjamas, if necessary

You’ve done all this to look your most polished, and now you can forget about it for the duration of your call. You can be confident that you will look good on Zoom. The reason you are on this video call is to connect with someone. Here’s an important way to do that.

Make eye contact

You know that the camera lens is above your screen. Because we are looking at our screens, we are all having conversations apparently not looking at each other

Video calls can feel unnatural because we don’t remember to look at the camera lens. We look at the window showing the other person’s face, or we look at our own image. (This is really obvious to the other person, mesmerizing though it is to us.)

man not looking at the camera on zoom

The problem is worse if you have several windows open, so keep the window with your conversation centered. Otherwise your eyeballs turn to the side as you look at the other person/your own face, and the whites of your eyes face the camera the whole time. 

It’s also obvious if you are reading something in another window: your rhythmic eye movements give you away. And if you are secretly typing, the sound of your keyboard will give you away. 

Group calls get muddled because of the lack of eye contact–our eyes are giving off confusing signals. Real-life conversations are a kind of dance in which people take turns speaking, with their eye signals telling us what to do next. (People avert their gaze when they are speaking, and then look at us as they are finishing and giving up their turn. While they are talking, in real life, we are looking steadily at them. We don’t even realize we are doing it.)  But on video calls, because we are looking at our screens instead of at the camera, we are all looking in different directions. So we jump in to talk at the wrong time. Being conscious of what your eyes are doing, and what they appear to be doing, can help.

nobody making eye contact on a video call

So how do you go about making eye contact?  Look at the dot of the camera lens: you will seem to be looking directly at the person you are talking to! 

No one can do this all the time, but when you catch yourself admiring yourself on the screen, try redirecting your eyes to the camera lens. Imagine a bullseye or an eye around the tiny dim dot, or just stick a hole reinforcer on it.

the camera lens on a laptop

Appearing to look into your viewer’s eyes is meaningful: it overcomes social distancing. That colleague, seeing you attentive about their impassioned point, will remember you for it.

man looking good on a video call

Once you sort out the practicalities of the camera position and your surroundings, you can be confident you are presenting yourself at your very best. Ultimately, when you feel confident in front of the camera, you can forget about how you look and focus on what matters most – your words and your impact.

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Your posture and your body language can help you be more photogenic

Some things about your body’s appearance in a photo are under your control, and one of them is the amount of tension and energy in your muscles. Becoming more photogenic means learning a slightly different body language than you use in everyday life. Let’s look at body language, and at the three steps that will transform how you look.

Energy make us more photogenic

Energy, muscle engagement, and movement transform a photo. Using your muscles makes your photo look like movement is happening. Our eyes are primed to notice movement; this was important when we were hunters in the wild.

woman posing and learning how to be more photogenic

If we see muscles being used in a photo, we feel that we are seeing a moment of fleeting movement, captured by the camera. The movement may have just happened, or be about to happen, but the look of it appeals to us.

woman playing with dog to show how posture makes you more photogenic
woman playing with dog to show how posture makes you more photogenic

Our eyes like to look at muscle tension

Sculptures of the human body are called masterpieces when the stone look like it has come to life, and is moving and breathing. Look at the difference between these two statues at Kensington Gardens, London. One sculptor captured life and energy, and the other didn’t (in fact, the one on the right is named ‘Physical Energy’).

Who’s sexier?

statue of man riding on horse to show how to be more photogenic
statue of man riding on horse to show how to be more photogenic

Contracting your muscles makes your body look fitter and healthier, and ready for action. If your muscles are not engaged, your body looks static and floppy, and less appealing to the camera.

Your muscles are already working to keep you upright: work them just a little harder!

You may be sitting still right now, but your muscles are working hard. Postural tension is keeping you upright: some of the 640 muscles in your body are working on this every moment of the day. Only in exceptional circumstances (maybe a wild New Year’s Eve?) do we get so relaxed that we just go floppy and fall over.

When a muscle contracts strongly, your body moves, but when it contracts only a little, you have muscle tension. Find a level of muscle engagement that you can comfortably maintain for a photograph.

group posing for photo to show how using slight muscle tension is a good photoshoot pose
Slight muscle tension radiates energy, but still looks natural and comfortable.
group slouching on sofa to show how not to pose for a photo
We only realize how much they were engaging their muscles when we see how they looked beforehand!

Remember what your mother said about posture

Your mother knew. If your abdominal muscles are not engaged, you don’t look your best in photos. A tight core improves your posture, makes you look more confident, and just make you look better.

woman posing with her arm flat against her body and at an angle away from her body

Reading this is probably making you sit up straighter in your chair. You can see how much better that looks to the camera.

