Art of Being Photographed

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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