Do Photos Make You Look Fatter?

There are various sayings out there about cameras adding pounds and making you look fat, things that may not be too desirable for a photographer taking pictures of a client.  Are they true and if so, what is the technical basis behind this phenomenon?

hand holding measuring tape

This article will answer the question, “do photos make you look fatter ?” once and for all and also go into how to solve the problem.

When you use a camera to capture an image of yourself or another person, various factor affect the way the subject person will appear in the photograph.  These include the lenses used, focal length, barrel distortion, lighting, angle and certain camera settings in addition to how the person poses.  Some of these factors may make you look fatter than you are in reality, while others may just make you look different. Let’s get into the details.

Focal length

We all know that camera lenses can be classified into wide angle and telephoto, telephoto being the ones that magnify your subject greatly and wide angle being the ones that “zoom out” to get much more of the scene into the photo, up to the point of making it feel like you stepped back from where you are actually standing.

Most beginners do not use telephoto lenses for photographing people, while professional portrait photographers may use lenses of 85mm or longer.  Instead, beginners use the equivalent of a wide angle lens such as in a cell phone, for selfies etc.  These lenses actually stretch parts of the subject/person that are closer to camera making them appear larger.

An 85mm or 100mm lens in portraits has a good balance and does not exaggerate anything, unlike an extreme 24mm lens or a 1000mm one.  Some professionals do use 300mm lenses for shooting people as it is better than a wide angle.

Here is a really cool animation to show how different lenses can distort a person’s image.

Lenses

Lenses come in all shapes and sizes as well as build quality and distortions, aberrations etc. The common saying if you get what you pay for. A cheap lens from a barely known manufacturer (and not one of the top ones including Nikon, Canon or Sigma) may produce more than one type of distortion.

You should always learn the specs of a lens and known issues from the manufacturers website or even a site like kenrockwell.com

If you have various lenses you should try them all shooting the same person and see how differently they depict the subject.  Lenses with smaller focal lengths actually exaggerate the middle of the image.

Distortion

One thing we need to keep in mind is that we live in a 3D world and what the camera does is it projects that 3D world (including us) onto a 2D surface.  This in itself distorts reality when creating the image.

Barrel distortion occurs in a lens that makes straight lines appear curved and is an extreme form of distortion.  This makes a person appear larger than they are.

barrel

Barrel distortion is common in zoom lenses with short focal lengths and wide angle prime lenses.  The reason it happens is the image is being squeezed into an image sensor that is smaller than the field of view of the lens, in this case a wide angle one.

To check for barrel distortion point your camera at lines that you know are parallel in real life and see if they are deformed to look like a barrel and curved in the camera.

Distance

Another thing you need to keep in mind is distance from the camera to the person.  Whether you realize it or not, taking a selfie with your hand creates distortion because your arm is only so long.   Your face will look wider in this case due to the very limited distance.

This is why professional photographers never get too close to your face.  They always stay back when shooting portraits and use correspondingly long telephoto lenses to bring the subject closer.

Camera settings

One camera setting that affects how you look is the zoom.  For example when using a phone to shoot a selfie you decide to include as much as you can in the photo, casually sliding the zoom scale to 0.5x.  This creates a wide angle distortion I mentioned.

Even the screen on the back of your camera for playback can distort your image depending how you set the settings ( ex. fill screen).

Lighting

You have to keep in mind that when you look in the mirror you usually have regular home lighting affecting how you see yourself.  In a photograph, however, the lighting varies based on your location (outdoors, indoors), time of day, atmospheric conditions, etc.

Lighting in photographs is often dramatic and often controlled to make extreme modifications to the way  a person appears. A pro photographer can make you look thinner or fatter based on the location and types of lights.

dramatic lighting in portrait

When the world is converted from 3D to 2D through a photograph, some lighting is actually lost.

As you are probably aware, shadows on the face make people appear slimmer.  Any introduction of darkness will do this.

Angle

Even the angle at which you shoot your subject will have an effect on how they appear.  If you shoot them from higher up, they will appear slimmer, and if you shoot from below, fatter.

It is much more complex though, as positioning to emphasize features such as a jaw line may surpass the effect of a higher up/  lower angle.

Here is an interesting comparison of how different a person can look based on camera angles.

Mirror Effect

There is one more thing we need to mention in how you see yourself which may make you feel like you feel different in an image from a camera.  In a photograph, you appear exactly as other people see you.  This is not how you ever see yourself (unless you are able to step outside of your body and thats a whole other discussion).

woman looking in mirror

The only time you see yourself on a day to day basis and the image you are used to is a reflection of you in the mirror ( the one where the person waving back at you seems to be using the opposite hand but in reality isnt).  This alone can affect how you see yourself because its not the way you are used to seeing yourself.  People feel better about seeing the image they are used to seeing so a non mirrored image seems “off” and bad.

To be honest, in the digital age, some people do not even use mirrors most of the time.  They use their cell phone to check their makeup etc.  A cell phones front camera also shows you a mirror image of yourself however.

Viewing Photos

Another less known factor in how a person appears in a photo is where the photo is viewed.  A portrait viewed on the small screen of a phone will appear different than that viewed printed on a 20 inch sheet of paper, and different still on a tv screen, especially with modern wide or super wide TV screens which may stretch whatever photo is displayed horizontally.

