MarySmith’sPlace – fighting photo phobia

I hate having my photo taken. I can hear an instant chorus of ‘so do I’ but I’m sure no one hates it as much as I do. It’s almost a phobia.

A camera is pointed in my direction and in an instant every muscle in my face freezes, my shoulders lift up to my ears, my chin sticks out and all the wrinkles in my neck are accentuated a hundred-fold.

The profile pics I’ve been using on Facebook, Twitter and blogs were taken by a photographer friend. I was grateful for the time and effort she took and I picked (out of many) the ones that seemed to me to be ‘not too bad’. These were taken some years ago and I knew I really ought to update them.

Featured Image -- 112

This was taken several years ago  – time for an update

I was thinking it was time to bite the bullet and have a professional photo taken which I could use on as my social media profile and for book covers and press releases and all the rest of the things authors and bloggers need to do which seem to require a mug shot. At a party I bumped into portrait photographer Kim Ayres. Fate!?

We had a long chat. I had several glasses of wine and agreed we should meet – just to discuss the idea. Kim emailed me next day, we met and he spent time explaining why so many of us don’t like seeing photos of ourselves. It’s because we only see ourselves in the mirror so we always see a reverse image of ourselves. Other people don’t shriek in horror at our pic because they are used to seeing us that way.

I understood what he was telling me but it didn’t totally convince me. If I think I look ghastly in my photos, does that mean everyone thinks I look ghastly in real life?  And does that mean that only my hairdresser knows how I see myself? Anyway, I somehow found myself agreeing to have him take my photo.

Kim suggested I pretend I have a twin sister about to have her photo taken and think what advice I’d give her. ‘Eyebrows,’ I told my mythical twin. ‘You need to get your eyebrows done.’ Off I went – no manicure, no plumping up of lips, no facial – just the eyebrows. Funny, isn’t it what can make us feel better about ourselves?

He emailed to suggest I might have a drink to help me relax as long as I promised him I didn’t become either an aggressive or a maudlin drunk. I hadn’t actually contemplated getting drunk but when he arrived with all his photographic paraphernalia it suddenly seemed like a good idea. While he had a cup of tea I mixed a gin and martini cocktail – well, I didn’t bother with the lemon peel or olive or ice or shaking it – just a good slug of each in a glass. I don’t think it helped.

What did help was chatting, listening to Kim explain all sorts of things about photography (most of which went right over my head) and telling me we would have fun and, no matter how long it took, we would get a good photo – a photo I was happy with. Thinking back, it was like he was making soothing noises to a frightened horse!

He’d asked what I wanted people to see when they looked at the photo. I said I wanted to come across as warm and friendly, someone people would want to get to know. As he took each shot it appeared on a tablet so we could see it. To start with, all I could see was ‘meah’ but something happened during the process and I began to react differently to the photos. I began to see how things changed with a tilt of the shoulder here, a movement forward there, laughing at something just before the shutter clicked, a ‘think of something naughty’, stick out your tongue. Best of all, Kim never gave that terrifying command I’ve heard from photographers – friends, professionals, family – ‘Smile!’ As someone who was a smoker, who drinks black coffee and red wine and has some unflattering NHS dental work, I’m very self-conscious about my teeth – as well as all the other major defects I immediately notice in my photos.

Kim was so relaxed, not rushing things, actually making me feel if took ten hours it would be fine with him and it did actually become fun. It took a couple of hours though, but eventually I looked at a photo and didn’t cringe. I was drawn to my eyes, which looked quite twinkly, rather than my wrinkly neck. I saw my neck, but it didn’t matter, because I realised people would look at the eyes first. Another one made me say: ‘Oh, my shoulder has moved up spoiling the line.’ Then, I realised I was looking at the whole image with a different eye. Kim was grinning.


The new profile pic

When the shoot was over I was both exhilarated and exhausted. I wanted to tell Kim to come back and we could do it again, maybe in the blue dress this time. I wanted to continue having fun because I suspected the euphoria would wear off and next time someone points a camera at me I’d freeze like before. When I need a new profile photo, I’ll definitely be calling Kim again.

