I recently saw a photographer post a “before and after” photo of a beautiful woman that was so drastically Photoshopped she looked like she had a dozen surgeries to make her 40lbs thinner. The photographer was fishing for critique from colleagues on whether her editing skills looked natural and proportionate. I couldn’t believe the comments I read. Photographers were praising the image on the natural editing and how much the woman would love the images. This woman’s body was so far from her natural shape she was unrecognizable!
My question is this, “Why do many photographers feel the need to distort shapely women to look like someone they are not?”
There is a misconception that in order to photograph and please women who aren’t super model skinny, the photographer must present their clients with liquefied images. Most women who aren’t stick thin don’t hire photographers to make them look 50 pounds less. They hire you to help them look their absolute best.
When doing portraits you should focus on creating a photo that shows who the subject’s personality, dreams, hopes, fears and love. The minute you change the way a woman’s body naturally looks, you are sending the message that she is not beautiful as she is. As photographers, we can encourage women with any body shape to embrace themselves and feel beautiful just by how we interact with them during the session and by the photos we deliver. By combining posing techniques with simple editing, you won’t literally change your subject’s weight or shape, but can masterfully control the angles, lighting, and proportions to create images she will love.
I’m not saying that it is wrong to Photoshop women’s images, as I personally spend a lot of time editing; however, I absolutely do not change her body to look like a different woman. I use editing to correct things that I didn’t catch in camera, such as clothing and underwear puckering, distractions, lens distortions, hair wisps, lighting flaws that overly enhanced imperfections, and blemishes that eventually heal. It is my goal that when she sees her photos she will say, “That is me, and I am beautiful.”
Photographing Jodi Friedman of MCP Actions
Last summer I had the chance to do a My Beauty Campaign Beauty Session for MCP Actions owner Jodi (you can read her story here). She was nervous to be in front of the camera and just like every single woman alive, she was self conscious of her beautiful body. It was such an honor to see her work through her insecurities before, during, and after her Beauty Session and to read about what her experience meant to her. I have included some of her images from her session to illustrate the techniques. I honestly feel that Jodi’s pictures are much more than a photo of her body. You can really see her personality and how beautiful Jodi is as a whole. That should always be your #1 goal when photographing any woman.
Keep reading for 10 tips on flattering posing, posing different body types together, and editing.
When I photograph a woman, I always remind her that I will not make her beautiful, but that she already is! I only imply that I will bring her beauty into focus and allow her to recognize the beautiful woman that she is today.
Posing Curvy Women: 10 Techniques for Flattering Images
Technique 1: Give Her Body Shape
You can give her body flattering shape by either the way she faces and angles her body and by using her arms to enhance her curves and direct the eye. You can also strategically use the surroundings to cover parts of her midsection or hips to either break up solid colored outfits, or to keep the focus on her face and not her body.
Technique 2: Drop the Front Shoulder and Release Arm
This is one of the best techniques you can use on any woman and it is so flattering! Just lower that front shoulder! Every woman wants to avoid the notorious double chin and this is achieved by elongating the neck and pulling the chin forward. If you direct her by saying “now pull your shoulders down towards the ground,” instead of “lengthen your neck up” you usually avoid her lifting her chin and eyes up awkwardly.
Techniques 3: Shoot Directly at or Above Eye Level
I have found that across the board, most women’s favorite part of herself is her eyes. These tightly framed beauty shots are usually the favorites of their portfolio because of the focus on the eyes. You can get away with shooting below eye level on slender women, but it is just not as flattering on women who carry more weight. When you shoot slightly above her eye level, it slims her chin and jawline. Just be sure to not have her put her chin too far down because it will make her forehead appear larger than it really is. These tight head shots are also the most flattering through 85mm lenses or more. I usually shoot these on my 70-200mm 2.8 zoomed all the way to 200mm. I think this because I can get a very tight shot of her face without invading her space by shooting a foot away from her. I am out of her “bubble” and she can be more natural.
