The idea that the camera adds 10 pounds is a pervasive and persistent one, but how true is it? It’s a comforting thought. After all, it means that the “you” that you see in photographs is not actually the real “you”. In real life, you’re better: you’re more attractive and slimmer. The camera just doesn’t do you justice!
It turns out that this age-old line isn’t just a fairytale that we spin to make ourselves feel better about bad photos. The camera really does add 10 pounds. At least some cameras do. More specifically, some lenses do.
The focal length of a lens can flatten out your features, which can make you look a little bit bigger. Then, of course, there’s barrel distortion, which is when a camera lens can cause straight lines to appear curved. This has the effect of plumping you up.
As a photographer, I am privy to certain experience and understanding that the average person is not. When it comes to photographing people, I have a better foundation on which to stand to make them look their best.
To highlight the incredible way that focal length can affect the shape of the face, photographer Dan Vojtech stitched together a series of 9 portraits that he took at 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm, 105mm, 150mm, and 200mm.
To frame the face in the same way for each shot, the camera is close with the wide angle lens and farther away with the telephoto lens, so the GIF above shows what’s known as the “Hitchcock zoom.”
Wide angle lenses, as their name implies, have a super wide field of view, which can make your face appear bloated in the middle and stretched on the outside. Telephoto lenses, on the other hand, will make you appear a little bit thinner. You’ll be somewhat flattened though, with the width of your foremost features being slightly compressed.
So what’s the best way to avoid the extra pounds packed on (or eliminated) by your camera?
Choose a lens between 85mm to 135mm. These lenses produce less distortions so that you can avoid looking thinner or fatter in photographs. There really is no substitute for experience here because I could tell you that 90mm is pretty ideal for headshots as that’s my experience from the typical distance I like to shoot, but you’ve got to know when to identify that as a crock for the situation.
After all, the real you is the best you.
All sound too hard?
Then it’s time to hire a professional!
An important part of my job as a portrait and headshot photographer is to make sure my client looks good by posing them in a flattering way. Posing is an art form that takes practice and was one of the hurdles I encountered when I first started doing portraiture. Everyone would ask, “What do I do with my hands? Do I look fat? How many chins have I got? I never look good in pictures! I’m just unphotogenic! ” Sound familiar?
Here’s something to remember: a photo is merely a snapshot of a moving, breathing object. Angles that most people never see because we are constantly in motion and when you freeze frame that action in the wrong moment or bad angle, it’s not a reflection of what you may actually look like to anyone’s eyes. Angles are that important. Ultimately anyone can be photogenic.
Poor quality and outdated headshots, awkward expressions, bad lighting, disheveled wardrobe and other common headshot mistakes are costing you clients, respect and even auditions if you’re an actor.