The camera’s height changes yours

It’s easy to look good in photos by changing the height of the camera to the right height for you. How high or low your friend is holding the camera completely changes how you look. How high or low you hold the selfie stick does the same. This is because the height of the camera changes which parts of your body are closest to the Glass Wall (and biggest) and furthest away from the Glass Wall (and smallest).

You can learn about using the Closer Means Bigger camera quirk here, and what the Glass Wall is and how to use it here.

Much of the time you will be photographed by someone of average height holding the camera at eye-level. But your photographer may be much shorter or taller than average, or one of you may be above or below the other (on a balcony, in a swimming pool, lying on a bed or sitting on the grass). These situations mean that the imaginary Glass Wall is tilted, changing which parts of you are closest to the camera.

Tilting the Glass Wall

When you are photographed from a normal height, the Glass Wall will be straight, and your body will appear in its usual proportions.

Model Jess shows how to pose in front of the 'glass wall' to be more photogenic
When the Glass Wall is straight, Jess appears in her normal proportions when her photo is taken.

But if the camera is held higher or lower than normal, the Glass Wall tilts. Suddenly, even if you are standing straight up, some parts of your body are much closer to it and others further away. The parts that are closer will appear bigger, and those that are further away will appear smaller.

A diagram of a man taking a photo of a woman. In this image, the top of the glass wall is tilted away from the woman's head. The three blue line sight lines from the camera are very different lengths, and the point at which these intersect with the glass wall indicate that her lower body will appear much larger than her upper body in the resulting photo.
With the camera held low, the Glass Wall tilts and Jess’ proportions appear dramatically different.

This happens because the Glass Wall is the flat 2D version of you that the camera ‘sees’. The places where the blue sight lines from the camera meet the Glass Wall show how big the different sections of Jess’ body appear to the camera. The camera can only record what it sees, so Jess’ upper and lower body will appear those sizes in the resulting photo.

You can use the height of the camera to change both the height and shape of your body. Being photographed with the camera high above you is called the Bird’s Eye view. Being photographed with the camera well below you is called the Worm’s Eye view. And then there are all the heights in between, which will have similar effects on how you look, but not as extreme. Decide how you want to be perceived and use this technique to look good in photos.

The Bird’s Eye View vs the Worm’s Eye View

Below you will see Suzie taking photos of Natalie and Guillermo from the top and from the bottom of a flight of stairs.

An older woman photographs a couple from the top of a flight of stairs.
Can you imagine the Glass Wall tilting towards their heads?
An older woman photographs a couple from the bottom of a flight of stairs.
And now towards their feet?

You can see how different Natalie looks from a Bird’s Eye view, at eye level, and from a Worm’s Eye view:

Three photos of a smiling young woman posing, taken from different heights. The first at a bird's eye view, the second at eye level, and the last at a worm's eye view.

Being photographed from a Bird’s Eye view:

  • puts your upper body closer to the Glass Wall, giving you a longer and larger torso.
  • puts your lower body further away, making both your legs and your whole body shorter.

Being photographed from a Worm’s Eye view:

  • puts your lower body closer to the Glass Wall, making it larger and giving you longer legs.
  • puts your upper body further away, making your torso and head smaller.

Using the Bird’s Eye

The Body

Lifting the camera above eye-level tilts the Glass Wall towards your head and upper body, making these appear larger in the photo.

Having the camera fairly high has a flattering effect. This is because it emphasizes your head and torso and makes your lower body and hips fade into the background of the photo (just as leaning your upper body towards an eye level camera does).

If the camera is held too high, though, your body shape will be distorted unfavourably, making you look noticeably shorter, and obscuring the contours of your waist.

A photo of a young woman taken from above, from a fairly high angle. She looks slim as a result of the height of the camera.
A fairly high camera is flattering.
A photo of a young woman taken from above, from a very high angle. Her body shape looks distorted due to the height of the camera.
Too high a camera distorts the body shape.