How posture makes you more photogenic

Posture that feels slightly exaggerated isn’t going to look exaggerated. If you are standing straighter and taller than everyday, that will be look right in your photo. No one looking at it will notice that you are tensing your core or emphasizing your posture; you will just appear more confident and be more photogenic.

man posing and learning how to be more photogenic

Holding your tension

You want the muscle tension to be in the right place in your body. We use our bodies to physically express our emotions. The set of our shoulders often expresses how we feel even more than our face does.

So you can look at a photo and see where tension is being held. Even when we don’t consciously notice someone’s tense hands, hunched shoulders or uncomfortable neck, we feel them.

How posture makes you more photogenic
How posture makes you more photogenic

You know how excruciating it is to be in an audience listening to a nervous public speaker. In the same way, it’s uncomfortable to look at a photo where tension is held uncomfortably in someone’s body. Our own bodies start to feel what we are seeing, and the photo isn’t appealing.

Where do you hold your own tension? Probably in your neck and shoulders. You want to relax them, and transfer the tension to your abdominals. Here’s what to remember.

Three steps to make your posture more photogenic

1. Relax your shoulders

Relax and drop your shoulders by rolling them back – move your shoulder blades together.

How posture makes you more photogenic

Try it right now. Drop your shoulders and let your head move up and back. This lengthens your neck, which always looks good. It creates more space for your chin, melting away the double chins and folds in your neck that appear unexpectedly in photos.

2. Tense your core

Tensing your abdominals automatically improves your posture by giving your upper body more support. But don’t overdo it–keep breathing! You want to look energetic, but still natural and comfortable.

Models and celebrities use ‘photo posture’. Look at the pictures and it’s suddenly obvious—in real life people don’t have this uniformly good posture. But people who earn their living in front of the camera are not just standing there in front of the camera: they are exuding confidence with their body language. They are mentally at the prow of the Titanic. Everyone looks better when they use Titanic Posture.

titanic pose as an example of good posture on a photo
B7WAYJ Titanic 1997 USA DiCaprio, Winslet, Cameron.

3. Support your own body weight

Photographers often pose self-conscious subjects up against a vertical surface, like a wall or a chair back. This helps people feel anchored and adds interest to the photo; you may want to try it yourself. But don’t slump against the wall, or rest your full weight against anything. It will make you look unattractively floppy because you are reducing the natural tension of standing.

Use your muscles to hold up your weight. If the prop vanished in thin air, you should still be in the same position.

woman posing and leaning on a sofa to show how to look good in pictures

If you are propping up your head, rest it very lightly on your hands. Not like ‘oh, my head is heavy and tired,’ more like ‘ooh, my chin has just alighted on my hands.’

be more photogenic
be more photogenic
woman with her chin resting on her hands

Finally, have a look in the mirror. We all adjust ourselves as we look into a mirror–we put on a particular facial expression and we straighten up if we are slouchers.

But, this time, stand there with your typical posture. Then engage your muscles and relax your shoulders. Mentally stand on the deck of the Titanic. You will see the change.

We don’t normally adjust our body language for the camera because we don’t have the feedback of our reflection in the mirror. But remember how your body feels when you do this. When you’re in front of the camera, remembering your posture will always help you be more photogenic.

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Expressive hands enhance your photo

Your hands communicate something in every photo, whether you are conscious of it or not. They tell us a surprising amount about you. If you leave them hanging slack at your side, they tell us that you are feeling stiff and uncomfortable in front of the camera.

posing for the camera

Instead, let your hands communicate. Turn them into Extrovert Hands. This is one of the easiest ways to make you feel more relaxed when you are posing for the camera. It helps you look more natural and produces more engaging photos.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera

There are four ways to use your hands in a photo, and each tells us something about you. You can touch another person, your own face or body, an object, or your surroundings.


Use your hands to connect with someone. Your hands tell the story of the relationship and of your feelings. We tend to believe what your hands are communicating, while we know that people may consciously choose a certain expression for a photo.

posing for the camera

Touch your partner, hug a friend, stroke your child’s cheek, pet your dog. This adds enormously to what your photo conveys, visually and emotionally, and gives message about warmth and connection.

posing for the camera

You want to be sure to use soft hands, not a vice-like grip. Wedding photographers get that romantic shot of the gentle caress on the bride’s cheek by coaching the partner to have soft hands. They may say ‘imagine you are touching her cheek with just your fingertip, not your hand,’ or ‘imagine you are checking if she is hot, like an oven, and your fingers might get burnt.’ Movie directors advise actors in just the same way.

