Ask The Photographer HOW TO POSE FOR A MORE FLATTERING PICTURE
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Dear Sarah, My friend was recently in an online photography class where you were a guest speaker, of sorts. He said you were giving tips on how to pose people in a way that made them relax in front of the camera. At one point I guess you talked about how to position people so that the camera doesn't add weight. I was really excited about this, but when I asked my friend to explain more, he said that wasn't the main focus of your talk to the group, simply a side comment, and he couldn't really explain anything to me. So I was wondering if you would go into a bit more depth on this concept.
Thank you for the consideration. Also, my friend said you were the best guest speaker of the year so far.
- Cheating the Camera
Hello Cheating the Camera, I super excited about this question. Mostly because it is so different from the other questions I've gotten recently. Also, it is one of the first things I learned as a photographer way back in the day, and I still use it today. This one is going to be a bit long, but stick with me.
I'm going to start with a disclaimer though: 1. I will be using pictures of myself to explain this topic, not because I like posting pictures of myself, but because I don't want anyone to think I'm saying they look "heavy" in their photo. This way I'm only chastising myself.
2. I am a size 3 and by no stretch of the imagination do I think I need to loose weight or am "fat" "heavy" "big".... I am simply going to show you how the camera adds "weight" to photos depending on how you position yourself. When I say "wide" I simply mean just that, you spread out on film, not that you are fat.
3. Lastly, whether you are a size 30 or a size 0 these tips pertain to you. All the models around the world have learned these tips. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL THE WAY YOU ARE. This teach is not about making you look "skinny" it is about getting the best proportions for yourself. ALWAYS BE YOU!!! The camera doesn't think you are fat, or heavy, the camera is simply somewhat stupid.
I will explain.
Let's start with the basics. We as humans are 3 dimensional beings, we have height, depth, shape to us. Cameras, as smart as they are, take 2 dimensional images. Because of this, our curves end up spreading out on film. Our mass can't go up in an image (since photos are flat) so it has to go out. If you can think about that concept and really understand it, then you are already halfway through this lesson.
Tip #1: Don't face the camera straight on.
For those visual people, let me show you what I mean. I recently did a selfie photoshoot in a mountain meadow. The next two pictures will be from that shoot.
In this first photo I have most of my body facing the camera, even if it is my back, the majority of my mass is straight on to camera. Like I said before, I'm a size 3 and in no way does this photo make me look huge, however there is very little actual shape to my body. When you face the camera straight on, whether it is your back to the camera, or your front, all of your body has to go somewhere, so it goes out. This makes you look wider on film. Imagine if you were laying on the ground and someone drove a steam roller over you (cartoon style, you won't die from this). You would end up flattened out like a pancake right? Same concept on film.
Straight on to camera = wider
Now here is picture #2. Because my body is turned sideways to camera all of a sudden my waist becomes clear. I look a lot closer to the size that I truly am. This is because the side of my body has less to spread out then my front does. It is the same reason Models learn to arch their back in photos. The arch adds a natural empty area where the camera can show the viewer your curves through "negative space" .... aka, a place where your body isn't.
Tip #2: Practice your face angles in the mirror.
My face is a weird combination of cherubic (aka pinch-able cheeks) and long heart shape. Because the definition in my face is my jawline and my nose, I know that if I face the camera straight on I loose shape to my face. For me, and this will be different for everyone, the concept of facing the camera straight on makes my face wider and fattens my normally pointy nose.
Here is an example of how "fat" my face can look if I'm straight on to camera.
However, if I slightly tilt my head, and drop my chin, you can see a lot more definition and narrowness to my features.
For most people dropping your chin will add circles under your eyes (which is why as photographers we constantly tell you "chin up") and will also squish your neck in a non flattering way. As a person that is very long, this just happens to be a good angle for me. If you practice in a mirror you will learn where your face catches light and what angel look best on you. Try chin up to start as 90% of people look best this way. PS: Smiling in photo #2 also added tension to my cheeks which gives my face more definition.
Tip #3: Small busted women are Queens in photos.
Sorry large chested women, you rule bar rooms, swimsuits, and most t-shirt contests, but photos are not your friend unless you learn to work with your proportions. Almost 99% of large chested women need to learn to concave your chest, STICKING OUT YOUR CHEST WILL MAKE YOU LOOK WIDER. I can't say this enough. One of the biggest things super models like Tyra Banks teach, is that larger chested women must curve your shoulders slightly down to pull your upper mass in. The more you stick out your chest, the wider you will look.
Fun fact: Magazines "slim" 98% of women with chests large than a B so they don't appear to be "heavier" than they really are. Check out before and after photos of gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence on the Internet. She doesn't need any "sliming" but her large chest makes her wider which magazines don't want. Thanks to my friend Steve (a magazine photo editor) for this fun truth.
Women with chests larger than a B should also be careful with selfies that only show from the ribcage up. Remember how I talked about mass and how it has to go somewhere? The more mass you have near your already wide shoulders, the wider you look on film. It becomes increasingly harder to show your true proportions because everything spreads out.
Don't worry greatly endowed women, little cheats will help you work with your larger proportions!
To work with your large chest be careful about pushing it out/ drawing attention to it. You have a chest, you don't need to show it off, the camera will do it for you. Instead think about keeping your shoulders neutral, or even slightly curving in to help that mass from spreading too far out. Take selfies at wider angles... Showing your lower curves can help combat upper mass.
Tip #4: Things closer to the camera will look bigger, things farther away from the camera will look smaller.
The biggest thing I see right before I take photos is the inevitable sucking in of the stomach. As a photographer it makes me laugh because sucking in your stomach does nothing but make you uncomfortable for the photo.
The camera won't notice a change as small as sucking in the stomach. Instead, try tilting your hips back and away from the camera.... aka sticking your butt out behind you. This pulls your stomach away from the camera as well as elongates it back behind you. Thus, making it "smaller" in pictures. You will see this pose a lot in magazines like Victoria Secret where the model doesn't have clothes to hide behind.
This also works if you have a smaller chest. Stick it out. Just in opposition to large chested women, the closer you get your ladies to the camera, the larger they will look.
Disclaimer: Please only stick your butt out behind you. Never stick your butt out where the camera can view it. Popping your butt out (or up if you are laying down) takes a photo from classy to trashy so quickly, I can't even tell you.
Tip #5: Think about adding length.
After everything I've taught you so far this one should actually be a nobrainer. The more compact your mass is, the wider you look in pictures. The longer and leaner your mass, the less you will spread out in photos.
This is especially true when it comes to shoulder, neck and main mass of the body. I continually tell my clients to take a deep breath and relax their shoulders. By pulling down your shoulders and stretching your neck you add length and leanness to a photo. For shorter girls, think about pointing your toes in situations where it won't look ridiculous.
For example, here are two photos of me being crazy.
In this first photo even though I'm standing up, I've brought my left leg towards the camera as I walked sideways. Because of this my stomach scrunched and my body looked wider.
In this second photo because I'm stretching my body to do a cartwheel I look longer and leaner. Even with my sweater bunching at my shoulders, you can see my waist. This helps show you my true proportions. If my second foot was all the way up I would look super skinny because of all the length I created.
I hope you got something out of this teach. I loved this question. Take these things and run with them. At your next family Christmas don't stand facing the camera for that family photo, turn slightly sideways and stand up tall, shoulders down, chin up!