The Face

But a very high angle can be great for close ups because the Bird’s Eye view has a very attractive effect on the face. In a close-up, the Glass Wall will be tilted towards the top of your face, which will have an immediate effect:

  • your eyes will look up, so your lids will be raised, and that will make your eyes look bigger.
  • your forehead will look bigger but your nose and mouth will look smaller.
  • your cheekbones may cast a flattering (contouring) shadow over your cheeks below.
  • a double chin will be hidden.

You will look younger, sweeter and more approachable. This is the Baby Face Effect: larger foreheads, big eyes and smaller jaws appeal to us because we associate them with a childlike appearance. To get this attractive facial appearance, paparazzi try to climb up high to photograph celebrities. They will even bring ladders along and scramble up them to get a Bird’s Eye view!

A pair of photos of a smiling woman taken with the camera at different heights.
A different impression is created when Jess’ face is photographed straight on (left) to when it is photographed from above (right).

A pair of photos of a smiling man, taken at different heights.
A different impression is created when Olivier’s face is photographed straight on (left) to when it is photographed from above (right).

Warning: The Baby Face Effect means the Bird’s Eye risks making you appear young and vulnerable, and, in a business situation, juvenile and less competent. See how this happens to both Jess and Olivier in the photos above. If you are aiming to look authoritative or dominant, try using the Worm’s Eye instead.

Remember: A raised camera flatters both the body and face, but it also shortens the body overall. Keep a very high camera reserved for youthful face shots which you can crop to hide the distortion to your body.

Using the Worm’s Eye

The Body

The Worm’s Eye tilts the Glass Wall towards your feet and lower body. Shot from a distance, this has a subtle lengthening effect, elongating your body and especially your legs.

It’s a perspective that often conveys elegance or authority. If you are short, the Worm’s Eye will make you look tall, and if you are tall, it will make you look taller.

Fashion photographers often use this angle for women’s clothes, especially floor-length gowns and wedding dresses as it helps the clothes look good in photos. The subtle effect can take a moment to notice, but when you flip through fashion magazines, what you are looking at is usually shot by a photographer lying or kneeling in front of the model. If a model’s legs look suspiciously long, check whether their eyes are looking up or down at you!

Shoe ads will be shot especially low, to make the shoes the most important and most desirable element of the photo.

A model posing in a short white dress and white high heels, with long legs, looking down towards the camera.
The Worm’s Eye lengthens the legs.

Another use for the Worm’s Eye is to convey strength and authority. The Worm’s Eye view achieves this effect because it tilts the Glass Wall towards the bottom half of your face, emphasizing your jawline and making your eyes look smaller and less approachable.

To look more confident, authoritative, or even arrogant, try standing straight-on to a low camera.

Want to look a bit threatening? Lean forward above the kneeling photographer.

A photo of a man taken from below (the worn's eye angle), looking masculine and dominant.
The Worm’s Eye conveys authority and strength.
A photo of a man leaning forward over the low camera, looking threatening.
Leaning forward over a low camera conveys menace.

Authority figures, monarchs, and ‘strongman’ politicians are often depicted from a Worm’s Eye view. They are shown looking down at the photographer or the painter to heighten the sense of authority and domination. We feel, at least subconsciously, that they are looking down on us, subtly diminishing us as viewers.

Organizers of political rallies give careful thought to where photographers are positioned. Candidates who want to look friendly and approachable won’t let photographers too close below the podium for fear of appearing regal and aloof: the Emperor Effect.

A painting of a monarch from below, posing with his hand on his hip, looking regal.

A black and white photo of Adolf Hitler, taken from a lower height.
German Federal Archive, CCBY-SA 3.0 DE

The Face

You don’t want a low camera to be too close to you because it will distort your face too much. Have you ever turned on your phone’s front-camera accidentally and seen your face close up from below?

Warning: Close up, a low camera puts your chin and nose right up against the Glass Wall. This can enlarge your neck, give you a double chin, and make your nostrils look like two yawning black holes. (Even supermodels have this problem! Cindy Crawford has described turning on her phone, looking down at it, and having a shock.)

