How To Make Someone Look Their Best
by William Lulow
When you do a photographic portrait, and you’re getting paid for it, you generally want to make people look their best. This can be accomplished by doing several things:
- Use professional lighting techniques which are flattering
- Use makeup and hair stylists
- Retouch unwanted blemishes
- Use backgrounds that can accent the subject’s best features
- Use a slightly longer lens that tends to compress distance
- Know how to engage a person with the idea of helping them relax in front of the camera
- Use camera angles that are compatible with the face you are photographing
The idea behind these steps is that they should all be used together. Having a great lighting setup won’t do the job if the other elements are not present as well.
I always prefer to use a hair & makeup stylist when I’m doing a portrait. One reason is that it just makes the person look better. Another is that the process is somewhat of a “pampering” of the person which can really help them FEEL their best as well. Projection is a big part of making someone look good. If they feel good about the way they look, they will usually tend to project that feeling for the camera. There is a lot of psychology involved in making someone look their best. It’s necessary for the photographer to be able to relax the subject and make them feel comfortable in front of the camera. For this reason, I often suggest that the photographer should have a friend or colleague do some pictures of them, once in a while, so that they will get an idea of what it feels like to be photographed.
Medium length telephoto lenses tend to compress distances which, in turn, makes the human face look a bit more proportional. Wide angle and some “normal” lenses can tend to distort facial features. The face can be divided into three zones: chin-to-bottom of- the- nose, bottom-of-nose-to-eyebrows and eyebrows-to-top-of- hairline. When these three areas are roughly the same size in the photo, it is said to be in proportion. So, if someone has a particularly high forehead, say, you might want to de-emphasize that feature by lowering the camera angle. If someone has a baggy chin, you can de-emphasize it by raising the camera angle so that the person stretches the chin tighter. If the subject’s nose is crooked, you can de-emphasize it by having the nose face the camera directly even if the person has to turn her head.
Light backgrounds are more psychologically uplifting than dark ones. Lighting techniques that employ plenty of soft light are usually more flattering than dramatic light using only one light.
Retouching has been made quite a bit easier by Photoshop these days. I always take out blemishes, some laugh lines and extraneous hairs. It’s easy to go overboard with retouching, so I don’t take out EVERY line, I want my subjects to look like themselves, but at their best.