Check out Kim’s website here.  I’ve been looking at the amazing, exciting images on his website and thinking of all kinds of photographic possibilities then I remember I’m 63, a writer and blogger, an introvert rather than an extrovert, warm and friendly, hoping people would want to know me as I am.


I can even be in black and white or colour



52 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – fighting photo phobia

  1. That is a very flattering photo of you, Mary. You look warm, open and natural. Someone I would want for a friend. I really don’t like pictures that look artificial. I had mine done last year and was critical of myself too but in the end, I was happy with the one I choose. (Although I should have had my eyebrows done) Glad you had fun with it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Woohoo, Mary! Way to conquer a fear! And guess what? I think you look warm and friendly all over the place in this beautiful picture! Approachable, too, and definitely like someone I’d like to get to know better! LOVELY photo, and look . . . you lived to tell about it!! You go, girl! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Yes, it’s a good picture, your smile is what we see. I hate having my photo taken, always screw up my eyes etc. I like the idea of having a a cartoon of oneself as some seem to do on blogs etc. Not sure if one could get away with only using cartoons. I know we are all told to have a proper portrait, though I like seeing people in their own setting, looking out over the hills or hugging their dog etc . But what if a writer is a writer because they prefer not to be seen, like the Phantom of The Opera; they were born with, or had a terrible accident and were left with, terrible deformities. Their loved ones see the real person, but readers might get a fright when first confronted with photographs and be distracted from reading about the real person inside.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, glad you like the picture. I like your setting and wouldn’t mind something out walking maybe but it was taken indoors in my office because an outdoor photoshoot in February in Scotland was not appealing! You make some interesting points and Kim talked about work he’s done with people who have scars and/or other facial deformities. Firstly, he said the person often felt it was much more obvious than it really was and secondly he talked about what can be done with lighting and so on. I was looking to see if he’d blogged about it but there’s a lot on his website to go through.
      I think most readers will accept some people look different but that doesn’t make them different inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I rather wish Kim didn’t live so far away, I need to replace mine too… and detest being on the wrong end of the camera! I’ve met you… and that is a really great shot, Mary. It captures your warmth, humour and the glint of intelligent mischief. Lovely.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for dropping by, Marie, and for your kind comment. I won’t have to change my profile pic for a while – so don’t know if I’ll be back to square one again. At least I know Kim can help.


  5. You were great, Mary. I knew when we began you’d rather have had root canal treatment with no anaesthetic than go ahead with the photography session. And yet you didn’t let that fear stop you! As we played with lighting, composition and shifted out of your dining room and up to your study, your confidence grew, and with it your ability to play in front of the lens.
    I was delighted when we reached that point where you were looking at the image as a whole 🙂
    And yes, if it had taken 10 hours, then it would have taken 10 hours, but we would have got there in the end. As it was, we did it in less than half that 🙂

    To follow up on tidalscribe’s comments about people who have facial disfigurements.

    Just the week before our photo shoot, I did a session with a 50 year old woman who has a partial paralysis on one side of her face. This means when her image is flipped (from the mirror image she is used to seeing, to the way the rest of the world usually sees her), the difference is far more dramatic.

    In general, the more difference there is between expectation and what we’re presented with, the stronger our reaction will be. For example, if someone says they will give us £50 and gives us £50, we’re fine. If they only give us £5, we are seriously disappointed. But if they said at the outset we would get £5, then we’d be perfectly happy. So it’s the same thing when our image is reversed. We are expecting one thing (the smaller eye, the pointier eyebrow, the parting of the hair, the slope of the nose, the scar, mole or pimple etc on one side of the face rather than the other), and suddenly nothing is where it should be. The more exaggerated those differences, the more uncomfortable we feel.

    My partially-face-paralysed friend, then, found the swapping sides of her face almost too much to bear. She used heartbreaking words like “grotesque” to describe what she was seeing on the screen. However, she was determined to see it through, and after a while, she began to get used to seeing her face on the screen. Slowly but surely she got to “know” her face the way the rest of the world sees it. It took several hours, but by the end of the session, when looked back through all the photos, she even quite liked some of the early photos she’d previously described with words of horror.

