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This post was most recently updated on November 13th, 2022

It can be really disheartening to see a picture of ourselves that we do not like.

Modern technology means that cameras are everywhere, and no matter who we’re with, there’s always the possibility that a picture may be taken.

Getting up in the morning, going to the effort of getting ready, checking yourself out in the mirror, and thinking that you look good can lift your confidence – until someone takes a picture of you unexpectedly, seemingly undoing all of your hard work.

Pictures are taken on all sorts of occasions – at parties, nights out, family gatherings, and sometimes, there are even opportunities for professional photographs. No matter what the circumstances, it’s easy to be disappointed if you find that you don’t look the way that you expected to.

You might look at the picture, confused as to how the image in front of your eyes doesn’t seem to resemble the same person you saw in the mirror, or even in selfies that you’ve taken. We’ve all been there – it can be disorientating, leaving you with questions like: “Is that how I always look?”.

It’s not just you – the picture and the person you see in the mirror really do look different! There are a few potential reasons for this – these can include the angle, distance, and even just the differences between a camera lens and our eyes.

If you’d like to know why you look good in the mirror, but bad in pictures, carry on reading – we’ll get into some of the things that can affect this below.

Why Do I Look Good In The Mirror But Bad In Pictures?

Mirror Image

The most important thing to remember about mirrors is that they’re just that – mirrors.

Your mirror image is a backward image of how you actually appear in real life – the eye that you see on the left in the mirror, actually appears on the right to everybody else.

When you have a picture taken, the image you see is actually from the same perspective as everybody else, and what you’re seeing is that your left eye is actually your right eye, for the first time ever.

This can be hard to wrap your head around, but don’t worry! This is how everybody else has always seen you, and guess what? You look fine.

Dirt on the Lens

Believe it or not, the reason that you don’t look the way that you expected could be as simple as a bit of dirt on the lens.

The lens of the camera needs to be completely clear of smudges in order to take a clear picture, and sometimes dust or fingerprints can leave a picture with an unfortunate blur, maybe changing a little of how your face would normally appear in the process.

If in doubt, wipe the lens of the camera with a microfiber cloth – this should get rid of any smudges or dirt.

Confidence

When we look in the mirror, we often project an image of confidence back to ourselves.

The faces we pull every time we look in the mirror can often be completely different from the natural facial expressions we use as we go about our lives. Pouting in the mirror will look a lot different from a candid picture taken of you when you are unprepared.

A staged laugh in the mirror allows you to control your facial expressions a lot more precisely. This will look significantly different from a true laugh that might come out if you’re hanging out with friends.

If you struggle with self-esteem issues, it may be that posing for a photograph makes you feel nervous as it’s in front of people, whereas posing to yourself in your mirror may feel completely within your comfort zone.

Many people find it awkward posing for photographs, and often this can be seen in the photos. If you’re worried about looking awkward, try to relax, and enjoy yourself. These are memories, and you can have fun with them!

The Lens Versus Your Eyes

Another big difference between a picture and your mirror is the type of lens that you are viewing things through.

Both the image we see in the mirror and the image we see when a picture is taken are produced by lenses. The image in the picture is produced by a camera lens, but the big difference is that the image in the mirror is produced by two different lenses – your eyes.

The difference between a camera’s image and the image we see is that a camera only has one lens, or one ‘viewpoint’ that it can take information from in order to form a picture.

Our eyes, on the other hand, each take their own images from slightly different viewpoints, which our brain then combines into one image, which changes the way that things can appear.

This means that looking at yourself in the mirror and taking a picture of yourself in the mirror, from exactly the same height, are still going to give you two slightly different images.

By this logic, it really is true that you look slightly slimmer in real life – our eyes see a little more of our sides than the camera lens does – the camera lens views us front on, meaning that we might look ever so slightly wider.

Photo Editing

Technology is getting better every single day, and we can change the way that we look in pictures with ease.

This can make the difference between your real-life image and your digital image staggering, depending on just how much editing goes into it.

This isn’t always for the best, however – when done incorrectly, photo-editing can cause embarrassing hiccups. For example, if you try to make your waist look thinner, but you’re posing in front of striped wallpaper, you must be incredibly careful not to bend any of the stripes out of place.

Backgrounds like this can make it easy to tell when someone has edited a photo.

The fact that people edit their pictures at all might have something to contribute to the fact that you see yourself differently in your photos.

If you are used to seeing all of your friends taking really nice, perfectly edited pictures, just to compare them to your own, there’s a good chance that you’ll see a discrepancy. Don’t let it get you down – your photos look great, edited or not.

The Angle

The Angle

The angle that a photo is taken from can play a huge part in the way that its subjects can appear.

When viewing yourself in the mirror, you are used to looking at yourself at face height – but when a picture is taken, the angle can vary.

For example, a picture that is taken from a lower angle may look more unflattering than a picture taken from a higher angle, as the lower angle can make facial features like your nostrils or chins seem bigger than they are, in a way that you may dislike.

The Distance

Another factor to consider is the distance at which the photo is taken. Images that are taken close up can seem more unflattering than those taken at more of a distance. This is because pictures taken close up can cause the lens to create a fish-eye effect, distorting the image.

Another important thing to note is how the mirror reflects light.

If you place a camera on a timer next to a mirror and take a picture of yourself, you would find that the image you can see in the mirror seems to be slightly further away than the picture you have taken of yourself using the camera.

When you look into the mirror, the image you receive is based on the amount of distance that the light has had to travel in order to reach your eye.

Mirrors reflect images back to you, meaning that your image in the mirror is actually traveling twice as far as the image in the camera, as the camera only receives.

This can cause your reflection to seem further away, and, you may think, more attractive, as a result of the lack of distortion that the camera lens might be experiencing.

The distance also plays a part in the amount of detail that your camera can capture of your face. Taking a picture close up will give the camera a chance to capture small details in clarity, and you may not be able to see these things in as much detail in real life.

The Framing

If you look at yourself in the mirror, the framing of that image is already worked out for you. Due to the parallel images, your face always stays perfectly in the frame – this is also one of the reasons that it can be a struggle to look at ourselves from certain angles without a million other mirrors.

When taking a photograph, however, you have to work all the framing out yourself. Someone else might not do a good job of this when taking a picture of you, leaving you to look awkward and slightly out of frame.

If you’re lucky, and the photo was taken at enough of a distance, with some clever cropping skills, you should be able to recenter and frame the picture all on your own.

Life

Sometimes, we’ve only got life to blame for our disappointing pictures.

The hair and outfit that you might have spent so long perfecting in the mirror can all become disheveled, causing the image taken of you out of the house to look a considerable amount different from the picture that you saw of yourself in the mirror at home.

You might have had something stress you out since you last saw yourself in the mirror at home, causing you to seem uncomfortable, and less happy and carefree.

Often, when we are happy, we are at our most attractive, and it is important to take these factors such as social anxiety and stress into account when looking at pictures taken of us.

Final Thoughts

Having your picture taken can be awful, especially if you don’t ever feel confident that the picture is going to be something that you like.

If you were reading this article out of panic that you always look as bad in real life as you think you do in pictures, we hope that this has gone a little way to making you feel better.

Photography really is an art, and it’s important to understand that not every photo is going to turn out in the same way that we might have expected it to. The most significant part of a picture is the memory that the picture might represent.