We have all been there. For one reason or another, we have to have a picture taken. Just a snap to prove you were there at that family gathering, or a shot for the passport. In the age of the Selfie, with so many social media butterflies all shooting themselves pouting into an iPhone several times everyday and posting to the world, it seems an unrealistic notion that many people find the whole experience of being photographed something of a nightmare. But they do.
Why is this? Why do so many of us shy away from the camera, and fail to be pleased with hardly any images captured of us? Are we the truly ugly who ought never to venture into daylight lest out hideous visages frighten the horses, or could there be another explanation? Well, as a photographer, I have given this phenomenon some thought over the years, and I don’t believe that ugliness has any bearing on this. One thing that does have a bearing may be a surprise.
There is a tradition in portrait painting that some portrait painters still adhere to. Once the painting process gets underway, the sitter does not get to see the work as it progresses. Only after the final sitting is the portrait revealed, and when it is revealed to the sitter, their first look at the painting may seem rather strange. They stand with their back to canvas and peer at the painting through a mirror. They are encouraged to look at the painting of themselves through a mirror as that is the way they always view themselves. The reason for this is that our faces are not symmetrical. One eye will be bigger that the other, higher or lower than the other, the shape of the face is different on each side, mouth longer on one side and so on. All of these slight differences are registered in our brains and they enable us to identify what we really look like. However, we most often look at these details in reflections, so when we see the reverse image of ourselves we find it slightly disconcerting, even though friends and family seem to think the image is fine, or even really nice. We can see the photographer has indeed captured our image, but just not a very good version of our image.
What to do? Well, you could have your picture taken so often that you become used to seeing your features the right way around, but that is unlikely. Perhaps just be aware of this being a possible reason why you are not really happy with a particular image of yourself and accept that many others are in the same boat. If you do have an image of yourself to hand, try looking at it in a mirror and see if you don’t prefer that version. You could also try concentrating on the left hand image in the photograph for around 10 seconds, and then transfer your gaze to the right hand image. Notice the difference?