Highlighting Your Best Features: Working the Glass Wall
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
This is what happens to your arms if you do the reverse:
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.
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.