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How to Take Flattering Photos of All Body Types

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
photo & video

body types

As a photographer, you have the unique power to change how your clients see themselves. By empowering your subjects with poses and tricks that bring out the best in all body types, your photoshoots can go from to full of fear to fun and flattering. And it’s not about Photoshop or pretending that everyone has model proportions; instead, say top portraiture photographers, it’s about finding the best of everyone in each photo.

To start with, fine art photographer Jennifer B. Hudson emphasizes the importance of empathizing with your subject, whether she’s a professional model, or a friend at the beach.

“If I’m not aware of my own body, I’m in trouble if I’m going to photograph a woman,” Jennifer explains. “So I’ve learned this over the years. First, I put myself in these poses…so I’m aware of how these things feel. If I physically do it, then I can have empathy for my subject…I don’t just assume that she can do it because she’s the model. I’m asking her, politely, from the heart, to work with me on this.”

Flattering poses can feel pretty unnatural — especially for those who are uncomfortable in front of the camera — and being an empathetic, kind shooter can really change the feeling of the session.

Additionally, says Jennifer, it’s your job as the photographer to find the most intriguing parts of the person you’re shooting. “When I’m analyzing her body, I’m not only analyzing the way she looks. I’m thinking ‘flexibility. Strength. How far can I push this girl?'”

Sizing up height and body mass is important, but other potentially interesting poses might be hiding in elements like torso length, neck length, or matters of flexibility and strength. If you’re photographing someone with an athletic body, says Jennifer, go ahead and encourage them to take on poses that show off their muscle tone. If you’re snapping someone who has a full figure, but strong arms, incorporate their abilities. Not only does this make your model more comfortable, it also highlights the best parts of them.

Master photographer Sue Bryce also has a few tricks up her sleeve — including where she positions herself.

“I do most of my shooting below the eye-line,” says Sue, “I’m often in a slight squat.”

The idea, says Sue, is that it requires your model to compensate to meet the camera; by shooting from a slightly lower vantage point, then instructing your subject to drop their shoulders, elongate their neck, and drop their chin slightly, you’ll achieve a more flattering facial shape. Additionally, this pose adds tension in the torso, which creates a more straight, slim line.

“All we’re doing is creating a point of reference for the eye to look at…As soon as the chin comes forward and down and the waist comes in, we automatically bring the eye into the center of the body.”

Another important point for photographers to pay attention to: How different attempts at flattery might change the overall body shape.

“I see a lot of people suck in,” Sue explains, “and then their shoulders raise. And when I see their shoulders raise, I realize they’re holding their abs in. So I always say ‘Relax,’ because then your shoulders drop.”

Above all else, take a holistic view of your model’s form. Because flattery isn’t just about the appearance of thinness, but rather, bringing out the best in your model.

“Is the form beautiful? Is it interesting? Are the lines clean?” asks Jennifer.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.