Today's post is an excerpt from the book Master Posing Guide for Wedding Photographers, by Bill Hurter. It is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.
It's important to understand that people don't see themselves the way they actually appear. Subconsciously, they shorten their noses, imagine they have more hair than they really do, and in short, pretend they are better looking than they really are. A good portrait artist knows this and knows how to reflect the same level of idealization in portraits of the subject. As a matter of procedure, the photographer analyzes the face and body and makes mental notes as to how to best light, pose, and compose the subject to produce a flattering likeness. Because they are always shooting under pressure, wedding photographers must master these techniques to such a degree that they become second nature.
Camera Height and Perspective
Camera Height. When photographing people with average features, there are a few general rules that govern camera height. These rules will produce normal perspective with average people.
When the perfect camera height for a head-and-shoulders portrait is used, the face is well proportioned and oval—as shown here.
• For head-and-shoulders portraits, the rule of thumb is that camera height should be the same height as the tip of the subject’s nose or slightly higher.
• For three-quarter-length portraits (portraits that include the subject’s figure down to mid-calf or mid-thigh), the camera should be at a height midway between the subject’s waist and neck.
• In full-length portraits, the camera should be the same height as the subject’s waist.
In each case, notice that the camera is at a height that divides the subject into two equal halves in the viewfinder. This is so that the features above and below the lens/subject axis are all the same distance from the lens and thus recede equally for “normal” perspective.
Controlling the Perspective
As the camera is raised or lowered, the perspective (the size relationship between parts of the photo) changes. By controlling perspective, you can alter the physical traits of your subject.
By raising the camera height in a three-quarter or full-length portrait, you enlarge the head and shoulder regions of the subject, while slimming the hips and legs. Conversely, if you lower the camera, you reduce the size of the head and enlarge the size of the legs and thighs. If you find that after you make a camera-height adjustment for a desired effect there is no change, move the camera in closer to the subject and observe the effect again.
Tilting the camera down when raising the camera (and up when lowering the camera) increases these effects. A good rule of thumb for three-quarter- and full-length portraits is to keep the lens at a height where the plane of the camera’s back is parallel to the plane of the subject. If the camera is tilted up or down you will be distorting the person’s features.
When you raise or lower the camera in a head-and-shoulders portrait, the effects are even more dramatic. Raising or lowering the camera above or below the subject’s nose height is a prime means of correcting any facial irregularities. Raising the camera lengthens the nose, narrows the chin and jaw lines, and broadens the forehead. Lowering the camera shortens the nose, de-emphasizes the forehead, and widens the jaw while accentuating the chin.
Correcting Specific Problems
Dark clothing will make a person appear ten to fifteen pounds slimmer. While this is is something you could recommend for the engagement session, it’s beyond your control at the wedding. Therefore, careful posing will be an important tool for addressing the issue. Begin by using a pose that has the subject turned at a 45-degree angle to the camera. Never photograph a larger person head-on; it will only accentuate their size. Standing poses are more flattering for overweight subjects. Seated, excess weight accumulates around the waistline. Selecting a pose that turns your subject away from the main light is also desirable, as this will put more of the body in shadow and produce a slimming effect.
Thin or Underweight Subjects
When posing a thin person, have him or her face the camera more directly to provide more width. Selecting a pose that turns your subject toward the main light is also desirable, as this will put more of the body in the light and produce a widening effect.
The older the subject, the more wrinkles he or she will have. It is best to use some type of diffusion, but do not soften the image to the point that none of the subject’s wrinkles are visible. Men, especially, should not be overly softened, as their wrinkles are often considered “character lines.” In the absence of light modifiers, you can also pose the subject so that the main light strikes primarily the front of their face, minimizing any deep shadows in the wrinkles and deep furrows of the face.
In general, older subjects should also be smaller within the composition. Even when making a head-and-shoulders portrait, reducing the subject size by about 10–15 from how you might normally frame the image will ensure that the signs of age are less noticeable.
A good rule of thumb when making a three-quarter-length portrait is to keep the camera back parallel to the subject plane. This reduces subject distortion and helps keep horizontal and vertical lines true.
With digital capture, it’s easy to see if eyeglasses are captured with reflections. If you have a chance to retake the photo, have the person slide the eyeglasses down on his or her nose slightly. This changes the angle of incidence and helps to eliminate unwanted reflections.
One Eye Smaller than the Other
Most people have one eye smaller than the other. This should be one of the first things you observe about your subject. If you want both eyes to look the same size in the image, pose the subject in a seven-eighths to three-quarters view, placing the smaller eye closer to the camera. Because objects farther from the camera look smaller and nearer objects look larger, this will cause both eyes to appear to be more or less the same size.
If your subject is bald, lower the camera height so less of the top of his head is visible. In post-production, you can also try to blend the tone of the background with the top of your subject’s head.
To reduce the view of the area beneath the subject’s chin, raise the camera height so that area is less visually prominent. You can also have the subject tilt their chin upward, tightening the area, and (if possible) raise the main light so that as much a possible of the area under the chin is in shadow.
To slim a wide face, pose the person in a three-quarters view and turn them away from the main light. This places the image highlights on the narrow side of the face for a slimmer look.
To round a narrow face, pose the person in a seven-eighths view, keeping as much of the face as possible visible to the camera. Turn them toward the main light to place the image highlights on the broader side of the face for a fuller look.
To diminish a wide or high forehead, lower the camera height and tilt the person’s chin upward slightly. Remember, the closer the camera is to the subject, the more noticeable these corrective measures will be. If you find that by lowering the camera and raising the chin, the forehead is only marginally smaller, move the camera in closer and observe the effect again—but watch out for other distortions.
Deep-Set and Protruding Eyes
To correct deep-set eyes, try having the subject raise their chin. To correct protruding eyes, have the person look downward so that more of the eyelid is showing.
To scale down large ears, the best thing to do is to hide the far ear by placing the person in a three-quarters view, making sure that the far ear is out of view of the camera (or in shadow). If the subject’s ears are very large, examine the person in a profile pose. A profile pose will totally eliminate the problem. Also, longer length lenses will appear to compress the visible ear, reducing its prominence.
If your subject has an uneven mouth (one side higher than the other, for example) or a crooked smile, turn his or her head so that the higher side of the mouth is closest to the camera, or tilt the subject’s head so that the line of the mouth is more or less even.
Long Noses and Pug Noses
To reduce the appearance of a long nose, lower the camera and tilt the chin upward slightly. You should also select a frontal pose, either a full-face or seven-eighths view, to disguise the length of your subject’s nose.
Long Necks and Short Necks
While a long neck can be considered sophisticated, it can also appear unnatural—especially in a head-and-shoulders portrait. By raising the camera height and lowering the chin you will shorten an overly long neck. When photographing a male subject, pulling up his collar will also shorten an overly long neck. Conversely, lowering the camera height and suggesting a V-neck shirt (for the engagement session, for example) will lengthen the appearance of a short neck.
Wide Mouths and Narrow Mouths
To reduce an overly wide mouth, photograph the person in a three-quarters view with no smile. For a narrow or small mouth, photograph the person in a more frontal pose and have him or her smile broadly.
Long Chins and Stubby Chins
Choose a higher camera angle and turn the face to the side to correct a long chin. For a stubby chin, use a lower camera angle and photograph the person in a frontal pose.