Here is a video on fixing distortion in phone photography:

How to avoid looking fatter on camera?

Posture

Many people are unaware of how their posture can affect their appearance in pictures.  The rule of thumb for perfect posture is to have your ears, shoulders, hips, and knees in a straight line.

The way you stand will have profound effects on how people see you. The way your body is positioned could be making you look significantly fatter than you are in person.

One thing that affects your appearance in photos is the height of your shoulders. “The higher the shoulders, the thinner they look.”

woman with shoulders high

Hunching over makes you look heavier, slouching makes you look extremely heavy and rigid, and leaning back makes you look thinner. There are ways to improve your posture for better-looking photos:

    • Stand upright
    • Pull your shoulders back – Keep your head high, chin parallel to the ground – Smile confidently – Push out the chest.
    • Slightly tip body weight onto toes and away from heels.
    • Pull the lower part of the body up while keeping the upper body still to maintain good posture.
    • Keep feet shoulder-width apart.

Angles and lighting

Humans are visual creatures. We see things before we even think about them. It’s hard to believe that all of the images you take can be affected by the angle you take them in.

The first step is to stand up straight and square your shoulders to the camera. This will give the illusion that your neck is longer and more slender.

Photographers know how different perspectives can affect what people think of themselves. They often try to make people look slim by adjusting their camera to look taller and thinner.

Photographers also know how lighting affects images, and they will use this to flatter their subjects by making them appear more attractive or hiding flaws like scars or wrinkles.

Lighting that portrays a subject’s figure well should come from either side, rather than directly behind or in front.

For shots taken from the front, the photographer should use a backlight (a light source behind the subject), so they don’t cast a shadow over their body.

Reduce the glare off your skin

There are few things that can make you feel more self-conscious than standing in front of the mirror and seeing your skin looking red, blotchy, and shiny.

girl with good skin

Some people believe that there are no secrets to looking good on camera. They say that all you have to do is make sure your makeup is done well, wear clothes that compliment you, and make sure you are nice and clean! While they are not entirely wrong, there are still some things you can do to make yourself feel more confident in front of the camera before it even starts rolling.

The following tricks can reduce skin glare:

    • Find a makeup artist who can help you with makeup. Apply the make-up strategically. It involves applying powder or bronzer precisely in the area under your eyes, beneath your cheekbones, and around your nose. Eyeliner can also help by creating a dark smoky design in the eyelids to make them appear less shiny.
    • Set up your lights to avoid light hitting your face directly.
    • Wear a hat with a brim.
    • Wear a scarf or sarong in bright colors or patterns.

Avoid distortion from mirrors or windows

A camera lens is not like a human eye, so it has an angle that will be different from the object photographed. That, in return, causes distortion.

The perfect situation to take pictures is to have your camera at an angle perpendicular to the object’s line of sight, i.e. at 90° to your subject (mirror or window).

Another way to avoid distortion from mirrors and windows when taking pictures is to make sure your subject isn’t close to a window and in the center of the frame.

Avoiding distortion from mirrors and windows is not that difficult, but you should know the tricks. You can shoot best on an overcast day when natural light is more evenly distributed on your subject.

Look for a location with minimal reflection before shooting.

Stay away from large prints and patterns on clothing

Some people think that wearing large prints and patterns make them look more attractive. It might be true on some occasions, but when you’re are on camera, it makes you appear more fat.

large patterns on clothing

Larger prints and patterns can make you look fatter because they create a visual illusion. You may not even be overweight, but the way the material is made will create an optical illusion.

For example, if you wear a shirt with black vertical stripes, the shirt will give the appearance of an instant weight gain.

A study done by researchers at the University of Warwick in England found that people wearing these clothes on television tended to look heavier than people wearing plainer clothing.

The study was conducted by the university’s psychology department, which used pictures of volunteers to test how they looked on camera while wearing different outfits. The research found that when the participants wore larger patterns and prints, their body shape changed, making them look rounder.

Here is a video on how to look slimmer in photos:

Pro Tip: Loose fitting clothes make you look slimmer on camera.

Firstly, loose clothes provide a flattering silhouette by draping down and covering your hips and upper thighs.

Secondly, they create a slimming effect by smoothing out any bulges from your midsection. When you have one smooth line flowing from top to bottom that goes uninterrupted into your clothing. It makes it seem like there is no separation between the two parts of the body.

It can be a good idea to wear something with a high waistline as this will help disguise any tummy fat that you might have.

Try to wear clothes that suit your body shape and hide any body parts you dislike. For example, if you have a round face, choose clothes that will elongate your features and balance your shape.

Photos of people can make them look fatter or thinner depending on the angle photographed.

Specific angles can make someone look slimmer or fatter in photos.

If anything, a good photographer will use their skills to show off your best features in any given photo regardless of what size you are!

Click on the following link for a list and description of the top modeling agencies in the United States.

 

By Nicholas Mitchell

Nicholas is a staff writer at Photodoto. His interests include photography, collecting cameras old and new, video editing, and all things 3d. If a new gadget comes out on the market, he's sure to be the first to try it. He enjoys experimenting with low light photography, very long exposures and high speed filming.