Magazine photographers stand well back from their models when using the Worm’s Eye, and they use a low camera height for the fashion shots, not the beauty page close-ups.

A close up photo of a golden retriever from below, with her nose appearing very large.
Athena is curious about this ‘worm’

Remember: Keep the Worm’s Eye reserved for long distance body shots, unless you are going for a dominant look, in which case you can bring the camera a bit closer.

Choosing the Bird’s Eye or Worm’s Eye

A bird cartoon

Bird’s Eye View

Advantages: friendliness, big eyes, attractiveness

Dangers: looking young, vulnerable, and short

A worm cartoon

Worm’s Eye View

Advantages: dominance, long legs and elegance

Dangers: double chin, huge nostrils

The ideal height for the camera depends on how much of you is going to be in the picture. Think of that tilted Glass Wall.

With the camera low and far away, get leg-lengthening and elegant or powerful full-body shots.

As the camera gets closer to you, you want it to get higher.

With the camera high, get friendly and youthful photos of your face and upper body.

Three photos of an older woman, taken at different heights and distances. Showing how to use camera angles to be photogenic.

Try playing around with camera height. Even a small change will have an effect. You can always choose the best shot later. If your photographer isn’t cooperative, you won’t be able to control the camera height, but you may still be able to control the tilt of the Glass Wall by choosing where to stand, or even whether to sit down.

Ideally, hand your phone to the friend who will do anything to get that flattering shot and make you look good in photos.

A photo of a man standing on a trash can with a cameraphone, so he can take a photo of a woman from a higher height to help her look good in pictures.

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Position parts of your body to make them bigger or smaller

Sometimes you see a photo of yourself and think, ‘Do I really look like that?’ You may look squat. Or kind of misshapen. Your nostrils look enormous. Or your knee looks huge. Your body proportions seem to have been changed by the camera. What’s going on?

Closer to the camera = bigger in the photo.

The camera magnifies minute differences in distance between it and whatever it is photographing. Wild distortions can result from one part of your body being much closer to the camera than another. No matter what shape or age you are, this is how a camera distorts your elbow when it is the closest thing to it.

But the Closer Means Bigger principle (learn more here) can also be used deliberately. You can position parts of your body – or even the features of your face – to make them appear bigger or smaller, distorting your body proportions.

A photo of a woman posing with her hand on her hip and her elbow pointed towards the camera. This pose makes her elbow look unnaturally large.
We know that Jess’ arm isn’t really shaped like this.

The Glass Wall

To understand how Closer Means Bigger affects your body, let me introduce the Glass Wall. Visualize an imaginary pane of glass right in front of you, as if you are standing behind a store window. This is the Glass Wall. You are looking through it to the camera.

This Glass Wall is positioned right in front of whichever part of you is closest to the camera.

A diagram of a man taking a photo of a woman. A thick grey line indicating the 'glass wall' is positioned in front of the woman, perpendicular to the camera's line of sight. Straight blue lines emanate from the woman's head, stomach and feet towards the camera. The point at which these lines intersect the Glass Wall indicate how her proportions will appear in the photo.
The Glass Wall is the ‘photographic plane’ the camera uses to create your photo.

The Glass Wall is the flat 2D version of you that the camera sees. If all of your body is roughly the same distance from the Glass Wall, the camera will see you ‘right’. Your body will look in its usual proportions in the photo. The short, equal length solid blue lines in the image above illustrate that Jess’ whole body is pretty close to the Glass Wall. She will look in proportion.

But sometimes you are relaxing on a sun lounger, or maybe holding up a glass of champagne for a toast. If your feet or your arm are much closer to the Glass Wall, they will look enormous; parts of you that are further away will shrink. Your body will look out of proportion. This is what went wrong in the first photo of Jess: her elbow looked distorted because it was much closer to the Glass Wall than the rest of her.

