Interesting thoughts, MarqueeMoon.
If I were to add anything I would say that colouring
and (maybe surprisingly) the shape of the chin and brow bone
can play a decisive part in whether one looks good in a photo.
I am light skinned and while in person I get so many compliments on my skin, in photos, I just appear like a ghost, and it makes all my features stand out very dramatically.
Likewise, while in person my slight cleft chin is hardly noticeable and if it is, quite charming (think Selita Ebanks, not Michael Douglas ), in photos it can flatten strangely and become a very dominant feature.
Same with the brow bone. A rounded and light brow can give an alien cast when frozen in a photo. Check out Anja Rubik when she bleaches her eye brows, and you'll see what I mean.
A more general note:
I think a lot of it is in the light and shadows created by most cheap and automatic camera flashes. A good photographer should be able to bounce the light so that it falls on the face the way natural light does, and so, give you a photo that looks closer to how you see yourself in a mirror or how others see you on a regular day.
And as a professional photographer once told me, hardly ANYONE- no matter how gorgeous- will look good in a dead-on pose with a flash. Its just a fact. Thats why you always see models and celebs doing the head-tilt and over the shoulder poses, and why backstage photographers are armed with those light reflectors with tints.
Fashion Victim- you aren't the only one that notices differences between mirrors. My parents wanted to send me to a shrink when I was little cos I refused to look in certain mirrors in the house, to the extent that I would not enter rooms or, if I did, I would turn out the lights. Yes, I was a brat.
I'm gonna post some pics to demonstrate that even gorgeous people can be rather unphotogenic or fall prey to bad lighting and angles.
Exhibit A: Valentina Z
She is stunning, probably the most photogenic and straight-up beautiful face on the runways today. But did anyone see her at this show? I'd never seen her look bad until then (and never since- she's pretty much perfect ) It was all in the strong cold lighting. Someone shoulda been fired.
Exhibit B: Holly Valance
Some people hate her, but I'm Aussie so I'll always think she's adorable. Now she has one of the chins I mentioned earlier. Check her out in motion and in screencaps, and she has such a lovely uber-pretty face. But with strong photographic lights and flashes, her face morphs in to a completely different shape and doesnt look nearly as good.
Motion on left, still on right:
Hope this helps to show that photos really can alter looks and lighting can be a bitch