Bad Photos Shouldn’t Destroy your Self-Worth

I used to be like many people where I hated having my photo taken. I just knew the photo would turn out awful and I’d hate my body even more. Now of course I don’t have as many issues with taking photos, but digital photography has really maximized the changes of getting a photo that you feel good about. Could you imagine taking a set of photos of an outfit with a film canister, only to develop them to see you were squinting, the light was bad, or your stomach was pooched out?

The media takes the illusions further with Photoshop, but this isn’t going to be a post about that. Instead, I wanted to share various photos of me in the same outfits or taken on the same day, but looking completely different. When you see photos on blogs, you’re only seeing the best of the bunch. You’re not seeing all the awkward ones or ones that make the person look less than polished.

I took this photo yesterday in my driveway with a self timer, using a pose that I know usually works well on me (thus why many of my photos are posed this way). My neighbor was looking at me weird, so I just took one photo using my standby pose.  As soon as I saw it, I thought, “I know I don’t look that small from all angles in this dress.” But that is how I looked from that particular angle, and I was thrilled considering I felt like a pudgy bowling ball yesterday (sluggish, tired, bloated).

Authentically Emmie in Jessica Howard dress from Gwynnie Bee

Typical pose: Straight on angle, one foot slightly in front of the other, one hand on hip, toothy grin, not in direct sunlight, but in natural light. Camera at chest level. Wearing a Jessica Howard dress from Gwynnie Bee, Old Navy leggings, and ankle boots. Alesya Bag.

Target blazer

This is a photo I posted on Instagram. I was obsessed with the new blazer and didn’t have time to set up a proper photo. So, selfie it was. Natural light from my kitchen window, hand on hip, looking straight on, camera at chest/head height.

Later that night, I wore the same outfit and some photos were snapped at the event. As soon as I saw them, I felt deflated.


Super dark room, bright flash, taken at a different angle, shooting up from below rather than at chest/head level.

Another example: Taken within seconds of each other. I think both are cute, but prefer one over the other


Left my stomach is at a more prominent angle because I’m leaning backwards. Right was taken from a higher angle and I’m standing upright.

These 2 photos were taken in the same session, about 15 minutes apart. Same pair of jeans, different tops and jackets. I started crying when I saw the image on the right. The outfit just didn’t work – the shirt was way too short and threw the proportion off. Add in the bad angle and wind and it looked like I gained 50 pounds between photos:


I was really distraught, then I looked through the entire sessions photos and realized it was just those in that one outfit that were really bothering me. It helped me realize that an unflattering photo or outfit shouldn’t dictate my self-worth.


Just an example of how direct sunlight will totally blow out your image. You lose all the details.

My tips for learning to love yourself in front of the camera. Note that I know virtually nothing about cameras or photography, just know some conditions that can help:

  • Natural light is best. Flash in a darker room just creates weird colors and shadows. Avoid direct sunlight though, as it’s too harsh and your photos will turn super bright.
  • Try different poses and angles. It’s not uncommon for me to take 10 or more photos in a matter of a couple of minutes. I just keep moving. Smile, don’t smile, half smile, teeth showing, closed mouth, half twirling, feet together, feet apart, walking/in motion, angle body straight on, angle body to the side, hand on hip, hands on both hips, hand in hair, with handbag, without belt, etc.
  • Play with the height of the camera lens in relation to your body. Usually, photos taken by kids are shooting from a lower height going upwards and it isn’t the most flattering angle. Likewise, photos taken from super high down onto you can make your head look disproportionately large.  Photos taken from waist, chest, or head height are usually safer bets.
  • Use the camera to figure out what outfits you look best in. Take photos in outfits and see which ones you like the best. It’s a great way to understand your proportions. Look at it objectively and try to remove your body from the process. I know it’s hard, but it’s not you – it’s the outfit.

A bad picture doesn’t mean that you look bad – it just means it’s a bad picture. So stop avoiding the camera!

Any photo tips to share? 

