Why do I hate seeing myself in photographs?

Do you hate your photos?

Who has said or heard comments like, ‘I hate having my photograph taken.’ Or they say, ‘I never look good in pictures.’? They’re critical of themselves, and some almost apologise when it comes to having a photograph taken.

If I had a pound every time I heard something like this, I’d probably never have to pick up a camera again!

Have you seen stunning photographs of other people? Of course, you have! They’re beautiful and intelligent, and their life must be outstanding! However, when you’re the one in the picture (for some people.), it can be hard to see yourself rationally or in the same way as others, so you focus on the negatives.

Camera shyness: And that’s why sometimes we hate seeing ourselves in photographs: the images don’t always reflect how we feel about or see ourselves; or how “we imagine” what others may see in us. Causing many to “shy away” from being in front of the camera.

Why do I hate seeing myself in photographs - Graham Baker Photography

It's not you. It's Psychology

There are several reasons you might dislike looking at photographs of yourself. For starters, we perceive ourselves from one perspective and everyone else from another.

Another reason that’s more common than you might think is the mere exposure effect, a psychological phenomenon in which familiarity breeds attraction.

I’ve talked about the mere exposure effect before; and its relationship with commercial & advertising photography. However, this is looking at it from an internal personal perspective. The mere exposure effect causes us to develop preferences for things we become familiar with over time—the more aware we become of something, the more we like it (a process known as habituation).

For example, you may feel awkward and unattractive when you see yourself in a photograph because it isn’t how you think you look. But the more familiar we are with something (like your reflection – Remember this as we come back to it later), the more we prefer it over other options.

The Mere Exposure effect applies to everything—not just photos! The more your brain sees an image of yourself in any context (whether on TV, online or in print), the more likely it is that your brain will start getting used to what’s being presented and become more attracted to it.

It explains why people who take selfies feel fantastic. They’re constantly seeing themselves from the “selfie” perspective. The selfie is more likely to be reversed – ever noticed that written text is backward in many selfies? So they begin liking what they see even if they don’t realise why this happened!

Mirror mirror on the wall.

When do you see your face the most?

The vast majority of us tend to see our faces as a reflection – We see them in the mirror.

When you’re walking past a shop window and noticing your reflection, you’ll have a glance at yourself! There will be exceptions. However, most of us are not professional models or Hollywood movie stars!

Therefore it’s more likely we’re familiar with seeing ourselves as a reflection. 

So in business, when we see our headshot or promotional video. It will be “the other way around” to our brains and not what we’re used to seeing.

The point is you’re less familiar with your face (as everyone else sees). So your preference is for “the reflection”. And that’s because of the Mere exposure effect.

Me - Do I hate my photo?

Below are a couple of photographs of me. One of the photographs is the viewer’s perspective – It’s how you see me in real life, in a non-selfie (not reversed) headshot. It’s the same view you see throughout the rest of my website and all of my online presence—even video.

The other photo is the same but reversed. So, it’s how I would see my face in the mirror.

I’ll let you know my thoughts & preference (and why) at the end!

Mere Exposure Reflection - Why I hate my photos - This is how you see my face
This is how you see my face.
Mere Exposure Reflection - Why I hate my photos - This is how I see my face in a mirror.
This is how I see my face in a mirror.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for information that confirms our beliefs. We want to be right! So we look for evidence to ensure what we already think is true.

So how does confirmation bias relate to our feelings about photos of ourselves and why we hate them? 

As said, when we see a photograph, it’s less familiar to our brains because it’s not what our brain regularly sees (remember the mirror). So we prefer the reflection view.

It’s as if our subconscious brain is thinking, “I know that’s me. But there’s something not quite right. But I’m not sure why”. So our conscious brain then tries to fill in the blanks with a label (confirmation bias) of “Oh, my eyes are too beady”, or “my nose looks bigger from this side”, or “I hate it!”Essentially, our brains are trying to find evidence to confirm what we believe, even though it’s not true.

Your brain isn’t trying to make you feel bad. It’s trying to protect you. “Something’s not right with this; better not do it again, so we stay away. And the confirmation bias continues to reinforce that we look rubbish in photos. We start believing that others notice and evaluate us more than they actually do.

In other words, it’s not that you hate your photo; it’s your brain making the wrong assumption!

In reverse again!

Something worth mentioning is that it works in reverse! There have been experiments using couples. The couples were shown photos of themselves and their partner and asked to rate their preference for each photograph. 