posing for the camera


Hands tell us where to look. Fingers are like arrows in a photo, so you can actually use them to point to what you like about your appearance. You can highlight your face shape, your smile or your eyes, for instance. You can emphasize the softness of the curve of your cheek by bringing your fingers up to it.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera

Some people may prefer to touch the bonier parts of their faces–their temples or their jaws–to emphasize the ruggedness of their faces.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera

You can de-emphasize parts of your face or your body by sending our attention where you want it.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera

In a full-length photo, you can choose to emphasize your face by placing your hand near it. Or you can emphasize the shape of your body–putting your hand at your waist leads our eyes to the curve of your waist.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera

Directing us where to look with your hand works with selfies too.

posing for the camera

Celebrity photos use their hands in photos all the time. From Jennifer Lawrence on Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar covers, to Taylor Swift on Time Magazine, to Henry Cavill on Men’s Fitness, they put a hand on their face, hair or clothes. Some celebrity poses may be too dramatic for everyday photos, but check out the more subtle poses on your feed and on magazine covers.


If you are uncomfortable about being photographed, your hands will be holding tension and can give this away. The sure-fire solution is The Prop.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera

The Available Prop

Hold anything you want, anything that is handy and not too distracting or incongruous.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera
posing for the camera

Think about all the things you typically do with your hands. Do you swing a racquet, throw clay, repair bikes, mix cocktails, pet a lot of dogs? All of these can provide useful props. Sportspeople who are shy posing for the camera often respond well to being thrown their favourite type of ball.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera

You are likely to find yourself doing something spontaneous with the prop, and your expression relaxes as you become absorbed. Doing something makes you use your body actively, which is always more flattering in a photo than standing there stiffly.

No props around? Touch something you are wearing.

posing for the camera

Or take off an outer layer or an accessory, and hold it in your hands. Any of these things will instantly make your body language more comfortable.

Celebrities always take advantage of props so that they don’t have to worry about what to do with their hands. Stylists, working with a new celeb in front of a bank of photographers, can’t bellow out obvious instructions, but they can hand the newbie a clutch bag or another small object. Bouquets of flowers give everyone from British royals to bridesmaids something to do with their hands.

The Significant Prop

If you can hold something significant to you, that is even better. 

Anything with emotions attached to it—a team pennant or a favorite Disney hat—says something about you and adds a whole new dimension to the photo. When you’ve just been given a bouquet of flowers, that’s the moment to be photographed.

A significant prop reduces inhibitions because you intuitively feel that the photo is becoming about more than just your appearance: it is becoming about your current emotions, or your allegiance to something larger, or your sense of humor. Your expression is more relaxed and natural.


If you don’t have a prop handy, you can use something in your environment to help you look and feel comfortable. Just reach out and touch something, anything. You will shift your weight and therefore change your stance automatically, which is always flattering when you’re posing for the camera.

Here, casually touching the table produced a photo that the subject liked much better.

posing for the camera

This works anywhere. You can lightly rest a hand on the back of a chair, a counter or a table, against a doorway, a fence post or the trunk of a tree. Anything stackable, like books or birthday gifts, lets you choose exactly the height that feels right. 

Unless you are standing in the middle of an empty field, you can always find a wall or a tree, and place a hand against it. Your photo will be more interesting to look at, with minimal effort.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera


If you are feeling self-conscious about using your hands, you can always put one or both in your pockets.  This will make you naturally bend your arms and wrists—which looks much better in a photo than letting your arms hang limply at your sides.

posing for the camera

Make sure your pockets are empty. Put your phone in your back pocket or out of sight. Lumpy pockets are distracting in a photo anyway, messing up the line of your clothes. Cramming your hands in as well is too much. 

It looks best in photos if your hands don’t disappear entirely, as they do here on the left. Keep your thumb visible so that your whole hand doesn’t vanish abruptly. Try looping your thumbs outside your pocket, or put your thumbs in and keep the rest of your fingers out.

posing for the camera
posing for the camera
posing for the camera

Developing extroverted hands is something anyone can do. If the idea of communicating with your hands feels strange, start by just putting your hands in your pockets. When you get used to thinking of what your hands are doing when you are posing for the camera, pick up something small and handy and just hold it. You’ll see that it looks perfectly natural in the photo. 

You’ll find that touching something or someone nearby looks natural too. You become part of the scene, you shift your body, and you convey more warmth and personality.

posing for the camera

A person may look out of place standing among hundreds of golden retrievers, but using his hand to pet his dog anchors this man to the scene and makes him look like part of it.

(Where in the world is he? Find out where Art of Being Photographed founder, Renata, took her dog to celebrate the origins of the golden retriever.)