Choosing What to Highlight about Yourself

By positioning parts of your body closer or further away from the Glass Wall, you can choose what you want to highlight about yourself. You become the master of your own body proportions.

Our faces and bodies are not flat, so the camera will be always looking at different parts of us at different distances. Some parts of us will always be closer to the camera, and some parts will always be further away. Even if it were possible, you wouldn’t want to keep your body constantly on one plane – it would look stiff and boring. (For instance, the Universally Flattering Angle puts one side of you slightly closer to the camera.)

In this photo, Jess has remembered the Glass Wall and adjusted her arm slightly, so it no longer appears distorted. But even here Jess’ body is not entirely equidistant from the Glass Wall: because she is doing the UFA, one side of her body is closer to it than the other. She has also put her weight on her back foot, with a streamlining effect. You can learn all about the Universally Flattering Angle here.

A photo of a woman posing with her hand on her hip. Her elbow is pointed out to the side rather than towards the camera. Her elbow appears normal size.
Jess remembers the Glass Wall.

By working the Glass Wall, you can choose what you want to highlight. So, when someone gets out a camera, mentally acknowledge which part of you is closest to the Glass Wall.

What do you want to emphasize or de-emphasize about yourself?

Your Upper Body In Focus

Many people want to look slimmer in photographs – in fact, professional photographers say 99% of their clients tell them this.

One way to achieve this is to make your head look bigger in comparison to your body. You can do this by leaning your upper body forwards towards the camera, bringing it closer to the Glass Wall. Make sure you are leaning from your waist, not hunching forward from your shoulders.

This effect is always flattering, and celebrities and politicians do it automatically.

In this photo, because Jess is leaning towards the camera, her head looks bigger, her face gets more attention, and her hips look smaller.

Leaning forward works when you are sitting down too. You can bring your head and upper body forward to change your proportions. If you are sitting at a table or a desk, try leaning forward over the surface to reduce the size of your body.

A photo of a woman posing with her her upper body leaned slightly forward, with a flattering and slimming effect.
Jess leans forwards, bending from the waist.
A pair of photos of a plus size woman posing on a settee. In the first photo, she poses with her feet and lower body closest to the camera. In the second, more flattering photo, she poses with her upper body and head closest to the camera.
Leaning forward emphasizes Lucy’s face.

It’s even more flattering to lie down facing the Glass Wall, and it can reduce a sense of body consciousness. Because your head and hands are so close to the camera, your body disappears almost entirely.

A pair of photos of a girl in two different poses on a bed, both lying on her stomach, with her head and arms towards the camera.
Poses like this de-emphasize the body entirely.

If you are in a position where your lower body just has to be close to the Glass Wall, bring your head and upper body forward. This will balance the distortion.

A pair of photos of a woman posing on a picnic blanket sitting in a park. In the first photo, she poses with her legs towards the camera. In the second photo, her legs are still closest to the camera but she brings her head and upper body forward by sitting up and wrapping her arms around her legs.
Bringing her upper body forward stops Mona from looking distorted.

Your Arms In Focus

You can use the Glass Wall to control the size of your arms.

Some people feel self-conscious about their upper arms. If you want to minimize upper arm size, don’t put one of them closer to the Glass Wall than the rest of your body.

On the other hand, if you want your arms to look bigger and more muscular, you need to do the opposite. In this way you control the camera’s perception of your body’s proportions.

A smiling woman poses with her arm closest to the camera.
Amy’s upper arm appears to change size.
A smiling woman poses with her arm tucked back behind her body. Her arm looks much smaller.

To look larger, bring your chest, arms, and hands towards the camera, and keep your head back. Make sure that one or both of your arms are closer to the Glass Wall. You can do this by turning slightly to one side or by crossing your arms in front of your chest. Crossing your arms brings them closer to the camera, increasing the size of your biceps (many men who are crossing their arms will use their fists to make their muscles bulge a bit more too!).

