I’m a Photographer and These Are the 3 Things You Should Avoid Doing in Photos

Instant glow up, here you come

stop doing this in photos: young woman wearing hijab surrounded by arms holding smartphones on camera mode
We Are/Getty Images

Aside from the universal needs of food, water and shelter, it can be reasonably deduced that the other universal human need of the 21st century is to look good in a photo. Many of us probably have that one photo we really love of ourselves, the one that gives us an instant confidence boost whenever we look at it. But often, it’s that unicorn in thousands of other photos where we’re less than thrilled with the way we look. Then, we’re left wondering what the secret was to that one photo—and how we can replicate it.

As a photographer who has photographed many portraits over the years, I know exactly what you should be doing for better photos—and I’ve seen all the mistakes that lead to total flops. Here, I’m breaking down three common mistakes I see. Avoid these, and you might find that maybe, that was the secret all along.

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stop doing this in photos: don't interlace fingers. do princess hands instead.
Marissa Wu/PureWow

1. Don’t Lace Your Fingers Together

When I first started my photography education, one of the first things the course instructor told us was that we should never have our subjects lace their fingers together. “They look like slugs!” She practically screamed.

This applies both for solo shots—no Wall Street power-player interlaced fingers—and in couples’ pictures, where interlacing fingers make the fingers look prominently sluggish. There is nothing romantic about that, I assure you.

  • What to do instead: Opt for overlapping fingers. (If you’re posing by yourself, this is almost like princess hands, if you will, but more relaxed instead of Caravaggio-esque.) Or better yet, hold something so your hands have a task. Hold your blazer lapel, your skirt, the fence you’re standing next to, your drink, even your kid.
stop doing this in photos weight on front leg
Marissa Wu/PureWow

2. Don’t Put All Your Weight on Your Front Leg

I see this all the time: people “popping” one leg (aka bending one knee) to add the very desirable S-curve to their body shape. They’re on the right track, but often I’ve seen people popping the wrong leg, putting all their weight on the leg that is closer to the camera. This causes the leg to (very naturally and normally) spread to accommodate the weight, thus making it look larger. And again, if we’re playing into the (unfortunate) culture beauty standard of skinny, this is not helping the cause. 

  • What to do instead: Reverse the weight—put your weight on your back leg and “pop” the front leg. Relieving the weight will “slim” it out. This also applies when you sit and cross your legs. The leg that is close to the camera should be crossed over the leg that is farther away.
stop doing this in photos: pressing your arms to your side. pull them away from your body.

3. Don’t Press Your Arms to Your Sides 

Many of us have a “shrinking” gut reaction when faced with a camera. We acutely feel its gaze and try to contract ourselves like a little snail. This leads to looking tense and squished. One of the ways this usually manifests itself is by pulling our arms to our sides, a logical reaction that makes us feel safe and provides comfort. But when you squish your arms against your sides, they spread and look wider. And I can assure you that no matter how “pretty” someone is, their arm will still look “bad” (according to cultural beauty standards) splayed out and flat like roadkill against their torso.

  • What to do instead: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The teapot pose may live in Y2K infamy, but it does work if you are bereft of any other ideas. You can level it up with what PureWow beauty director Jenny Jin refers to as the “raptor” pose, or what I like to call “princess” hands. Hold your hands in front of you like you’re holding a purse and pull your elbows out gently away from your torso.

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I’ve covered the lifestyle space for the last three years after majoring in journalism (and minoring in French) at Boston University. Talk to me about all things sustainable &...