  • Leah (Just Me Leah)

    Fab post! I love your closing line especially. x x

  • Amy Kelly

    This is such a great post; very honest and encouraging. We all–no matter what size–have certain outfits and angles that suit us and those that don’t. Thank you for reminding us to love ourselves and not be too hard on ourselves when a particular photo doesn’t flatter us.

    • Emily Sandford

      So glad you liked it. We are our own worst enemies.

  • Jackie Birch

    Thanks for this post, and love the last line as well – something I need to remember :)

    • Emily Sandford

      I say it over and over to myself all the time!

  • Carla

    What great tips! Loved this! I had recently heard about the high angle thing but wasn’t sure where to put the phone. I think I understand now after seeing your selfie pic. Also, I believe you are taking the phone into a mirror instead of having it look at you. I haven’t figured out how to get the mirror pic…any tips?

  • Tammy Bright

    Lately, I feel like every picture I see of myself is horrible. I used to take good pictures, but I think now I worry about how the picture will turn out, and that shows in the picture. I will try to remember your words of wisdom!

  • Beverly

    Great post! This is so true for me too. I’m glad those wonky pics didn’t get you down for too long and that you are able to look deeper :)

  • Taffy Activewear

    Amazing and awesome as always! Especially love the white dress with yellow..Happy New Year Emily!


    Thank you for doing this post! I couldn’t agree more with you. And by the way – you look great, love your smile!

  • Jody R. Goldenfield

    I LOVE all your self-love posts – you are such an inspiration!!!! I think many people think just because some of us are fitter or not as heavy as others that we are so OK with ourselves yet we have the same insecurities as others & especially those that lost weight & may see their younger selves still or just have other things that cause it… Thank you!

  • gem192

    Thanks for this :) I’m constantly telling myself that my posed photos are a “lie” or something, and the candids are how I look in reality – what a negative thing to beat myself over the head with! Unflattering candids of anybody are just that – unflattering. Thank you for sharing all the photos.

    • Emily Sandford

      I’m glad it was helpful. I still deal with the beating myself over the head, so it’s always a constant reminder. Maybe one day it will sink in and we’ll all be a lot happier!

  • Sundi Jo Graham

    Loving that leather jacket you’ve got. Just found your blog. Excited about your journey. I lost 145 lbs. and understand how great it feels.

    • Emily Sandford

      Thanks. Congrats on your progress!

  • Marilyn Engel

    great article!

  • Tricia Coniglio

    I laughed when you listed the different pics taken within a few minutes. It is so true… action, non-action, smile, half smile…. and all that to capture the best one. I have a pic from snowboarding as my default pic and that same day I played around with the different settings. I see a lot of really cute black & white pics so I chose that one.

    I could really see the fine lines around my eyes and I choose to believe that I will never have fine lines! Actually, my response was “I look haggard”. So I did not post any of those anywhere!

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  • Tamara Bowman

    Found this from Carli’s Real Into post. The pink dress above? Is so divine!! I want one!

  • Rachel G

    Amen!! My beautiful mom and many women I know don’t like their pictures taken. I actually already wrote a blog post with advice on how the way you pose can make a big difference in how much you like your photographs afterwards–but in the end, a bad photo is just that. The most beautiful person in the world could have a sucky picture taken of them–eyes closed, mouth full of food, hair blending into the background…photos are a tricky thing, some turn out well and others don’t, but we have to remember that they aren’t always a super accurate representation of real life.

  • Gretchen Hill

    You are such an inspiration Emmie! Love all your photos, couldn’t agree some of your post, you’re a such a lovely person. Keep on smiling and keep on inspiring us!

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  • Elaine

    Late to this party, but Thanks! I can so relate to everything you said here.. I started my journey to become healthy and lose some weight back in April. It is now September and I have lost a total of 40 lbs. I still have another 60 to go. I was feeling pretty good after returning to school and my fellow teachers all commenting on the difference they see and complimenting me about how good I looked. Fast forward to picture day! I got my school id back a week ago. My positivity plummeted. I didn’t look as thin in the face as I had in another picture. It really messed with my mind. I had to get on board with the fact that I have lost 40 lbs and that is an accomplishment I need to celebrate, not let myself become upset over one picture..