Make Me Look Thin-The Fat Lady Said

“I’m not doing that, that’s stupid.” said the woman when I asked her to put her hand near her face in a classic hand pose.

“Oh go on.” I say in a slightly teasing voice. “Trust me, it only takes a second.”

“Ok, but I guarantee I won’t like that one.” The hand pose is almost always the only shot they do like, but some people flatly refuse to do it-usually using the equally classic That’s Gay excuse as to why they don’t want to do the pose.

I have often been reminded of a scene of from Educating Rita where a very large woman shows a hairdresser a picture of Princess Di and says that she wants to look like that.  As a portrait photographer I am often asked to do the impossible, and I will even try from time to time.

Not everyone wants to look like a movie star or a fashion model, but a large percentage of people don’t want to look like themselves. Fat people want to appear slim, old people want to appear young, bald people want to look less bald, and a shocking number of people just hate seeing themselves in any kind of photograph.

One of the most persistent myths older women cherish-older men don’t really seem to care-is that if they raise their chins, their fat and wrinkled neck will not look fat and wrinkled. The result of raising their chin is that they achieve two things, 1) they look like snobs who think they are above the rest of the world, and 2) their fat and wrinkled necks are given full and glorious display.

Most of these same good people also have thick glasses which are perfectly designed to create white hot spots. The simplest solution to lens glare is to have the person lower their chin, which, of course, causes them to yell that they don’t want their double chin(s) to show in the photo. If the room is large, it is just as easy to raise the lights or move them out a few feet. But the room, as often as not, is barely big enough to setup in the first place. So leaning forward and head lowering and tilting of glasses is the way to go.

Studio lighting is a harsh bit of business. The light is a pure white and it can cast pure black shadows, which give those old character studies of men with faces like the Mojave desert so much punch. I’m guessing that they never tried to sell those images to the subjects made to look older than the hills.

The great temptation when someone yells out that they don’t like such and such a pose is to yell back-Your An Idiot! But it’s not a good idea to do that. You say Ok, we’ll do something else.

Every once in a while I have someone come into my little Assembly Line Portrait Studio and demand to do their own posing-this never works out well. What they think will look good, and how it actually looks never seem to come out the same.

With lighting, posing, and a pleasant expression, anyone can look good in an Assembly Line Portrait.  But no one ever looks as good as they want to look, or think they look.  Which is why it is often funny when someone brings a friend in to look at what they think is a horrible portrait and they are then told-‘Oh, that’s so good! It looks just like you!’

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