Learn More

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Easily avoid this common problem

The best way to avoid a double chin in photos is this simple trick used by influencers, celebrities and politicians every day.


When you are being photographed, and if you want to look great in your photos, don’t hold your chin in its everyday position. Draw your chin forward in a slight arc, as though you have a peach tucked under it.

It works if you actually have a double chin. It also works if you don’t have one-but seem to have a double chin in photos. It can feel unnatural at first, but the final result looks right.

Why do you need to do this?  When you are being photographed-and especially if you feel like the camera is getting uncomfortably close-you are likely to draw your head back, just a little. That squidges your chin against your neck, bunches up the lower part of your face, and thickens your neck.

A peach - imagine holding a peach just below your chin in photos to avoid a double chin - that's the peach technique

An extra-big smile makes it all bunch up even more. You will see your photo afterwards and go off thinking misguidedly about the size of your chin…

A before and after shot of a woman with a large smile and double chin and more reserved smile that doesn't seem as open

But if you draw your chin forward, and tuck that imaginary peach underneath it, you can change this significantly.

A before and after shot of a woman demonstrating the peach technique to stop a double chin in photos

Now you are physically separating your chin from your neck, and reducing the bunching-up effect. Since there is more distance between your face and your neck, the camera sees them as two distinct and different surfaces rather than letting them run together.

This makes your jaw looks more contoured. Your neck looks slimmer. You may find a bit of shadow is cast under your chin as a result, which is slimming too.

You can see, in these photos from the side, that Betty is doing the Peach Technique and bringing her whole face forward, not just her chin. Let your forehead come forward too. The Peach Technique isn’t about bringing the lower part of your face closer to the camera than the rest (which will distort your face shape in ways you may or may not want). Learn more here.


Cradling the peach under your chin works when you are at an angle to the camera too. Here you can see that the camera is slightly below Akina. (Have the camera above you, at eye level, or only slightly below you. A camera far below you, or a really short photographer, sometimes negates the peach effect. Learn More)

Model, Akina shows how to master the peach technique to look good in photos

It has to be a peach. No other fruit will do. Something about the softness/gentleness of the peach fuzz makes us hold our necks just right as we imagine it. Just try it and see.

Lots of peaches - the peach technique is a useful tool to help you look good in photos


Moving your face towards the camera is always flattering in a photo. It makes your head and shoulders look slightly larger in comparison to the rest of your body, which is helpful if you want to look slimmer. It focuses our attention on your face, and it adds something dynamic and engaging to the photo.

If you ever take a selfie with someone famous, you will notice that they always lean slightly towards the camera and bring their faces forward to cradle the peach. Here’s Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau leaning his face forward and working the crowds.

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We scroll through feeds of vacation photos and very few catch our eye. What makes our thumb stop? Why do we look at one, and smile?

Our vacation photos usually look like this: everyone lined up in a row in front of a series of scenic backgrounds. Either we are tiny figures on a postcard view, or our bodies block the scene we are trying to show. The message is ‘look, everybody, we are standing here, in this place we’ve gone to.’

two friends posing in front of a castle showing how to look good for pictures on vacation

This is not going to catch our eye. And it doesn’t show anyone at their best. What could the two friends at these Mayan ruins have done? They could blend in with the scene in a more interesting way. Or they could try a photo that tells a story about their adventure. Let’s see how to look good in vacation photos–your holiday photos, for our UK readers–and make them as memorable as your trip.

Blend In with the Setting

Here are three ways to break out of the tourist photo cliché while posing with historical sites and famous landscapes.

Engage with your surroundings

The easiest option on vacation is to stand in front of a postcard panorama, but it risks looking like a flat backdrop. How can you make yourself become part of the scene?

woman posing for photo in front of mountains showing how to look good for pictures on vacation

Look around for a spot with a more human scale. You want to fit into the setting and get close to it. We don’t need to see the entire landscape to know you are on vacation.

woman leaning against wall on a hike showing how to pose for a photo on holiday

A photo in which you have become part of the scene catches our eye and lets us share your experience of being there. Find a place where you can be framed or enclosed by your setting.

woman posing for photo on a balcony
family posing for a vacation photo in a historic building

If you pose where you have lines receding into the distance behind you rather than a flat background, you will look more naturally part of the space. Or pose where you can have something in the foreground in front of you.

woman posing for a photo by a pool
woman posing for a photo by a pool

Reaching out and touching something in your environment will make you look more comfortable in your surroundings. The gesture automatically shifts your stance and makes you bend your joints (something that is always flattering in a photo).

woman stands with her hands by her side and then also with her hand resting on a table