A photo of a man posing with his arms folded across his chest, looking muscly.
Putting your arms in front of your body makes them appear larger.
A photo of a man posing sideways with one arm towards the camera, making his arm look muscly.
Bringing one arm closer to the Glass Wall emphasizes its size.

This is what happens to your arms if you do the reverse:

A photo of a man posing with both arms back behind him, leaning against a wall. His arms look small and skinny.
Men usually regret this pose.

Your Face In Focus

The differences in distance that the camera picks up on can be mind-blowingly subtle. It picks up differences that are a mere fraction of an inch.

Do you want your eyes to look huge? Then lower your chin to bring your eyes closer to the Glass Wall.

Do you want your lips to look bigger? Then tilt your chin up to bring them towards the Glass Wall instead. Your eyes will look smaller because they are further away, and because your eyelids will come down over your eyes in this position.

A pair of photos of a smiling woman's face. In the first photo her eyes look bigger. In the second photo her mouth looks bigger.
The size of Jess’ facial features appears to change as she tilts her chin down (left) and up (right).

Take Control of Your Body Proportions

The Glass Wall is the flat version of you that the camera ‘sees’ and uses to create your photo. You have control over which parts of you are closest to the camera. If you know how to work the Glass Wall, you have control over your body proportions, and can choose which parts of your body look bigger and which look smaller.

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Changing your body angle changes your shape and transforms your photos

The idea that some people are always more photogenic than others is a myth. Anyone can be more photogenic if they know how to work the camera to their advantage.

To the camera, your body is a series of shapes on a flat plane. Our eyes might see slender or curvy, muscular or weedy, but the camera just sees the shapes that make up your body. Taking a great photo is all about using that fact to your advantage when you pose.

Think of your body as a combination of shapes. The way you arrange these shapes determines how you look in photos.

The apparent size and shape of your body will always depend on the angle your body presents to the camera.

What angles are you using when you pose? Are you facing the camera straight on? Are you turning a little to the side, or turning almost entirely sideways?

You may be surprised that it matters, but this is guaranteed to make a big difference to what the camera sees. This big difference is what this article is all about – how to be photogenic by changing the way you pose in photos.

A pair of photos of a woman on the beach in a bikini. In the first, she poses straight on. In the second, she poses at an angle, which is a more flattering pose.
The difference an angle makes.

Posing Head-On To The Camera

Without giving it any thought, most of us will naturally stand straight on to the camera, as we would to a person we are talking to, and hope for the best. It is natural, but it is completely wrong, and it’s why passport and driver’s license photos regularly make you appear less photogenic.

The first thing a professional photographer does when you have your portrait taken is grab your shoulders and twist them. This is because the single most important factor when you are being photographed is your angle to the camera.

Professionals and celebrities know that the camera overwhelmingly prefers one angle: the Universally Flattering Angle. You should understand what this is and why it works, even if you choose not to use it – for reasons we will talk about.

The Angle of Your Body In A Photo

We will see that, no matter how young or beautiful you are, standing straight on to the camera makes you look wider and chunkier than you are, and more wooden and lifeless. It’s guaranteed to make you look less photogenic than you actually are.

What should you do instead? To look more photogenic, turn to the Universally Flattering Angle (the UFA): 45 degrees away from the camera.

A diagram of a person facing the camera straight on, compared with turning their body at a 45 degree angle to the camera to be more photogenic.

Our University of Southern California students have never tried doing the UFA before. But simply turning their bodies 45 degrees away from the camera transforms the photos. Suddenly Brennan and Michael look slimmer, more natural, and more visually pleasing as an image.

A pair of photos of a woman on the beach in a bathing suit. In the first, she poses straight on to the camera. In the second, she poses at a 45 degree angle, looking slimmer and more natural.
Compare Brennan standing straight on to the camera (left) with her doing the UFA (right).
A pair of photos of a man on the beach in a bathing suit. In the first, he poses straight on to the camera. In the second, he poses at a 45 degree angle, looking slimmer and more natural.
Compare Michael standing straight on to the camera (left) with him doing the UFA (right).

