A mirror isn’t an accurate depiction of what you really look like.

Well for one, your brain makes yourself look more flattering (You Are Less Beautiful Than You Think). Next, both your eyes see the world in a three dimensional aspect, while a photo is two dimensional. Your brain will combine both images your brain sees from the mirror into a single image. Also, you are so used to seeing yourself in the mirror in a reversed manner that when you see yourself in the captured images thus, we tend to like a mirrored version of ourselves more than a true image and we sometimes may not even recognize ourselves in photos that do not capture a reversed image. Which brings in my next point – in a now famous 1970s experiment (APA PsycNet),

33 female undergraduates, each of whom was accompanied by a close female friend was invited to an experiment. A single frontal facial photograph of each Subject was printed in such a way that one print corresponded to the Subject’s true image and another to her mirror image. In 2 studies, Subjects were found reliably to prefer their mirror image over their true image, whereas the reverse tendency characterized preferences of Subjects’ friends.

Thus, what your brain sees and what the camera takes can be distinctly different. The photo also tries to create 3D like depth in a 2D environment. Therefore you appear flatter (and therefore broader) than you actually are. Previously, cellphone cameras would generally only have a wide angle lens, which would make your nose or whatever feature is closest look larger than natural i.e. they would expand the middle and squish the edges.

These wide angle lenses were and still are less expensive to make, and produce pictures that are more likely to be in focus and are great for shots of groups, landscapes. These days the more recent cameras have 4 or more lenses for different focal lengths and ranges. This will give a more accurate depiction of us, even if the image seen is 2 dimensional.

Furthermore, there is the case of symmetry. Once again, your face and body in the mirror will be different from what the photo takes. You are more used to looking at yourself in the mirror and your brain once again makes up for that. Thus, seeing yourself in a photo can be surprising.

There is also the dark side of things, generally we see ourselves as more flattering in the mirror but the opposite can be true. Some people see themselves as less flattering in the mirror because they focus on their flaws rather their strength. This can be seen in Body Dysmorphic Disorder as well as many others.

There are ways to reconcile the differences between the mirror and the photo and I have listed them below for your convenience.

Lighting is a key factor in creating a successful image because to get high-quality pictures, you need the right lighting and a good amount of it – you don’t just need sufficient lighting. The right and sufficient lighting helps you capture the narrative of your image because lighting determines not only brightness and darkness, but also tone, mood and the atmosphere. Thus, the temperature, the intensity, and whether it’s soft or hard light play a crucial role in your photography. Therefore it is necessary to control and manipulate light correctly in order to get the best texture, vibrancy of colour and luminosity on your subjects.

If you take anything away from this then make sure you have enough light in a photo. This is the biggest under-estimation that most novice or consumer photographers take for granted. In other words, get enough light and the right type of light for your selfies or portraits to be flattering.

If your photos don’t look right then check if your shooting angle is too low. Generally, the lens should be above your eye level for a more flattering photo. Either hold the camera a little higher if you are taking a selfie. Or if someone is taking a photo of you, ask the photographer to hold the camera a bit higher. You can even bend your knees to be lower if there are issues getting the camera a bit higher. Also, try and tilt your chin down a little bit as to not get those “up your nose shots”.

More often than not, it is the fake smile that looks almost too forced that ruins the photograph. Th fake smile makes your face muscles grind into an unnatural and unflattering pose. When you start to ‘pose’ for a photo, you are already conscious and your facial muscles tense giving you an awkward or weird look.

Furthermore, if you smile for too long, it might be genuine at first but the extended period of time holding that smiling look will make your face seem awkward and disingenuous. Try and relax rather than forcing yourself to smile. And remember, it is just a photograph, no need to fret over it so much. Smiling for extended periods on command is hard, as I’m sure you know. The longer you smile the more fake it will generally look.

You should smile with your teeth and lips in photos but try smiling with your eyes as well. The eyes are just as important as the mouth. A technique called “squinching” will be able to give you the look you are wanting in a photo by having you squinting the lower eyelid while only allowing the top lid to come down slightly.

Having a photo taken of your head and shoulders at a 90-degree position to the camera makes the photo look a bit like a prison mugshot. Try turning one of your shoulders slightly towards the lens to have a better photo composition. Your shoulders should be at about a 30-degree angle to the lens as this will also slim you if you are a wider build. Also improve the look of your upper torso by pushing your shoulders back and down a bit.