9 Ways to De-Emphasize Flaws in Your Model

Woman lying down to hide flaws during a portrait photography session

It's easy to do portraits when the model is flawless, but taking portraits of average people means learning to only show the best parts of them.

We don’t all look like Cindy Crawford (and I wouldn’t even pass for a Scottie Pippen).  So when photographers set out to make a picture of someone, we do everything humanly possible to de-emphasize their flaws.  This post will show you 9 common problems and how you can fix them in-camera.

Problem #1: Pimples and Moles. A simple way to de-emphasize these skin flaws is to over-expose the photo with high-key lighting.  Not only will the blemishes be less noticeable, the who whole photo will have a clean and fresh look.

Problem #2: Thin hair or bald patches. If your subject’s hair has seen better days, you might consider doing the opposite of tip #1.  By underexposing the photo, the individual strands of hair will not stand out as much.  Also, simply posing the subject in a way that you see less of the top of the person’s head can help.

Problem #3: The Pinocchio Effect. If your subject’s nose is a touch too large for his or her face, simply pose the model in such a way that the model looks toward the camera so that the length of the nose is masked.  Also, a long lens can help to flatten features such as a long nose.

Problem #4: Wrinkles. An over-exposed approach can certainly help reduce the look of wrinkles in one’s face, but you can also help to reduce the look of wrinkles in a person’s face by controlling the direction of the light.  You’ll remember from this post on accentuating texture in your landscape photography that side light will bring out texture more than flat light.  So, you might consider having the subject turn more toward the sun, use even light from shade, or bring your flash slightly closer to the camera.

Problem #5: Double chins (or triple or quadruple chins for that matter). Removing double chins is as easy as shooting down on the subject.  This will hide more of the neck area, and if the subject looks toward the camera, the neck will stretch and remove the lines creating the double chin.

Problem #6: Wide hips. One of the most fundamental bread-and-butter poses for portrait photographers is to have the subject turn the hips and legs away from the photographer, and have the subject bend at the trunk to have the shoulders turn toward the camera.  This simple pose will make even the largest hips look invisible.

Problem #7:  Freckles. In most of the photography magazines I read, there are ads for computer programs that can remove all the freckles on people in your pictures.  Do you think the client really wants to look like that?  The photo won’t even look like the model anymore if you remove all their freckles.  Most of the time, freckles are beautiful and should actually be accentuated rather than hidden; however, if the client doesn’t like the freckles, then using either low-key or high-key lighting can help to mask them.  Either way will work like a charm.

Problem #8: Shortness.  Taking pictures of a short person is no problem as long as you do not include anything in the frame to give scale.  For example, a short person standing next to a tree will look especially short because the viewer has a point of reference.  The same person standing in a studio in front of a white background will look to be an average height.  Also, not shooting the full-body can help prevent the viewer from taking clues that the model is short.

Problem #9: Chubby cheeks or yellow teeth. When people with chubby cheeks smile wide, it makes the cheeks poke out even further.  A simple way to hide chubby cheeks is to tell the model to “think about smiling, but don’t actually show teeth.”  This makes the person look happy, but the yellow teeth don’t show and the chubby cheeks don’t poke out.  Problem solved.

There are more tactful ways to hiding imperfections on a model than asking her to wear a mask. Okay... that was a pretty lame joke. I'll do better next time, I promise.

Comments from the I.P. Community

    • says

      Depends on the situation. If I’m using lights, I simply over-expose with the power of the lights. If I am shooting natural light, I usually use exposure compensation and shoot in aperture priority. I rarely shoot manual for natural light portraits.

  1. Missy says

    How would you de-emphasize your subject?

    Move in closer
    use a longer lens
    Move farther away from it or use a telephoto lens

  2. David Wahlman says

    Hey Jim,
    Could answer, either briefly here or in another blog, the differences in low-key lighting, high-key lighting, etc.?
    Thanks

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