Once you start looking for it, you will see the Universally Flattering Angle everywhere. The diagonal line of the shoulders draws us viewers into the image, making it more lifelike and engaging. After all, what a camera does is to take an animated 3D person and turn them into a flat 2D image. Putting the human body at an angle keeps your image from being boring, flat and lifeless, and instantly makes you more photogenic.

On billboards and movie posters, and in every magazine, you will see models and actors standing at this angle again and again. From Old Master paintings all the way through to modern advertising, it is the gold standard.

The Mona Lisa sits at a 45 degree angle - the Universally Flattering Angle which helps you to be more photogenic.
Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa
An old advert with a woman sitting at a 45 degree angle - the Universally Flattering Angle which helps you to be more photogenic.
1950s Schlitz beer advert

The Effect of an Angle

Changing your angle changes your shape. Angling will always make you look simultaneously slimmer and curvier. Your whole body becomes streamlined as the angle gradually increases.

Four photos of a woman on the beach in a bikini, each taken with her posing at a different angle to the camera. As she changes her pose towards the angle of 45 degrees, it looks more flattering.
Tatiana’s body shape appears to change as she shifts from facing the camera straight on (1), to a slight angle (2), to the UFA (3), and to almost 90 degrees (4).

Turning the shoulders and hips at an angle:

  • elongates the neck
  • makes the face shape, especially the jaw, more defined
  • accentuates the curves of the body
  • minimizes the width of the hips and the thighs
  • hides love handles and muffin top

Sometimes, you want to look bigger and more solid in a photo. In this case, stand straight on to the camera rather than angling yourself. Standing straight on to the camera shows the full width of the shoulders, making you appear larger, more powerful and more confident. Angling makes you look younger, less static, and more relaxed. Even a small turn of the hips can change the tone of a photo.

Two photos of Beyonce. The straight on pose makes her look powerful and dominant. The slightly angled pose makes her figure look more hourglass in shape.
Compare the impression created when Beyoncé stands straight on to the camera (left) to when she turns her hips at just a slight angle (right). (DFree / Shutterstock.com)

The Couple Pose

The traditional male-female couple pose puts the man facing the camera straight on, and the woman at an angle. This makes him look solid, strong and confident, while she looks smaller, slimmer and more seductive.

Angling also tends to bring a couples’ heads closer together, so they look more intimate than they would standing side by side.

Celebrity couples, and couples posed by portrait or wedding photographers, almost always adopt this position.

Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth photographed on the red carpet in the classic couple pose which helps them look more photogenic.
Liam Hemsworth stands straight on whilst Miley Cyrus angles.
(Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com)

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie photographed on the red carpet in the classic couple pose which helps them look more photogenic.
Brad Pitt stands straight on while Angelina Jolie angles. (BAKOUNINE / Shutterstock.com)
A photo of a man sitting on the beach straight on to the camera and a woman sitting next to him at an angle.
Michael sits straight on to the camera, while Brennan is at an angle.

Angling does its job, whether you are standing, sitting, or lying down. Once you have practiced a few times, angling becomes a natural thing to do, and you can choose to use it in any situation. Angling is the simplest, yet most powerful, way of changing how you look to the camera.


A person's feet posed in a 'T-shape', with front food facing fowards and its heel touching the heel of the other foot, which is turned outwards at a 90 degree angle.

1 – Stand straight on to a mirror.

2 – Move one foot back and turn it out to the side, so that it is pointing directly towards the side wall of your room.  Your front foot should stay facing towards the mirror, so that your feet form a T-shape.

3 – Your body is now turned towards the corner of the room, 45 degrees away from the mirror. 

4 – Turn your head back towards the mirror and admire yourself. You have now achieved the UFA!

The transformative effect of the 45 degree angle is worth practicing. Trying it out in front of a camera will show you an even greater difference than what you see in the mirror.

