About a year ago, I took part in a photography workshop which was all about using flashes and other artificial lighting sources.
It was truly one of the most eye-opening experiences ever, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with improving my personal photography technique.
I wish everyone could take a similar workshop and learn something that those of us who ever dabble in photography or who have ever worked as models or actors know: how we look in photographs is largely determined by the lighting.
Simply put, the right lighting can work miracles while bad lighting can make even the most attractive amongst us look terrible.
I saw this with my own eyes when I agreed to be the model/guinea pig for a series of flash photographs. Granted, I was already somewhat aware of this. (Back in my graduate school days when I was a figure model for extra money, the lighting always took the longest amount of time in any shoot.) Still, actually seeing in front of my own eyes was an awakening.
As a general rule, I tend to pick myself apart when I see candid photos of myself or the few times when I take a selfie.
I am not a huge fan of the latter. I’ve taken a few just because it seems like everyone on social media is doing it. I know people who post several selfies a week. Celebrities are not immune to it either. In fact, celebrity selfies are so ubiquitous that it’s probably easier to name the number of stars under 35 who haven’t posted them than the ones who have. (Reality TV personality Kim Kardashian posts so many of them that some of her critics have wondered if it is possible for her to go a whole day without doing so.)
While many claim they love selfies, I found they caused me to scrutinize my appearance in ways I hadn’t before.
Those scars on my forehead—souvenirs from the time I had chicken pox as a child—suddenly looked like craters. Apparently, I had a “lazy eye” that I wasn’t aware of before. Every flaw, every imperfection was magnified 100 times. All I could think was, “Is this how I really look to others?”
I am not unique in this.
A study put out by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, claimed that the “selfie trend increases demand for facial plastic surgery.” While a Washington Post article claimed that the methodology of the report was flawed, there seems to be enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that selfies aren’t good for many people’s self-esteem.
There was the case of a Los Angeles woman who spent $15,000 on cosmetic surgery in order to achieve perfect selfies. Celebrities like the aforementioned Ms. Kardashian has been accused of Photoshopping some of hers. As someone who works with young people, I worry about the effects that endless selfies may have on adolescents whose self-esteem may not be that high to begin with.
This isn’t to say that I am in favor of a self-imposed ban on selfies. I am not. (I happen to think they can serve a purpose and are helpful when it comes to documenting our respective histories.) However, I do want everyone to know that we are not our selfies.
Pictures do not always reflect reality.
They can and do lie. Lighting, camera angles, etc. all play a huge role in how a picture turns out. There are many strikingly attractive people do not photograph well and conversely, there are people who aren’t that stunning in person but are amazingly photogenic.
Therefore, the next time any of us sees a bad selfie or a bad photo that someone else took of ourselves, keep in mind that what we are seeing may not actually reflect reality. Keep this in mind, too, even if you happen to be someone who looks striking. The best photos in the world cannot truly capture the spirit of subject much less tell us about their internal qualities.
Our selfies and our selves are two separate things, and the more we keep that in mind, the better off we will be.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own