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.)


  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ 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... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 5:59
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ What about smiling or laughing ? \$\endgroup\$
    – MatthieuP
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 11:45
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ 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 photo.se.com. You're a far braver man than I... :-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2011 at 6:04
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Jay Lance Photography - Truth be told I was a bit nervous about posting them, especially the before picture. BUT, I truly, truly hope it helps some of the larger guys like me out there realize that you can have a decent picture made. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jan 7, 2011 at 6:15
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that, as with all art, it really depends on what you're trying to convey. Different clients and purposes require different depictions of the same subject. Even if you have a generic goal of "make them look attractive," I would steer clear of advice on how to make a person look "thinner" in favor of the more difficult but more rewarding goal of making their natural shape more aesthetically appealing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 3:16

8 Answers 8


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.
  • 39
    \$\begingroup\$ Don't use a 4.5mm fisheye lens. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 0:28
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ Could you briefly explain the terms "short" and "broad" lighting? \$\endgroup\$
    – Evan Krall
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 4:19
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ 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: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6495/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 5:46
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ 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. :-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 6:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've just read this - great question and answer. I especially like 'Darkness favors the big subject', or as the Simpsons put it 'Light is... not your friend'. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 13:39

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.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +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. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 22:56
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 0:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh yeah, don't go nuts with the angle, but shooting from a slightly higher angle will be more flattering I think. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 3:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ It did help (a slightly higher angle)! \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 5:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gapton
    Commented May 2, 2012 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.


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

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The link is broken \$\endgroup\$
    – foggy
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 10:37

Wear black... black makes you seem slimmer!


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.

Source: Reddit.com


Peter Hurley, the world's best headshot photographer, stresses the importance of the jawline and how easily it can change a picture. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe3oJnFtA_k

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. http://www.fat32online.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/clothing-in-magazines-clips.jpg


Petapixel has a great Demo of focal length (the Hitchcock Zoom), using 20mm and getting closer will make you skinny:

Focal length affects your apparent size

Try a video and alter your 'hip angle', direction you are looking and distance from camera (framing); this will quickly allow you to find a frame where you feel you look your best (which has a small effect in others perception).

In the first and second photo you don't smile enough and in the last it's a bit too much (cutting off the baby didn't help either). In each photo you squint slightly with your right eye (your eyeballing us, critical of your viewer). Be happy but not jolly.

Suck in your gut, stand tall, be proud of yourself; at least until you decide how the photo turned out.

I'm not overweight and I must reshoot a few times to get a result that makes me satisfied. The second photo is better but a bit dark.

What you are doing can make a difference too. There's a lot of eye contact in your photo (and the aforementioned squinting, gunning us off) - you're calling for a judgement (from some/many people).

A longer shot, with a wide angle lens, cropped showing you jogging or decked out in pads playing football with big guys will portray you as smaller and athletic; basketball would be a worse choice.

Show yourself near large objects like a big truck and not an Austin Mini.

Consider jogging or sports over photography as a pastime that occupies the majority of your time and concerns (worries).

You look OK in the first two photos, people come in all shapes and sizes.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.