"I'll look fat!"
from the "See the Difference PPA Photographers Make" Series
by J.D. Wacker, Paradise Photo and Design
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard, "I'll look fat!", before or during a portrait session, I could buy all the sushi that I, and maybe even my son, could eat for a year (and that's a lot)! Usually, "The camera adds weight." or "Can you make me look thinner?" comes soon after. Fortunately, the answer to the latter is YES!
Why Hire a Pro?: My approach to portraiture is ALWAYS to make my subjects look their best! Nor I, my father, my father's father, or my mother's grandfather (all photographers) have ever received a complaint about "looking too good". I'll admit, we do hear, "there are too many good ones, it's too hard to choose", quite often.
There is no one formula to make everyone look their best, because everyone's different! However, I do approach most every portrait session with a similar systematic approach. Here are a few topics that I consider when controlling apparent weight:
Posing: Improper posing can actually add apparent weight and here's why: We're three dimensional beings, and portraits (unless you're using a 3D printer) are two dimensional. So, where does the other dimension go? Unfortunately, it gets added on to the other two dimension. To combat this problem, I focus on posing methods that help defy gravity. I pose each subject fromt the ground up. Tiny stretches, turns, and leans (a.k.a. posture) can make a big difference. Also, I pose subjects in relationship to their surroundings, being aware to not make them appear "as big as a house".
Lighting: Probably the most difficult photographic technique to master is lighting. Most lighting situations can be referred to as "fat lighting". They evenly illuminate everything. The art of lighting is recognizing and controlling light sources and using them to light only what you want illuminated and letting some details fall into shadow. Our minds see the highlights first and ignore the shadows.
Perspective: This subject relates, again, to the issue of dimension. First, depending upon the style of the image, I will choose a lens that will help me control apparent weight. Often a telephoto lens is chosen for this purpose, but contrary to many beliefs, a wide-angle lens can do the job if used correctly. Also, I choose a variety of camera angles, often elevated, to help fight extra apparent weight.
Tools: What I used to do in the darkroom, I now do digitally with Photoshop. I never propose to "fix it later", but we have developed digital tool applications that we can use to enhance our subjects, including weight. If posing, lighting, and perspective are handled properly, digital tools can be the final touch that takes a portrait from being "good" to "great"!