As a photographer, I am definitely a problem solver. I must solve endless problems including lighting, posing, and flattering my subject. One way to become a better problem solver is to understand the tools available to us, most importantly, our cameras.
When photographing people and portraits, it is important to understand how your camera and lenses see. When looking through the lens, how does your camera interpret the environment and your subject different than what you perceive with the naked eye? Whether posing and shooting fashion, family portraits or head shots, understanding this makes a profound impact on the final results.
Let’s start by exploring one very important element of how your camera sees. Remember this saying and use it to better control your images.
“Whatever is closest to the camera appears larger. What is further from the camera appears smaller.”
Most of us know this to be true for more obvious examples, but then we forget this fact in the nuances of posing. Here is an example that we all understand and can relate to. If a subject places their hand next to their face, it appears proportional. Yet when they put their hand outward toward the camera, it appears much larger and disproportional at this point.
When posing, body and appendage placement can utilize these principles to flatter your subject. The positioning doesn’t have to be this extreme. Lets take a look at how this really makes a difference in your pose. Remember this variation on the principle we just discussed.
Whatever you want to appear larger on your subject, bring closer to the camera. This often includes eyes, head, and chest.
Whatever you want to appear smaller on your subject, put further from the camera. This often includes stomach and hips.
Whether your subject is sitting, standing, leaning, or its just a headshot, keep this in mind. For example, if someones hips and mid-section are looking a bit too large, in the frame, find ways to put them further from the camera, and below I will provide a few tips on how to achieve this result!
To bring things closer or further from the camera, there are two main ways to achieve these distances.
The first way you can utilize this principle is to physical move the subject. For example, if you want the subject’s hips and waist to appear smaller, move them away from the camera, perhaps by having the subject put their weight on their back foot and push their hips back. Similarly, if you wanted a woman’s chest to appear larger in a photograph, you would have her learn her chest closer to the camera.
The example I have provided here very profoundly shows this principle in action. In these two photographs my camera angle, lens choice, and all other variables remain the same. The ONLY thing that changes is the subject’s body placement.
In the first photograph, the subject has her weight on her front leg, with hips pushed toward the camera. In the second photographer, the subject has put her weight on her back foot and pushed her hips away from the camera. Look at the drastic difference in size visible between these two photographs. The subjectl’s size hasn’t changed– just how the camera is seeing her!
Next time you are posing a subject, I invite you to ask yourself “What appears largest in this photograph? Is it what I want to be drawing attention to?” You can use this principle now to modify the subject’s pose and body placement for more flattering results! This applies no matter whether the subject is sitting or standing, male or female.
The other way that you can modify what is closest/furthest to the camera is to modify the camera angle and perspective. Where you move your camera in all different axises will make a difference in the final image! For example, if you stand up on a ladder or lay on the floor, this will change how your subject looks in the final result.
Let’s take a look at this in practice.
In the first image, I am standing at about eye level to the subject and her body/face appears relatively proportional. Her face and chest are at a relatively equal distance from the camera, all on a similar plane.
In the next image, I get up on a small step ladder and shoot from a downward angle. I keep my camera, lens choice, focal length and exposure all the same, yet the image looks drastically different. From this angle, her head and eyes are significantly closer to me than the rest of her body. Notice how in this image her head and eyes appear larger than in the previous example and her hips/waist appear smaller. Her body-head ratio appears slightly disproportionate.
Seeing this drastic difference, which angle is ‘correct’? It depends on the look you are going for! You must use this essential knowledge and principle to help you achieve the look you are going for. Do you want to make a subject look taller and dominant in the frame? Maybe you are photographing a CEO of a company and you want to emphasize his/her stature. Shoot from a low angle and they will tower! For example, in this next image, I’ve gotten down on my knees. Now her hips look a bit bigger, but she also looks more dominant and ‘in control’ in the frame.
Do you want to really emphasize your subject’s eyes? Maybe you are photographing a bride, and you want to connect with the joy in her eyes on that special day. Shoot from a higher angle and her eyes will appear larger and fuller.
What if you are photographing a boudoir session on the subject is reclined on a chaise? It would be difficult for them to really move things closer/further from the camera, but varying your camera angle from left to right, up and down will make a drastic impact on what parts of the body you are emphasizing.
Each time you photograph a person, take a look through your camera and really analyze the focal points of your photograph. Is this pose flattering? Can I move the subject or my angle in order to better flatter them? Don’t be afraid to look through the camera and move around… try different perspectives and see which you prefer!
It is a combination of the subject’s pose, subject’s body placement, and the perspective of the camera that effects the final appearance of your subject in the image. No one element can stand alone when trying to flatter a subject, but instead the appearance of your subject is a combination of multiple factors.
Lindsay used the 24-70mm F2.8 EX DG HSM lens in this blog post.