However, those running the experiment reversed several photos. So they would also see an image of their partner, as their partner would see in a mirror. 

The result was that 90% preferred the image they usually saw, not the mirrored version! 

Photography Factors.

  • You can’t have seen yourself from all angles. How you see your face in a mirror differs from how your face appears from other angles. For example, If I stand sideways and look in the mirror, my right eye takes up more of my face than my left. However, if I turn 90 degrees, so my nose is facing directly at me, then both eyes take up about equal amounts of space on each side of my head.
  • You also can’t see how light affects your face in different circumstances. Making some photos look better than others, depending on how you took the image. Lighting is a subject to cover in more detail, so I’ll revisit it in a future article.
  • Lens Distortion – I’ll also cover this point in more detail another time too. However, in summary, the distance and angle you are from the camera and the lens’s focal length can create different effects. As a result, you are potentially making features look bigger, smaller or distorted to you than you would notice in real life. Lens distortion can be helpful, though – It’s just about understanding the right lens for your goal.
  • The distance you view the photograph – Linked to the above point. When someone takes a picture at a certain distance, looking at the resulting photo from a different length to which it was taken will look different. For instance, a photograph taken 6 feet away will look different to you if you’re holding it close to your face. Vice versa, having the camera too close can cause distortions too.
  • The fake expression. ‘Say cheese for the camera!’ That phoney smile will look unnatural and even distort the face. Many often say they prefer pictures where they are unaware of the camera or their photo being taken.
  • 2D Vs 3D. Photographs and screens are flat. Real life is in 3D. When looking at something in 2D, your perspective changes – objects (and people) can look bigger or smaller compared to what you ‘see’ in real life. 
  • The nerves! If you already think you don’t like being photographed, your body language will reflect the same. You will be stiff and feel awkward, so that’s how you will see yourself in the photograph.

For these reasons, it’s essential to understand why specific photos come out better than others before getting discouraged by what you think is an unflattering photo shoot experience! – Even though it’s not true.

The Psychology of Modern Life & Body Confidence

The Media. We’re all exposed to hundreds of images daily that influence how we think about our appearance. Media, including advertising, television, and magazines, often promotes a narrow definition of beauty. The portrayal of flawless and digitally altered images creates unrealistic expectations, making individuals feel they fall short of these ideals.

Beauty standards, culture & societal expectations are subjective and change all the time. We’re all exposed to hundreds of images daily that influence how we think about our appearance. It can create unrealistic beauty standards and the pressure to conform can lead to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity with their appearance.

Comparison. We end up comparing ourselves to the current pop-culture definition of beauty. It makes it difficult to know what’s “normal” when you see yourself in the mirror and whether there’s anything wrong with how you look.

Perfectionism. Linked to the previous two points, aiming for perfection in photos can sometimes bring on a wave of stress and worry. But remember that perfection is different for everyone, and your little quirks are what makes you unique, which is the real story of who you are.

Fear of judgment & rejection. Feeling anxious about how others perceive your photo? There is a fundamental human need for social acceptance, so it’s normal to want validation. This can be heightened in professional settings, where expectations regarding a polished and composed image may exist. Remember, you’re way more than just your looks, and your value doesn’t hinge on what others think. Embrace yourself! 

Previous negative encounters. You may have had less-than-ideal experiences with a photographer, making you hesitant to step in front of the camera again. Don’t let those past moments shape your future ones. Instead, let’s focus on making some new, positive experiences. In the case of a professional portfolio or brand, think about the benefit to your business and connecting with your audience. 

Self-awareness. Experiencing self-consciousness regarding one’s appearance or body image may lead to discomfort when being photographed. It’s important to remember you possess inner and outer unique qualities, so it’s about embracing your uniqueness and concentrating on your positive attributes.

Perceived flaws & Internalised Criticism. People tend to hyper focus on perceived flaws, often magnifying minor imperfections over time, these critical thoughts can erode self-esteem and confidence.

It’s no wonder many don’t feel “good enough or judged. You’re not alone if you think your nose is too big or your teeth look weird. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

From your perspective of what you find attractive in others to what you “think” others find attractive in you. And it’s all mixed up with your self-esteem! Many are overly harsh in their self-evaluations. Learning to be kinder to yourself and practising self-compassion can help alleviate insecurities.

Instead of comparing yourself, have some self-compassion and try focusing on how happy you feel. Just because someone has a different body type doesn’t mean they’re healthier or more attractive than you are!

