Photography Lighting is supported by readers. When you buy with our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more

This post was most recently updated on June 26th, 2022

Everyone has experienced seeing a photograph of themselves and not liking the way they look – so you rush to the mirror to check your appearance. 

But in the mirror, you look fine! Why is this? Which one is more accurate- the photograph, or your reflection in the mirror?

Keep reading to find out more about why photographs and mirror reflections look different, and which one is more reliable when it comes to how you look. 

What Happens When You Look At Your Reflection In The Mirror?

When you look in the mirror you see an image of yourself. This image is made up of rays of light that are reflected off the mirror into your eyes, allowing you to see the image.

The image is reversed down the horizontal plane, also called lateral inversion, which means it has been changed from left to right. Any writing on your clothing will be backward. However, from top to bottom it is still correct.

We tend to look in the mirror a lot more often than we look at photographs of ourselves, so our mirror reflection is more familiar and will feel more like a true representation of ourselves. 

What Happens When You Look At A Photograph Of Yourself?

When someone takes a photograph of you, the image is not a mirror image. This means that it is not reversed. In one sense, this makes photographs more reliable than mirror images. However, it is not that simple.

The camera lens and the lighting conditions can affect how accurate a photograph is, and whether your appearance in the photograph is a true likeness of you. If the photo is blurry rather than sharp it will look less accurate.

You also need to ensure that the photograph is the correct ratio, or the subjects of the photograph will appear distorted.

Color accuracy, exposure, and light intensity can also have a big impact on how a photograph looks and whether it is a true likeness. The better the dynamic range of your camera, the more accurate the photograph will be. A high-quality camera should have a good dynamic range. 

Why Do You Prefer Your Mirror Image To Your Photograph?

As you are used to seeing your mirror image, you grow accustomed to seeing yourself in reverse. When someone takes a photograph of you and your image is not reversed, it might look strange to you. 

People often tend to prefer the things that they are more familiar with. This is called the mere-exposure phenomenon or the familiarity principle. This will make you feel more favorably towards your reflection that you are used to looking at rather than a photograph.

This is also why you might prefer a photograph of yourself after you have seen it several times compared to the first time you saw it. 

It can be hard to believe other people when they tell you that you are good in a photograph. Remember, they are used to seeing you in person without your image being in reverse. The photograph is likely to look better to your friends and family than it does to you. 

How Can You Look The Same On Photographs And In The Mirror?

The only way that you will look the same in photographs as you do in your mirror reflection is if your face is entirely symmetrical. This is very rare- nobody tends to have facial features that are completely symmetrical. 

However, you can try flipping your photographs using an editing tool. This will reverse your image in a similar way to how you see it in the mirror, which could help you to like your photographs more. 

What Is Lens Distortion?

refelection photograph

If you take a picture of something and then look at it later, you may notice that the object looks distorted. For example, if you took a photo of a tree and then looked at it again, you would probably notice that the branches were bent.

This is because the camera lens was not perfectly straight. It bends light rays coming through it. This results in objects appearing smaller or larger depending on where they are in relation to the focal length of the lens.

This can also apply to facial features, which is why you might not like seeing photographs of yourself. Your nose might look bigger, your mouth could appear stretched. You can reduce lens distortion on faces by zooming out. 

If you want to avoid distortion, you need to use a lens with a shorter focal length. This means that the distance between the lens and the subject needs to be closer together.

Lenses with longer focal lengths allow for greater distances between the lens and the object. They are therefore able to capture a wider view of the world. 

You should also avoid taking photos close up. A wide-angle lens allows you to get a large amount of space into your frame. This means that there is less chance of distortion.

How To Look Good In Photographs?

Now that you understand why you look different in photographs compared to your mirror reflection, you can begin to work on how you pose for photographs. This should help you to become more comfortable with looking at photographs of yourself. 

Find some photographs of yourself that you do like and compare them to the ones that you don’t. What are the differences between the photographs? Is it the lighting, your facial expression, or your body language?

You might find that you prefer candid shots where you didn’t realize that your photograph was being taken, or you weren’t posing. In this case, you should try to be more relaxed for future photographs. 

Summary

Neither a mirror reflection nor a photograph will be entirely accurate. Mirror images are reversed but photographs are subject to lens distortion, lighting issues, and more things that can change the way that you look at a photograph. 

By using a good quality camera you should be able to take a photograph that is a relatively true likeness, but you may still prefer your mirror image.