A Los Angeles photographer gives practical and philosophical advice on how to look your best in photos.
Having photographed and observed a big bunch of celebrities and “normal” people for a couple of decades now, I’ve noticed a few attraction principles popping up again and again. Brilliant philosophical aesthetic theories my keen mind has uncovered, perchance? Nah, I never come up with big profound nuggets.
But here are some observations and psych tips you might want to mull over. Plus there’s a verbal cameo appearance from Audrey Hepburn. Action.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert or to even fully understand what’s going on, but I think I have some kind of handle on this attractive thingamajig that’s been dancing around in my viewfinder and mind for years.
First off, I’m talking about two versions: the “outside attractive” and the “inside attractive”. And the principles apply whether you’re being photographed or just hanging out amongst other humans with photographer in Los Angeles Greg Mancuso.
Let’s look at the outside attractive first. One thing I’ve perceived is that people come across as most attractive when they’re not trying to be attractive. Not obsessing over it. Although we’re all on different levels of the physical beauty scale, it seems you can bump yourself up or down a peg or two depending on your mind-set.
Although a good photographer can finagle the best lighting, and guide you to the most flattering angle, facial expression etc., that only goes so far. Your internal dialogues have an impact on the external results.
A suggestion I’d make if you want to maximize your attractiveness is to try not to think about it. Try to just “be”. Work on getting a Zenny thing going. I know it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’re being photographed or scrutinized in some way. But I think if you think… ‘this is just a stupid photo, I don’t’ care how it turns out, it’s not life and death, it’s not important, 20 years from now it won’t matter’–it will mitigate mentally obsessing about it.
Even if it is an important photo for wide distribution or whatever, mentally treat it like dirt. What you can laugh at or pooh-pooh can’t rule you.
Another tip when it’s picture time is to think about another time. Something else that happened that day or even years ago. It doesn’t matter when or what. You can also try to imagine being in another place entirely. Perhaps a faraway paradise of any sort that suits you.
Relaxing on the beach of a lush tropical isle with a bevy of beautiful mermaids surfing the waves and playing a Beethoven sonata on their harps, is one of my favorite imaginings. Hey, I know that sounds wacky, but we’re working on distraction and cutting tension here, so getting out there on a loony limb might be the way to go.
Along the lines of loony, something that may work for some of you is what I call the Enzo Effect. Enzo is my dog and he’s always in my studio and sometimes on location when I’m shooting a portrait. Dogs can provide the dual effect of being a calming influence and pleasant distraction. Many times I’ve seen Enzo saunter over to a stressed out person filled with trepidation about having their pictures taken, and just a few pets and nuzzles later, their anguish is melting away.
It’s actually been scientifically documented that blood pressure and heart rates drop while petting a dog or cat. Now Enzo is an especially soothing presence, and he’s even one of those Therapy Dogs who visit people in hospitals, but if you have a dog or other pet that is manageable, then bring them along to your shoot. It’s probably a good idea to run it past your photographer ahead of time.
(By the way, Enzo demands that I mention he’s available on a freelance basis. His rental rate is three jerky strips, one squeaky latex ball, two salami slices and five belly rubs per hour. Though I bet you could negotiate him down to the belly rubs and salami. He’s way over priced.)
Why don’t we now talk about this photo of Sally Field I took and see how some of the attractive principles played out. Although this is only the second shot taken and she wasn’t “ready”, and we took over a hundred shots later when we were really ready and set-up, this is the one I like the best.
Setting the scene, take one… Sally had just arrived and was casually talking with friends. I noticed she was in an easy, relaxed mood, and didn’t seem to have locked into have-to-look-like-a-pretty-celebrity frame of mind yet. So I suggested a few quick shots before the official shooting commenced. She said she hadn’t even taken her coat off yet, her hair wasn’t perfect yet, etc. But after some of my silly pleading, bowing, begging routine, she chuckled and kindly agreed to take a few.
The result was a picture that I believe captured the natural-beauty-Sally. It probably came about because she wasn’t obsessing about looking gorgeous because she was distracted by my antics and she wasn’t wrapped up in official photo session mode yet.
Another reason I like this image best is that in addition to capturing aspects of the physical beauty, it also gives a feel for attractive version two–the “inside attractive”. The best way I can describe this would be to say it’s the non-physical inner spirit thing, exuding a positive presence that makes others enjoy being in your presence. The human warmth felt when you’re actually there with that person.
It appears that the warm spirit I felt being with her in person, is hinted at in the photo as well. Although a good photographer can help bring out and reveal that warmth and positive presence, they can’t show what isn’t there.
So how does one create and project that beneficial inside element? Well it’s tricky and it can take some time cultivating virtuous thought patterns and behaviors depending on where you’re at. And in reality only you know what you know, and how the heck should I know? Huh? All I can do is throw out some stuff to chew on.
(Ballard Street by Jerry Van Amerongen)
Me thinks it’s the interaction of several inter-related traits and behaviors that have to be worked on and juggled. But if you have to point to one primary thing it would revolve around the issue of narcissism. Everybody has narcissistic traits to some degree. We all have wants and needs that we would like to be fulfilled. But thinking the whole world revolves around the notion of fulfilling those wants and needs ain’t pretty.
(Agnes by Tony Cochran)
So taming one’s inflated sense of self importance will go a long way towards building the inside attractive. Try not to take yourself too seriously and above-it-all. Even if you are indeed the best-looking or richest or most powerful person in the room, don’t lord it over the others. You got to halt the haughty attitude as best you can.
While self-importance is the big “don’t”, the big “do”, is cultivating and expressing empathy. Empathy involves the ability to put oneself into another’s shoes. So having compassion for those less fortunate and especially helping them out in a concrete way will supercharge your empathy engine. I found for myself, and have observed in others, that doing any kind of volunteer work will work wonders to get you down the right road.
If you want a push toward volunteering, check out Volunteer Match. If you have a dog, then look into helping out via Pet Therapy, and the national group Enzo and I work with is called the Delta Society.
I found someone who did a great job of expressing the empathy/beauty thing–Audrey Hepburn. As you probably know, Audrey was an iconic beauty and Oscar winning actress, who starred in over 25 films. She went on to follow up her immense success in Hollywood by later focusing on humanitarian activities. She was the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and often assisted destitute people in impoverished countries and was recognized for her efforts with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Motion Picture Academy’s Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Here’s something she wrote which says it all…
For attractive lips,
Speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes,
Seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure,
Share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair,
Let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.
Walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, even more than things,
Have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed,
And redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand,
You will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands;
One for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.
written by Los Angeles photographer & writer Gregory Mancuso