The Psychology Of Making Women Look Good In Photographs

by Mark Bailey

As a portrait photographer, you need to have a thorough understanding of your subject, whoever it is, to get the best results on camera. Women are particularly tricky – they’re probably the most self-critical people you can ever have the pleasure of taking photographs of. And a photo shoot should be a pleasure, never a torture, for both the photographer and your female client.

However, this is exactly where the problem lies. How many women do you know who hate having their picture taken, who don’t like at least some aspect of their physical shape and appearance, who think they’re just not photogenic? Leaving aside the younger #selfie generation who is much more practised (and therefore confident) at taking pictures of themselves for posting all over social media, the vast majority of women over, say, 30 years of age will tell you that they always look bad in photos.

It’s not even so much the actual photoshoot that they’re afraid of – it’s the results! Little wonder when you consider the albums full of unflattering holiday snaps, awkward portraits in unfavourable poses, with bad lighting, wrong clothes and no camera direction, that everyone has at home.

The challenge this presents for the photographer is not to be underestimated. Of course, a consummate professional should be able to make any woman, regardless of age, size or appearance, look fabulous on film, but success with women depends as much on getting into your model’s psyche as it does on your technical abilities, if not more so.

If you want to get great results from a photo shoot with a female client, here Dakota Murphey working alongside award winning photographer Boggio Studios, has given 4 key things you should consider.

Build a Relationship

Prepare your subject mentally and emotionally before the day of the shoot. For your lady client to feel comfortable, you need to develop a rapport with her, gain her trust and confidence and make her feel comfortable about the experience to come. Schedule a meeting beforehand and/or talk to her on the phone to find out what she wants and get on the same wavelength.

Be sympathetic to any body issues she may have; these are very real to her and must not be brushed aside. If your client hates her arms, teeth, size etc, she is bound to be self-conscious about exposing her ‘bad bits’ to the camera. It’s up to you to relax her in a way that takes her concerns into consideration, while boosting her confidence by complimenting her on the ‘good bits’ she probably doesn’t even realise she has.


Treat her photoshoot as her own personal fashion shoot and spend some time talking about the best outfits for the photoshoots, and give helpful advice on the sorts of clothes, colours and styles that will really flatter her shape.

Agree on clothes that are not too tight, as this won’t look good when she is in a seated position, regardless of her size. Choose tops that cover her arms, perhaps pushing up the sleeves to make the arms look slimmer and longer. Bear in mind that V-necked tops elongate the neck and are more flattering that round or polo neck tops. A white top under a jacket is a good way to reflect more light onto the face, while black clothing has the opposite effect.

Be In Control

Taking great photos is much more than having the subject stand in front of you and hoping they will know how to pose or just look good how they are. She won’t have a clue what to do – you need to TELL her. Take control of the photoshoot and give constant direction. Your model will rely on you to tell her what to do, how to move, where to look, and how to position herself so that you can get the best shots.

Positioning is crucial. Sit her down on a chair or on the floor and have her move around to see what looks best. Experiment with standing poses or have her lie on the floor. Make her legs look good by moving a foot out slightly or by turning her knees. Ask her to turn her arms or shoulders to create a better silhouette. Ask her to stretch or lean forward. Get her to position her face by putting her chin down and forwards, elicit a slight smile, a smize or a full-on laugh.

Make sure you change your camera angle all the time to get the greatest variety of shots without her having to move too much. Don’t forget to shoot from above too, with her looking straight into the camera; no-one ever looks good pictured from below. And don’t even think about full length shots if you know that she’s not happy with her weight.


Studio shoots allow you to choose the most flattering lighting and background, but location shoots can be a great way to obtain fun and spontaneous pictures. Again, you will need to use the ‘softly softly’ approach to first build her confidence for posing outside or even in a public place.

Maybe start off in a ‘safe space’ indoors until you’ve built up a good rapport and your subject feels relaxed before you move into a doorway or porch and then, finally, outside.

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