Don’t worry if your front foot isn’t in the exact position; it’s the angle of your shoulders and hips that has the biggest effect.

If you are taking several photos, try varying the angle slightly to keep it looking natural.

The flattering effect of this 45 degree angle is not restricted to humans. You’ll start to see that everything gets photographed at this angle. Photographs in property magazines usually show houses at the Universally Flattering Angle, and use it to make their interiors look bigger too. Horses often get photographed at the Universally Flattering Angle, and so does the family dog!

A photo of a golden retriever sitting on the beach at an angle.
Athena achieves the effect, even though her feet aren’t perfect.

Even More Streamlining

You can increase the streamlining effect of the UFA even more by combining it with the camera quirk we will be looking at next, Closer Means Bigger. This principle means that shifting your body weight away from the camera is automatically slimming.

To take advantage of this, once you are in the UFA, shift your weight onto your back foot. (Doing this may encourage your shoulders to twist further back, but try to keep them steady at a roughly 45 degree angle.)

You can see the difference between having your weight on your front or back foot in these two photos of Tatiana.

Two photos of a woman on the beach in a bikini. In this first image where her weight is on the foot closest to the camera, her thigh looks larger. In the second, where where weight is on the back foot, her thigh looks smaller.
Tatiana combines the UFA with Closer Means Bigger.

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Where you stand dictates your size in couple photos

Do you want to look bigger or smaller in couple photos, compared to your friends or partner? The apparent size of our bodies will always depend on whether we are closer to (or further away from) the camera than they are.  Closer to the camera = bigger in the photo.

All photos suffer from this everyday camera distortion.

We may see ourselves in a photo and feel that it doesn’t make sense. We look out of proportion: ‘I’m massive! Alex looks fragile next to me.’ But Alex isn’t necessarily next to you. You may have been standing closer to the camera, and Alex may have been standing just a couple of inches back.

Your distance from the camera

What happens if Mona and Guillermo are not standing exactly next to each other? The distances between them in these photos are only a few feet.

A couple poses in the park for two photos. In the first, the woman poses closer to the camera and looks much bigger than him. In the second, the man poses closer to the camera and looks much bigger than her.
Just a few feet changes their sizes dramatically.

To the camera lens, Closer Means Bigger.  It can pick up unbelievably minute differences in distance, differences to which the human eye would never even pay attention. Just tilting your chin up or down has an effect. What you are really doing is choosing whether your chin, your nose or your eyes are going to be closer to the camera, and so you are changing their relative sizes.

On the left, Mona is tilting her chin up, so that it is closer to the camera than the rest of her face. In the middle, her nose and cheeks are the closest to the camera. On the right, her forehead and eyes are closest to the camera, making them look bigger than in the other photos.

A trio of photos of a smiling woman's face. Her facial features appear different sizes depending on whether she tilts her chin up or down.
Closest to the camera: chin, nose, or eyes?

You can use the Closer Means Bigger phenomenon to:

  • change your relative size compared to other people or objects in the photo
  • shrink or expand parts of your body and your face.

This article is about using where you stand to make yourself look bigger or smaller compared to other people or objects. The next article, Working the Glass Wall, is about how you can position particular parts of your body to shrink or expand them.

The Effect of Distance in Couple Photos

In photos you are flat. As the camera takes your picture, it is forced to make a 2D image out of the 3D world in front of it. It has to take all of that visual information and flatten it onto one plane. This is a demanding process, and the camera easily makes mistakes. One of these mistakes is that anything coming towards the camera or anything too close to the camera will look HUGE.

The distortion isn’t always as obvious as a pair of huge shoes, but we can see two friends manipulating their sizes in the photos below.

A couple poses on a picnic blanket in a park, with their feet towards the camera. Their shoes appear massive.
Anything close to the camera will look huge.
A pair of photos of two men sitting on a park bench. Their apparent sizes change dramatically depending on which one sits forwards or backwards on the bench.
In real life, their heads are pretty much the same size.

