Art of Being Photographed

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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