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I'm not the most lean person on the planet, and many pictures seem to really point this out. While I wish I was simply in better shape, it is simply not the case for me or unfortunately, many people.

Are there poses, lighting techniques, focal lengths, etc. that will work better to reduce some of the common overweight features (large stomach, double chin, etc.)?

Update: Ok, so I incorporated a few of the suggestions that I could into a self portrait in the limited space I have. I didn't have suitable room or patience for a three-quarters shot, so here's just a headshot. Some of the suggestions really, really made a noticeable difference.

improved picture

Its a picture of me I actually like! (I pushed the DOF a little shallow though, and the back of my ear is out of focus.)

Second Update: So here's another shot that takes into account a few more of the suggestions yet (including Jay's suggestion of slightly rotating the light a bit more). The only thing I think I'd additionally do is make sure to where a higher collared shirt to help hide neck rolls. Also, I found straightening my back fairly rigidly helped a lot.

second improved picture

And in finale, here's a before picture of how bad it could look. This was taken about 30-40 pounds lighter, by another photographer. (This is a lowres crop, unfortunately.)


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While it does sound like an odd question, I think it is entirely valid. I think it is commendable to find ways to create more flattering pictures of overweight people. Cheers. :) – jrista Jan 5 '11 at 22:28
It's not really odd at all. People come in all shapes and sizes, and as a portrait photographer, if you can highlight a persons features while diminishing their "flaws" you will be better rewarded. At least he didn't call us "fatties." – Alan Jan 6 '11 at 0:34
Good start there on that self portrait! One common thing I see with many of my students is that they don't have the light rotated around their subjects enough and so they end up throwing a little light on the ear nearest to the camera... If you shift your light to your right a bit more you'll prevent that... – Jay Lance Photography Jan 6 '11 at 5:59
What about smiling or laughing ? – MatthieuP Jan 6 '11 at 11:45
Solid self-portraits! I think the picture taken by the other photographer vs. the pictures you took yourself are an excellent example of how a bit of technique can really help people look their best. Nice job! As a fellow 'big guy,' I commend you for your decision to post self-portraits on You're a far braver man than I... :-) – Jay Lance Photography Jan 7 '11 at 6:04
up vote 142 down vote accepted

Not an odd question at all. As a large man myself, I constantly find myself on the lookout for ways in my portrait business to help people look their best (no particular order... just as they came to mind):

  1. No broad lighting. This is a 'basic' for portrait lighting, but I'm always amazed when I see inexperienced photographers who simply throw light all over the place and don't seem to understand that broad lighting makes faces rounder and short lighting 'sculpts' the face...
  2. Rotate the subject 45-degrees to the camera. This, in combination with short lighting can dramatically de-emphasize a person's size.
  3. If the subject is sitting have them lean forward. I always tell subjects to 'lean over their belt buckle.' This naturally de-emphasizes the belly, and provides elongation of the neck without specifically asking a subject to stretch their neck (that often causes subjects to really stretch, which always ends up looking awkward).
  4. Arrange the legs. There's a whole 'science' to positioning legs, but one of the most basic things to do for female clients is have them place one foot in front of the other, put all the weight on their back foot, bend both knees slightly and rotate one hip towards the camera. (Check out any picture of a female celeb on the red carpet to see this in action... They all do it. Good for you paying attention during media training, celebs!)
  5. Hide the gut. Portrait photography has a long tradition of putting the more... rotund... subject behind something to hide the belly. Whether it's another subject ("All them kids are finally good for something!" Actual customer quote during a session of mine. All in good fun, of course... I hope.), or an actual object. Get creative.
  6. Hide the gut, Part 2. Lay the subject down. Great/easy way to hide a multitude of problems.
  7. The ol' vignette. I find the vignette is a great post-production tool for directing the eye towards the most important part of the picture- the face.
  8. The liquify tool. If you're a Photoshop user, the Liquify tool can be great for shrinking muffin-tops, saggy arms, etc. Plenty of 'sin' is committed with the over-use of Liquify, but used subtly it can be a great addition to the toolbox.
  9. Darkness favors the big subject. I'm generally very hesitant to light a subject high-key if they're big... Unless the bigness is the point of the picture (A.K.A. you're photographing a pregnant lady, or a sumo warrior). Dark backgrounds and purposeful shadows can have a surprisingly large (har har) slimming effect.
  10. Use the group to your advantage. If you have a mixed group of 'average sized' people and 'bigger folk,' position the bigger people farther from the camera than everyone else... Instantly they will appear smaller. It's surprising how far back in the picture you can place people without it being obvious that they're farther back in the frame. Not such a great technique if your subject is big, but short, however. BONUS: This also works great if you need to shorten up a really tall person in a group photo. :-)
  11. Lens choice. Generally speaking focal lengths between 50mm and 85mm will give you the least amount of 'unexpected body part distortion' when taking pictures.
  12. The clothes make the woman, or man. In addition to the 'standard advice' you often hear about reminding clients not to wear horizontal stripes, wearing darker clothing, etc., many bigger people respond to being uncomfortable with their size or with being photographed by choosing to wear bigger/baggier outfits for the photo session. Typically this only serves to make them look even bigger in photographs... It is far better to recommend that someone wear properly fitted clothing (even if that means seeing a tailor to help) than to have to work around the fact that the client now looks even bigger because of their tent-like outfit.
  13. Get A Little Closer. Don't Be Shy. Try really pushing into the subject. Often times the most interesting shots are a bit 'closer than is comfortable,' and leaving things out of frame can 'cover over a multitude of sins' without having to use any additional techniques.
  14. Focus, Focus. Try widening the camera's aperture. An f-stop down in the 2s can help you make a portrait with a more selective focal point (which in portrait photography should almost always be the eyes) and as everything else is more out of focus the viewers attention will be drawn back to the important/in-focus parts, and away from the unimportant/out-of-focus parts.
  15. Posture-perfect. While not exclusively the domain of bigger folks, poor posture is something that a lot of bigger folks struggle with. A slouch can add apparent weight to a subject as it can make the stomach protrude even farther, so have the subject straighten their back, and also pull their shoulders back as well.
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+1 - Great suggestions! – John Cavan Jan 5 '11 at 22:54
Don't use a 4.5mm fisheye lens. – Tom O'Connor Jan 6 '11 at 0:28
Could you briefly explain the terms "short" and "broad" lighting? – Evan Krall Jan 6 '11 at 4:19
I went ahead and created it as a separate question, because it's a great one. See the question (and my answer... with pictures!) here:… – Jay Lance Photography Jan 6 '11 at 5:46
If the goal is to be the 'first, best, one-stop source of answers on anything and everything related to photography on the internet' than we should have the question on our site even if it's out there elsewhere anyway. :-) – Jay Lance Photography Jan 6 '11 at 6:17

