How to take a great portrait

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I don’t like having my photograph taken. I know shocking, right? Despite the hundreds of selfies I have taken over the years, I am still uncomfortable with the process.

When I started the blog, I deliberated over whether or not to publish my picture. It’s not that there is anything wrong with me per say but I’m acutely aware that I’m a 38-year-old mum with age concerns rather than a hot, young influencer-type.

People’s faces are more beautiful in real life, in my opinion, as you can see them as a whole and in motion. When you meet a person, you tend to glance at their face in its entirety with its facial expressions, nuances and quirks. It can be difficult to appear beautiful in still photography when something simple like the wrong light or a wrong angle can distort a person’s face.

Four years of blogging later, however, I have learned to take my own photo in the most flattering way I can. After the recent row over the excessive use of FaceTune, filters and Photoshop among Irish influencers, it’s a pretty hot topic at the moment. I personally have no issue with filters and honestly couldn’t care less what you do to your photo.

But it is entirely possible to take a flattering picture at any age without all the editing bells and whistles. Here’s my tips for taking a great photo (no FaceTuning or Photoshop required).

Get the lighting right
For beautiful photographs, soft lighting is key. Soft lighting won’t show texture such as pores, lines, blemishes or unwaxed moustaches (it happens) compared to harsh lighting (direct sunlight, for instance).

To achieve the softest light, the larger the light source the better. I take all of my photos inches from my west-facing living room windows between 12pm and 3pm. The walls in my living room are painted white which adds to the light and I’ll also use a reflector under my face on dull days. For darker days, I use my Diva Ring Light on its highest setting or flash up close to the face – the closer the flash, the softer the light will be.

Over-expose the image
Subtly over-exposing photographs helps to softly eliminate the telltale signs of ageing and skin blemishes. In the “Before” picture above, I used the camera’s correct exposure. Although it looks perfectly acceptable, I wanted a creamier complexion as seen in the “After” shot. To achieve this, I increased my camera meter by one stop. The slight over-exposure gives skin a dreamy texture and is more flattering for those of us who are over the age of 22.

The main thing to be aware of is too much over-exposure (as in the example below – I over-exposed the one on the right). If you eliminate too much detail, then there’s no getting it back unfortunately.


If you don’t have a DSLR camera, you can still easily over-expose your photos on a smartphone under the Light options in Edit. I use an iPhone 6 and have the Camera Plus app which allows you to manually adjust the exposure before taking the picture.

Get to know your best side
Not to sound like Mariah Carey but I look my best from my right side. As a non-model (no! Really?!), I have a rather unsymmetrical face so will rarely photograph myself straight on. And while I can’t quite pinpoint what the hell is wrong with the left side of my face, it just doesn’t picture well.

So ask yourself, what’s your best side? Hair up or hair down? Do you look better smiling slightly or more serious and considered?

Finally, a photo taken slightly from above, chin down or head tilted is always more universally flattering.


Assemble your basic make-up kit

To be honest, I generally wear any old foundation but I’ve found those without added SPF give skin a softer, more realistic tone in photos. SPF foundations can also create flashback so for special occasions when you know you are going to be photographed, pick one without. My favourite full-coverage foundations for photographs are Laura Mercier Silk Creme foundation and Make Up For Ever’s High Definition foundation.

There is nothing in life that can’t be improved with a little concealer. I’ve always had very dark circles under my eyes, even as a child. To cover shadows, broken veins and blemishes, choose a concealer that’s yellow based. My favourite all-time one is the Amazing Concealer.

Face powder
As the original shiny girl, I love a good face powder particularly for photoshoots. There’s nothing more unprofessional in my opinion than a face full of shine in a picture.

The best powders tend to cost a little more. For finely milled options, I love Make Up For Ever’s Ultra High Definition Pressed Powder, Giorgio Armani Micro-Fil Powder or MAC’s Prep & Prime Pressed Powder Compact. For a high street option, I love anything from Revlon.

Eyelash curlers or false lashes
A greater eyelash curler is a must in my make-up bag. I have naturally straight lashes so have to curl them to open up the eye. The best curlers will cost you a little more. My favourites are from Shu Uemura and Kevyn Aucoin.

If you are handy with false lashes, they are an instant way to draw focus to your eyes. I’m useless at applying them but MAC’s half lashes with a trusty tube of Duo eyelash glue are pretty fool-proof even for a noob like me.

Red lipstick
I’m a big fan of red lipstick as it makes teeth look instantly whiter and is a good focal point in a photo. For pale skin types like myself, choose a red lipstick with blue undertones. Leave the bright red and orange hues to olive and tanned skin types. My favourite reds include L’Oreal Matte Addiction in shade Haute Rouge 347 (review here), YSL Rouge Pur Couture in No 14 (review here) and MAC Ruby Woo.

Avoid highlighters
I avoid applying highlighter for photos. Unless you are trying to create a fierce cheekbone for Instagram, highlighters in real life tend to bounce flash, making you look shiny and like you’ve just sweated your way through an hour of HiiT.

Finally, remember none of us are meant to look like supermodels in photos (unless of course you are a supermodel, then carry on). Personally, I much prefer a shot of someone enjoying themselves than a contrived image of perfection (blog pictures aside). Happy snapping, folks.

© The Beauty Inbox 2018

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