The camera CAN lie – why photographs are different from real life 

photos body image



Photographs caused me endless self-inflicted pain over the years (see my post here why I hated these photographs). Even though I modelled part-time for over 5 years, I often hated the pictures taken of me.

The problem for me was two-fold. On one hand I had a very rigid image in my head of how I should look – and somehow I created this picture in my head which then of course didn’t match up to the end result. I’d then feel bad, realising that in real life I looked far from how I wanted to. The second issue was trickier to understand, but easier to remedy – and this involved the way cameras process information, and how that differs from our own eyes (and other people’s).

If like me you struggle to love the photographs people take of you, let me explain these things and how understanding them can help you not to be affected so much by negative feelings caused by images of yourself.

You’re scrutinising them in a different way than others would

So, the first thing to address here is your own perception of yourself, and how that differs compared with what other people see when they look at you (or a photo of you).

I am often told that I have ‘nothing to worry about’ when it comes to how I look. But whilst I recognise that I’m lucky not to be horribly disfigured, don’t have poor skin and am not overweight, I find it very difficult to look at myself through the eyes of others and believe that I am ‘beautiful’ or ‘acceptable as I am’. I struggle not to feel as though I need some sort of improvement – regardless of what other people think or say (I cover this in more detail in this post here).

Maybe you have this too – your friends and family are often complimentary, but you always feel as though something’s missing. This could be better, that could be better. So you pick holes in yourself and identify the things you don’t like which need changing – and those are the bits which jump out at you when you look in the mirror or at a photograph of yourself.

It’s important to remember that although it’s difficult (but not impossible) to improve your perception of yourself, you can recognise that other people will see you more favourably. They’ll see the whole you – not just the bit you hate. So next time a picture of yourself makes you feel insecure, use this to help you to let it go and move on rather than dwelling on it and beating yourself up over your perceived ‘faults’.

Cameras process much less information than your eyes do

I could never understand why sometimes I’d get all ready to go out feeling great, only to be met by disappointment when someone took a selfie and my bronzed, carefully-contoured face ended up looking like a big white balloon. This was also true of photoshoots – when I’d spent hours in hair and make-up and felt confident, only to look at the images and wonder who the hell was looking back at me.

My lovely friend and photographer Neil cleared this up for me at a recent shoot for publicity shots for Tough Cookie. I’ve been working with Neil for years and he was one of the first photographers I worked with when I started modelling. We soon became friends and he has a good understanding of what goes on in my head, or at least the insecurities I struggle with in a photo situation (as well as unlimited tolerance and the patience of a saint when it comes to me choosing and liking images!) On this shoot in particular I was pleased with my hair and make-up and felt I looked good in the mirror. We started shooting and halfway through he let me peek in the back of the camera – and I was upset and disappointed by what I saw.

I looked pale, my face looked plump, my body seemed an odd shape – I just didn’t look like the ‘me’ I’d seen in the mirror just a few minutes earlier. What was going on? I asked Neil, who could see I was tearing myself to bits inside and didn’t like the photos, why this was happening.

Neil explained that a camera is only able to process a fraction of the visual information our eyes are able to (the human body is incredible and never ceases to amaze me!) Therefore my brain was displaying all sorts of information in the form of the image I saw in my mind, from the colour of my eyes and brightness of my skin to the definition in my face and thickness of my hair, that the camera simply couldn’t. This resulted in a flat image which only showed a small amount of the ‘me’ I’d seen in the mirror – hence why I wasn’t happy and didn’t recognise the same merits. Getting me to look like me was down to editing, placement and composition, he said.

Neil was using a top-range camera with a massive lens on it – so imagine how little information your smartphone or digital camera processes compared with your eyes. With this in mind don’t lose heart when you’re feeling great and suddenly a quick snap on a night out or on holiday gets you down. It’s likely you don’t look like that – so there’s the answer to your ‘do I REALLY look like that?’ question you’re beating yourself up with.

 What about models?

 As above, taking a flattering photograph is down to many elements of visual trickery – hence why photographers are so talented. And don’t forget that just because you think someone looks great in a photo, doesn’t mean to say that they feel the same (someone could be thinking that right now about a picture you hate!) I DO like some of the photographs taken of me whilst I was modelling. But there are many more that I dislike – and I’m sure lots of models and celebrities are just the same as you and me.

Like this? Check out Why selfies are toxic here.