Art of Being Photographed

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, looking slimmer.
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.

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.
Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa
An old advert with a woman sitting at a 45 degree angle - the Universally Flattering Angle.
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. She looks slimmer as she changes her pose towards the angle of 45 degrees.
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 look slimmer and sexier.
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.

Two celebrities photographed on the red carpet in the classic couple pose.
Liam Hemsworth stands straight on whilst Miley Cyrus angles.
(Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com)

Two celebrities photographed on the red carpet in the classic couple pose.
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.

POSING PRACTICE: HOW TO UFA TO BE PHOTOGENIC

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 beautiful 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 much slimmer.
Tatiana combines the UFA with Closer Means Bigger.

Learn More About How To Be Photogenic

Find out more about changing your size in our next article, Closer Means Bigger.

Visit the Learn How page to see all the articles.


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