Summer is upon us, and you know what that means: Vacations, weddings, picnics, barbecues and plenty of other settings for a whirlwind of photos. It’s a social, snap-happy world we live in, and if you’ve never been satisfied with how you look in pics, that can really follow you around. 

There are more reasons than ever to learn how to look great in photos. Your LinkedIn profile demands it, as do Facebook and other social networks, not to mention online dating. And wouldn’t we all be happier if our work/school IDs didn’t make us look like Gollum? 

If you have the digital files, you could use Photoshop, but that only works when you have the skills and the time for editing. Then there are mobile apps like Pixtr, which can take any headshot and auto-correct it to smooth out skin, adjust symmetry and fix whatever else it thinks is “wrong” with your image. There are obviously plenty of photo editing tools available, but here’s a thought — maybe you won’t need them if you take a great shot in the first place.

Photographer Peter Hurley is a fervent believer in proper posing, but his instructional video is a classic for a reason: Putting forward a strong jawline is one of the best ways to flatter yourself in pictures.

Headshots tend to be more attractive when only one ear is showing. It’s not hard to see why: If both ears are in the shot, that means the subject is looking at the camera dead-on, which rarely flatters anyone (who isn’t a model, that is).

What else can you do? Well, if you want to dig deeper, you can consider things like clothing (ditch crazy patterns or unflatteringly baggy apparel), background (look for clean, simple settings that contrast, not match, your clothes), and lighting (avoid LED flashes). But you may not always have the opportunity to plan ahead, especially when you’re just out hanging with pals.

So with that in mind, here are a few more elements that could make a difference:

  • Lighting: Direct sunlight can be harsh and unflattering, so if you’re outside, suggest a spot in the shade to the photog/pal.
  • Time of day: One of the best times for taking photos is “magic hour,” just after the sun sets. Soft lighting is great for smoothing out skin blemishes and wrinkles, and at magic hour, there’s a soft golden glow that just makes everyone look fantastic. So try a selfie during this time or hit up friends to take some shots.
  • Position: You want the camera somewhat above you, if possible. That might mean that the shooter needs to stand in a chair or simply position the phone/camera up higher than they’re used to. (Most people tend to hold the device at around their own face height.) And don’t forget this one, if you take self-portraits. Hold that smartphone just a little above you and aim downward. 
  • Full-body poses: Turn your body at an angle toward the camera, with your weight on the back leg and your front shoulder slightly dropped. Ideally, your top half is leaning (just a little) toward the camera. You’ll look leaner, which can even make you seem taller.
  • Smiling: A natural, beautiful smile can make for a stunning candid shot. But when you’re posing, that can be tough to pull off. Good thing a big, toothy grin is not necessary for a great photo. Still, if you struggle with smiling in pics and want to get better at it, try this: When you smile, put your tongue behind your teeth and think of something that makes you happy. It will soften your whole face. 

This list of tips can be a lot to digest at first, so take it slow. Maybe practice a pose here and there until it feels natural, and then move on to another tip. Before you know it, you’ll be looking fabulous in photos — all without Photoshop!

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