    The rest of the world also adapts quickly to the way someone looks. The first time you see Stephen Hawking, with his twisted face and body, you are very aware of the way he looks, but very soon it ceases to be an issue. Now when you see him, you just think of the fact he’s an extremely intelligent physicist who’s helped to shape our modern understanding of the universe. It’s not his looks that define him.

    So if an author with a disfigurement was to put their image up for the world to see, then I think very quickly people would move on from it. There might be an initial surprise, but then it would quickly stop being an issue.

    I hope that helps a bit 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Kim. I’m not keen on the idea of root canal treatment without anaesthetic and I would definitely prefer to have my photo taken – at least, by you – than suffer that. But, it was a close run thing the day you arrived at my door with your camera.
      Thanks. also, for this very comprehensive response to the points TidalScribe put. I couldn’t remember the whole story about your friend so I’m glad you expanded on that.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. That’s a warm and friendly photo if I ever saw one Mary. Kim has captured you so well, that wee drink a and her ability to set you at ease must have helped! Well done for facing your phobia and showing us who you really are. Of course, I knew all along! You’re warm and friendly just as you were when I met you in ‘real’ life. Must check out Kim’s blog. x

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Naturally, I agree with everyone that it is a lovely photo of you, and perfect for book covers and social media. It makes all the difference to have an experienced photographer to put you ate ease, and to capture the right moment too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love the new photo – it’s so warm and makes you appear interesting and approachable, which I assume you are, ha ha!! It’s lovely, I remember thinking so when you first changed it on Twitter. I like the coloured version best, btw.

    I used to love having my photo taken, and didn’t much care how they came out. I was always in the front when the cameras came out, and I thought people who hid and wouldn’t let me take pictures of them were stupidly vain. Then, around 7-8 years ago, I started to GET IT. With the menopause, my jowls dropped, my body decided to gain a dress size, the lines began to appear, and suddenly I didn’t look good in pictures any more. I’ve become that stupidly vain person, too, who cares so much about what people think that I scuttle to the back of any crowd when the camera appears. I ask not to be in group shots. I take all my own photos for social media, and, every couple of years when I feel they need updating, it takes about 30-40 shots before I find one I can bear to look at. The guy who does my covers has offered to photoshop them, but I won’t have that. That IS stupidly vain – and just stupid. I’m 58, so what’s the point of trying to look 30?!

    So no, I’ve never had photo phobia, but now I understand it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Terry, glad you like the new photo. I think prefer the colour one, too, tough not sure why. Maybe it’s more twinkly. I so envy you going through life happy to have your photo taken. I was crippled by insecurity and it certainly wasn’t vanity. My mother did a good job of letting me know I was nothing to look at from when she did the first home perm when I was about five! I’m not too bothered about the wrinkles I have at 63 – everyone else has them. Kim suggested I look at lots of author photos to see if there were any I particularly liked but after a while I stopped because I realised I didn’t want to look like them – I wanted to look like me. And I didn’t want to look frozen and forbidding. I think he achieved that, lines and wrinkles included.
      Funnily enough I met a photographer friend yesterday who has never been able to take a good pic of me and told him about what Kim had achieved. He looked a bit miffed until I told him it took four hours!


      • Yes, it took me becoming camera shy myself to realise it wasn’t vanity!!! Though maybe it is in a way – the person who is truly without it will not care what they look like – if that person actually exists!!!

        Oh gosh yes, I hate ‘author photos’. Especially the ones that have them resting chin on knuckles of hand – ghastly! And I feel the same about wrinkles – I will keep them at bay as much as I can but that’s it. As for it taking 4 hours…. yes, ‘natural’ always takes a lot of work!


        • I think the person without a trace of vanity is as common as the true altruist. Kim did take one of me with my chin on my knuckles which isn’t too bad and not to author-y. Soemthing in the garden might have been good – but not in Scotland in February.

          Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s