Use your body language in vacation photos

Travelers choose to be photographed at a particular place for a reason. Try angling yourself towards whatever view is prompting you to want a photo. You can turn one shoulder and hip towards the camera in a slight angle, or you can turn further to make yourself look narrower and more streamlined.

man posing for photo in venice showing how to take good vacation photos

Here our tourists want to show that they are at the art museum in Dubai. We can’t really appreciate this because they are blocking the scene from our view.

friends posing for a photo in a museum showing a bad angle

It will help if they angle their bodies towards something interesting. Turning all the way and looking back at the camera over their shoulders inserts them even more into the scene.

friends posing for a photo in a museum showing a good angle

Here they are enclosed by the setting. Each of them sits in a different pose and angle, which looks much more relaxed than lining up in a row. What they will remember from this photo is what they did there, sitting and looking out over the water.

Angle towards the view. Otherwise the picture is uncomfortable, as though you are turning your back and are about to walk off.

woman showing a flattering photo pose in front of a monument

Looking at something in your setting also engages with the scene. We will follow your gaze to see what you are looking at. As with angling, you should look towards the interesting aspect of the location.

Here’s an example with a blank space. Even if there is nothing to see, we expect the person in the photo to be looking either at us or towards the remaining space in the photo, not away.

man showing a flattering photo pose
man showing a flattering photo pose

Clear away clutter

Hide your half-empty bottle of water and bulky bags to help you blend in. You can put them on the ground, at the feet of whoever is the photographer—they will be safely in your field of vision but the camera can’t see them.

And take off your sunglasses. A few photos of you wearing sunglasses is fine, but try some without, especially if some of the group are wearing sunglasses and some aren’t.

man and woman taking a selfie on holiday

It may mean that you get some photos where you are squinting from the sun. But the photos showing your faces and your expressions will end up holding much more meaning.

group of friends posing naturally for a photo
group of friends posing naturally for a photo

Popular destinations tend to have a lot of visual clutter in themselves. Crop a photo like this to a more human scale and lose the crowds of tourists.

woman standing for a photo in St. Petersburg palace

Here the background is still extravagant, and we still get the message of how grandiose this palace in St. Petersburg really is.

woman standing for a photo in St. Petersburg palace

Tell a story with your vacation photos

A photo that tells a story makes us stop and look. We can always google an image of a historical site; your photos are most interesting to your friends and family when they are about you, and tell the story of your experience. You can do it by focusing on what’s unique about your trip, and by focusing on action.

Show what’s unique

Great vacation photos tell us why the vacation is worth posting about. Is it about old friends? Family? Luxury? Nature? Exploring a new culture? Why in the world did you go there?

Standing in front of a landscape may just not do it. Post photos that enact your story, whether it is meeting wolves in the Artic or traveling through the desert.

photo of a man and woman meeting wolves in the arctic
photo of men riding camels in the desert

There will be unique photo opportunities on any vacation as you physically do things, or your family or group do things together, like trying on hats in a street market or barbequing in the backyard. Look for moments that relate to where you are.

Often, what makes a vacation special is who we are with–relationships are unique. Interaction among the people in the photo hints at a story and makes it more interesting.

Touch catches our attention. If it’s an affectionate relationship, show it.

friends posing for a photo in front of unique street art

Eye contact within a photo makes us automatically follow your gaze. We look at your expressions and construct a story about what you are feeling.

candid photo take of a man talking to his dog
candid photo of a couple walking in a park

Add action to your story

Action intrigues us. Our eyes are very alert to movement, even if it’s only the suggestion of movement. Which photo stays longer in your mind?

male friends posing for a photo by a pool
male friends jumping in the pool

We all look better when we are contracting our muscles and using them. We look more fit and alive.

friends running along the beach - how to pose for your vacation photos
friends jumping on the beach - How to pose for your vacation photos

Swing your skirt, toss your hair, use your body in some way to animate your vacation and holiday photos.

action shot of a couple dancing on holiday - How to pose for your vacation photos
action shot of a woman canoeing - How to pose for your vacation photos

Even a simple gesture with your hand mid-air creates energy in the photo.

friends smiling for a photo with hand gestures - How to pose for your vacation photos

You can use wind and water to add action to your photos.

woman standing for a photo in the wind on the beach
a man throwing his head back in the ocean, creating a wave of water with his hair

Make your vacation photos special. By engaging with your surroundings you take us with you to these places. By showing us stories of what happened there you give us a real sense of your travels. These photos will spark your own memories of your trip, and end up being the photos you treasure.

action shot of friends running into the sea - How to pose for your vacation photos

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