The important thing is feeling comfortable in your skin. It has to start within you. Not what the latest internet trend, magazine, or peer groups say it should be. 

Real Beauty

To illustrate this idea is a great video made by Dove and their Real Beauty Campaign. I’ve sent this video to many nervous clients. Most would agree that it helped put things in perspective – Give it a watch and share what you thought about it.

Get past it; get past it again and again.

If you don’t like your headshots or photos, share them and keep sharing them too!

Yes, I know this seems harsh, but you need to connect with your clients and peers if you’re a professional. So you do need to get over how you feel about your photo. The more you share, the more comfortable you’ll be with your appearance.

The first few dozen times we see a photo of ourselves, we might be shocked by imagining how bad we imagine we look (remember the confirmation bias!). But after a while, it becomes easier to accept that we look different in photos than in real life. We also become less sensitive to the fact that other people see a picture of us rather than our face-to-face selves.

Helping you visualise your image more objectively and realise there’s nothing wrong with how you usually look – Remember, nobody is perfect!

You might worry that others won’t like how you look in your profile pictures. But nothing is more attractive than a well-lit and well-edited photo that accurately represents how you look now. Then, any assumptions about yourself won’t even be a thought in anyone else’s head.

If someone truly likes you, they’ll still like you even if they see an older picture of you because they’ll recognise the real you underneath.

Coaching you through a professional photo shoot so you won’t hate your photographs!

For all the reasons above, it’s normal to be worried about being photographed. You’re certainly not the first nervous person I’ve worked with, and you certainly won’t be the last. The point is you’re not alone.

I recommend that you talk to your photographer before the session. Don’t just book them because they’re the cheapest, as that inevitably leads to disappointment (and more photos to hate!). Instead, ask plenty of questions and do your research. I have an article on finding the right photographer that can help you. 

The Coaching Process.

Your comfort is paramount. If you’re not relaxed, then this will show in the photographs. Here are my strategies to make you feel more comfortable and confident during our session:

  • Casual Chat and Connection: we’ll start our session with a relaxed conversation. I want to get to know you, not just as a client but as a person. Sharing a bit about yourself and your profession can help ease you into the session.
  • Posing for Confidence: I’ll guide you through poses that complement your style and showcase your confidence. I will explain why posture and positioning are important and even share my secrets to hiding the dreaded double chin! 
  • Step-by-Step Approach: We’ll take it one step at a time. We start simply, then gradually progress up through your comfort zone as you gain confidence with the process.
  • Review: As we progress through the session, we can view the images together and discuss your feedback – What you liked, what you disliked and how we can work around any issues – It’s important to keep you involved in the process and avoid any unwanted surprises.
  • Fun: While my sense of humour may be different, having some fun and a good laugh can relieve the stress of the moment, leading to genuine smiles rather than what I call “The iPhone” (fake) smiles!

It’s not a race! We can take our time. If you feel you need a break, please say so. More often, I’ll spot this before you need to ask.

If you’re feeling particularly nervous about the shoot, it might be helpful to bring a friend or family member who can act as your support system.

Conclusion

While I can’t promise that you won’t hate your photographs (even if I take them!) I’ve written this article to help you understand why many think they hate seeing themselves in pictures and what I can do to help.

It is ultimately about helping you to think about the reasons objectively rather than emotionally when it comes to getting photographs of you, especially if it makes a positive difference to your business and personal brand

I’m not a therapist. I may not be able to change how someone feels about themselves, but I’ve coached countless people through their photography sessions. 

it’s important to ensure you get the best photos for your business, and even if you’re not quite ready for professional photography yet, or just need some advice with your visual strategy then please get in touch.

Click here to book your no-obligation phone consultation with me

Not ready for a call? Have more questions? Click here to get in touch via email

My thoughts from earlier - Do I hate photos of me?

Earlier in the article, I shared two copies of the same photograph of me, except one was reversed to how I would see my face in the mirror rather than what you would see.

I would have said the second image if you’d asked before I started my business. However, today my answer is I don’t mind either! Because I’m so used to seeing my face (the way you do) across my website and social media, I’ve stopped worrying. 

I represent my brand. It’s who I am, and if I’m not getting in front of it, I’m not doing everything I can to reach the people I want to help be in front of their brands.

I wouldn’t be much help if I couldn’t get used to my photo as a photographer. Otherwise, how can you expect me to help you?

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