Technique 4: Chin Towards Camera, Hips Farther Away
This is a simple technique to visually slim her mid-section and hips. Whatever is furthest away from the camera will appear smaller. By having her bring her face closer to the camera and pushing her hips away, she will look proportionate and the focus will be on her face (while also utilizing the previous techniques). Be sure to have her slightly lower her chin while her jaw is still pulled towards you. She will feel strange leaning so far forward, but her neck and jaw will look amazing, her midsection and hips will look flattering. In the images below, her face was at least a foot closer to my lens than her hips were creating this lovely slimming effect.
Posing Different Sized Bodies Together
Techniques 5: Flattering the Mom in Family Photos
When posing the Mom in family photos it is very natural for her to hold her children, but you can use this to balance the composition. Simply place the children in front of mom to de-emphasize certain areas. Also be sure to use the previous techniques and she will absolutely love her family photos. This same technique applies when using the surroundings to either cover parts of her lower body or midsection, to keep the focus of the attention on her face.
Technique 6: Smaller Body Type Faces the Camera, Larger Turn Away From Camera
When posing a smaller framed woman next to a woman who is larger, you can balance out the different body sizes by having the smaller framed woman turn more towards the camera, and the larger woman turn toward the side looking over her shoulder. Just be sure to have the same amount of body shown on each woman even if one needs to be completely profile and the other mostly facing the camera. You can also utilize the smaller framed woman’s arms to add even more. This will balance out the composition and both women will love the image.
Editing the Natural Way
Technique 7. Fix Clothing Puckering
Many women wear spanks or a belt which can cause unusual bulges at the tightest point that are not her natural body shape. This is one of the only times I change her body shape. Natural body curves are not lumpy like the image on the left. So I even it out. Now changing her body would be to bring the bulges into the smallest point on the belt. She would look much slimmer if you did this. Instead, I loosen the belt to make a smooth transition. I usually find these problem areas from bra straps on their back below the shoulder blades, waistlines from pants or spanks, or her biceps because her arm is pressed against her body making it look larger than it really is. After working with her, you will know her body shape…just be sure to not change her beautiful body!
Technique 8: Editing Skin
I personally smooth skin on every photo because with the incredible glass in lenses today, we get lovely crisp images…but crisp skin is not a women’s friend. Sharpening during post-processing also adds even more harshness to the skin. So when I edit, I have a strict rule that I will not remove any permanent features. However, if a marking on her face will eventually heal or fade or the redness will go away, I will speed up the process by cloning or using the healing brush. The goal is for the viewer to focus on her eyes and smile, and not a last minute zit.
Technique 9: Look for Short Lighting and Other Flattering Lighting Patterns
Whether you shoot in natural light or use flash, watch the way light falls on your subject. You can use lighting to mold the face and body as well as utilize shadows to slim and flatter your model. In the example below, look how the light is flattering her face. Also notice how the light source is above eye level casting the shadows from the top of her head to the bottom. To see if you have your lighting right, always look to see if there is a slight shadow under the nose. If there is no shadow, either raise your light source, or have her bring her chin down. Always utilize the light on the most flattering side of her body.
Technique 10: Stop Photographing a Body Type – and Simply Photograph a Woman!
So often we can get so caught up on what type of woman we are photographing and not who we are photographing. Every woman has an incredible story, personality and love for life that you need to discover. The most beautiful photos are ones that show who she is and what makes her beautiful. Her body is only an extension of who she is and should not be the main focus. Find her. Find her Beauty.
As stated earlier, it is not our job to make women look like someone they are not. However it is our job to be sure we photograph her best self. Unfortunately there are times that we forgot to have her pull her arm away from her body and it appears larger than it really is, or her clothes are puckering strangely, or camera distortion made her look out of proportion. If you pose your subject correctly, you should have less editing. Please be aware that the more you change your subject, the harder you are making it for her to accept and love the body that she has. All women are perfect because of who they are, not because of how much we can edit. Remember the vulnerability she feels when she is in your care. You have such a valuable opportunity to build her self esteem and grow her confidence in herself.
Mandi Nuttall is the founder and creator of My Beauty Campaign where photographers are uplifting women all over the world. Learn more about how you can make a true difference in women’s lives by joining the movement and becoming an My Beauty Campaign Photographer. Use the discount code MCP for 65% off the photographer’s MBC Kit. Expires April 5th