Being closer to the camera makes you bigger, amplifying your presence in the photo. On the other hand, slouching against the back of your chair is unfavorably distorting. Slouching puts your head and chest further away from the camera, making them appear dramatically smaller than if you were sitting up.

A pair of photos of two men and two women standing at different places in a semicircle. Their sizes depend on where in the semi-circle they are standing and how close to the camera they are.
Those on the edge of the semi-circle will appear larger.

Group Photos

Where you stand dictates your size. In a group photo, everyone has to be the same distance from the camera to avoid distorting their comparative sizes.

In a semi-circle, the person at the center will always look comparatively smaller than the people at the ends, who are closer to the camera and who will look bigger and taller. Switching to the edge of the semi-circle will make you look bigger.

For a larger group, two or more straight lines of people will be much less distorted than curved rows.  But straight lines can look uptight, especially when everyone is in business attire – so corporate groups are sometimes photographed in a semi-circle to try to look informal and inclusive. Bosses tend to place themselves in the middle, because that position draws the eye, but it can also have a downside: making them look smaller than everyone else!

Couple Photos

If, as a couple, you want to reduce a height or size discrepancy, make sure the taller one steps slightly back or the shorter one steps slightly forward. If you are sitting together, adjust yourselves by having one person sit well back and the other one forward. Experiment until you look closer to the size you want to be.

Here are some extremes as an example.

A couple poses on a park bench. In the first photo, the woman looks bigger because she is sitting forward on the bench. In the second photo, the man looks bigger because he is sitting forward on the bench.
Couples can change their apparent sizes using Closer Means Bigger.

Wedding photographers know that brides usually want to look slim and willowy, and they will usually try to avoid situations where the bride is much closer to the camera than the groom.

But what if the groom would tower over the bride, making her look comically small? Photographers know that they will get a more visually matched pair if the groom is moved slightly further back than the bride instead.

In this 1920s wedding portrait, the photographer moved the groom back, leaving a space between the bride’s back and the groom, reducing the apparent size difference between the couple.

A black and white 1920s wedding portrait photograph, with the tall man standing behind the short woman, with a gap between them.
Photographers have been taking advantage of Closer Means Bigger in couple photos for a very long time.

Photos with Large Objects

It isn’t just people who are affected by Closer Means Bigger. If you are having your picture taken with something large, especially a large object whose size everyone knows, you may find yourself looking bigger than you expected. Don’t stand much closer to the camera than the London phone booth or the elephant!

A pair of photos of a woman posing next to a London telephone box. In the first photo she poses close to the camera and looks bigger. In the second photo she stands next to the phone box and looks proportionate.
Stand with, not in front of, the large object.

On the left, Natalie’s closeness to the camera makes the phone box looks smaller, and Natalie look bigger. On the right, the proportions are more accurate because they are both about the same distance from the camera.

Size is Relative

A photo of a golden retriever staring longingly at an apparently gigantic dog biscuit, which is closer to the camera.
She’s been a very good girl.

But Closer Means Bigger isn’t all about precautions. You can change the size of anything you like by playing around with its distance from the camera. Is this the reward of Athena’s dreams, or just an ordinary dog biscuit?

If you have nothing around you that can show your relative size, you can tinker with scale. To the camera, size is always relative.

A photo of a smiling woman posing amidst gigantic lollipops. She looks small as the lollipops are close to the camera and she is further away.
To look smaller and cuter, use oversized props.

Your size in the photo depends on what is around you. Are you the only thing in the photo? If you are very big or very petite, you can play with proportions dramatically if you are photographed with nothing else and no one else to judge your size by.

A woman walking on a beach next to the ocean. Her size is hard to determine.
Is Jasmine statuesque or tiny? Hard to say.

And you can use Closer Means Bigger to express your imagination, making yourself fantastically bigger than your friend or smaller than your child.

A photo of a plastic dinosaur apparently chasing six people on ice flats, created using perspective.
Run! (Photo Credit: Our Big Fat Travel Adventure)

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