So, a couple of additional thoughts (from Jay's post) I would have on this would be:

  1. Shoot from above, even moderately so. This will tend to minimize certain features (especially under the chin, etc.).

  2. Arrange legs and arms to "screen" a little. Consider, for example, a portrait where the subject is on the ground, you could have one leg pulled up and an arm across it. That would hide stomach area.

  3. Clothing helps. First, certain types are more slimming, but also they can help to reduce/hide weight in general. Not suggesting a corset, but some control clothing can bring thing in a bit.

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+1 - Agree, agree. Careful with Item 1, though... A little goes a long way and shifting the camera too far off-plane can have other unwanted distortions as a consequence. – Jay Lance Photography Jan 5 '11 at 22:56
Yeah, the portrait ends up looking like a "MySpace angle" if you go too high. :p I was going to mention using a briefer or cincher if it's mostly a gut problem; although they've fallen a bit out of fashion, I still know quite a few women who use one. – SilverbackNet Jan 6 '11 at 0:44
Oh yeah, don't go nuts with the angle, but shooting from a slightly higher angle will be more flattering I think. – John Cavan Jan 6 '11 at 3:51
It did help (a slightly higher angle)! – rfusca Jan 6 '11 at 5:41
It is also worth noting that a higher POV will make short people even shorter, especially at the legs. If it is a woman you are photographing, and she has short legs, the better option (I feel) is to shoot from a slightly lower POV, or at least from the waist level, so that her legs would appear longer and more slander. – Gapton May 2 '12 at 2:59

To add to what Jay Lance said (mostly different phrasing, but also comments on background & accessories)

My grandmother used to teach corrective posing & lighting years ago, and her short 2-page handout is in the back of "The Art of Bridal Photography: Techniques for Lighting and Posing", which Google has conveniently scanned.

The relevent items are:

  • Broad face : Turn face to three-quarter position ;; Use short lighting
  • Double chin : Extend back of neck and bring chin forward; raise camera position ;; Raise main light
  • Heavyset figure : Use dark clothes and dark background (blend tonality of clothes into back-ground); use V-necks, colors and jewelry to draw attention away from face ;; Use short lighting

Also, having the person turn their head back towards the camera some after having them turn their body 45 degrees can get them to tighten up the neck some, and they'll sometimes bring their head forward without realizing it.

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Here's an excellent video tutorial focusing on the jawline. There was mention about the "double-chin" effect. This video gives super examples on how to reduce or even eliminate that problem. It works great! It's all about the Jaw

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+1 great stuff! – rfusca May 1 '12 at 21:12

Wear black... black makes you seem thinner!

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Might want to delete this and stick it in a comment. Jokes fit better in comments. ;) – jrista Jan 7 '11 at 1:06
No, it is not a joke, and I stand by it. Black does make you look slimmer. If not the stupid limitation on 30 characters or so, it would just be "Wear black". – ysap Jan 7 '11 at 2:39

Peter Hurley, the world's best headshot photographer, stresses the importance of the jawline and how easily it can change a picture.

Also, if the clothes don't fit right you can use binder clips in the back to hold the clothes tighter and make the clothes seem fitted.

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Regarding Peter Hurley, we blogged a touch on it here: – rfusca Aug 3 '12 at 13:31

I am not going to claim that this technique was thought of by me, but on another website I read the suggestion to have the subject stick their tongue against the top of their mouth, almost to the point that you would when swallowing. It should reduce the double chin effect. Obviously you would want to suggest this with great compassion and in the right situations only, but it is an option.


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