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How to Pose for Photos: A Guide for Men

Do you just love posing for photos? Are you totally selfie mad? Are you completely at one with the lens? Well, bully for you. But most of us don’t find it so easy. In fact, I’d guess that the majority of men find posing for photos a pretty uncomfortable experience.

It’s not so much that we’re camera-shy. It’s more that we’re wary of what the camera gets up to when we’re not looking. And, indeed, when we are. It distorts faces. It catches you at odd moments. It can even humiliate you. Cameras are wily things. You can’t relax in front of them because they have this nasty habit of snapping you when both your eyes are closed, or of making you look constipated, or worse still, of making you look like some seedy creep leering into the lens. Quite how they do it I don’t know. It’s a real poser, if you’ll excuse the pun. What’s needed is a strategy.

There are a few approaches you can take to this tricky business. The first is what I call “The Churchill”. This involves emulating our great wartime leader and channelling your inner bulldog. You look directly down the lens and give it your most formidable stare. No smiles, no joy, no happiness – just a staunch fella showing the world who’s boss. Ideally, you’ll accessorise with a cigar or even a Tommy gun if there’s one to hand. It all sounds fairly appealing, doesn’t it? We chaps won’t be defeated by these pesky cameras. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets… and indeed at house parties, weddings and any other gatherings involving cameras. 

Do be warned though – it’s not quite as easy as it looks. You think you’re coming across as heroic and dignified but if you’re not careful you can just look like a miserable grump. I should know. I’ve tried it. The result was less bulldog and more sourpuss. The writer Martin Amis gets it wrong too, coming across in pictures more like a stroppy teen than a literary bad boy. So too the chef Marco Pierre White. He nails it half the time, looking all cool and unapproachable, but the other half of the time he looks utterly ridiculous. The problem is that these days if you take yourself too seriously you’re laughable. We’re not so into classical heroes anymore because we’re so democratic. Even if you have achieved something in life, you have to behave like an average Joe. This is why Will Smith looked so foolish at the Oscars trying to defend his wife’s honour. It’s not the right era for it, pal.

A very different approach, then, is “The Tom Cruise”. Here, the aim is to give the camera your broadest, cheesiest grin no matter what the scenario. Your goal is to dazzle your way through life – film premieres, dinners, Scientology meetings… whatever it is, whenever there’s a camera, you smile as widely as possible and pile on the charm. Of course, it helps if you have the classic Hollywood Smile – that whiter-than-white set of gnashers that really sparkle when the camera flash hits them. This option might sound within your reach. It’s all very straightforward on paper, but I caution you that in practice it’s another story. The difficulty is that affecting a smile in this way can come across as extremely contrived. You can end up looking like a Stepford Wife – with a smile so strained and “perfect” that it ends up being eerie. Either that or you look like an embarrassingly sincere individual with absolutely no sense of irony. (Much worse than eerie, in my book.) As a matter of fact, I’m not sure even Tom Cruise really gets “The Tom Cruise” right most of the time. He tends to look like a soulless waxwork – ecstatic on the outside and dead within. 

So what about “The Clown”? You’ll often find this approach to pics used by comedians – Harry Enfield, Jack Black and Rowan Atkinson, for instance, all frequently employ this tactic. What you do here is simply pull a silly face to the camera. Think of Bozo the Clown or Ronald McDonald and you’re there. I know it might sound a bit dim, but it’s actually rather clever. What you’re doing is getting round the pitfalls that the camera presents by electing to be silly, rather than letting it make you look silly against your will. It’s a bit like when Eminem does his final rap in “8 Mile” – mentioning all the insults his opponent could possibly throw at him before the guy actually gets the chance. The camera can’t make you look silly if you’ve already chosen to make yourself look silly, can it? Ultimately, though, we can’t get away from the fact that you do still look silly. So it’s a bit of a Pyrrhic victory.

A slight upgrade on this is to go for a wry look. These same comedians will pull this one out when they’re feeling a bit more sophisticated. You just raise an eyebrow or curl up one corner of your mouth. You’re still showing self-awareness and transcending the scenario, but you’re being a bit more subtle about it. This too has a drawback, though, which is that you can end up just looking like a smug git… particularly if you overuse it… particularly in your wedding photos. 

So where does this leave us? Well, clearly, there’s no simple answer here. The Churchill, The Tom Cruise and The Clown all have their pros and cons. I think it’s up to you, as a thinking man, to employ all of these poses whenever and wherever you see fit. Practise every day in the mirror, and, if all else fails, remember that you can always fall back on that default English expression: a very slight, somewhat begrudging smile. (You’ll find this uncomfortably demonstrated in my profile picture below.) Go out and attack those cameras, gentlemen; and I wish you the best of luck in all your future posing endeavours. 


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