Plus-size portrait photography (and more)

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)

Portrait photography of anyone is a complex process which is closely connected to psychology and requires communication, empathy, and an awareness of beauty. The photography of plus-size models is no exception. It’s important to be aware of what is beautiful, be discrete, and acknowledge that the wrong decision can have bigger implications than we intended.

Portrait photography captures human beings in their best form. Looking at these photographs, the subject should feel happiness. We photographers have a certain responsibility for the feeling we leave our models with. The environment we create can have a very positive impact on them, helping them make progress in their personal development, accept themselves for who they are, and improve their mental well-being.

However, it can also do the opposite. For some, looking at pictures of themselves brings them to tears. They can be unhappy with their appearance, even outright hate themselves. It can severely harm their personal development or make it take a turn for the worse.

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Your subjects should be happy when they are being photographed, and these girls certainly were. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Find the most beautiful version of who you are photographing

People don’t merely have a single version of themselves. They have several. When they smile, when they frown, when they stand up straight, or are slumped over at the computer. Or even when they have a fallen expression or wear something that doesn’t suit them. Everyone has a certain color, hairstyle, facial expression that is flattering to them. Someone doesn’t just look a certain way and we take a picture of them. It’s not that simple. It is up to us to capture the best version of the person we are photographing.

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Verča is beautiful when she smiles – this is her most flattering self. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/125 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Of all the people we photograph, there is one group where getting that perfect shot is more important than ever. For me as a photographer, it’s easy to identify with this group, because I belong to it – Plus-size models. In today’s day and age, it’s all too easy to judge people based on their appearances – curvy, skinny, pale, dark, tall, short, and so on. However, as photographers, this doesn’t concern us. They are beautiful, as are their photographs. A good photographer should be able to take photos of just about anyone.

Unfortunately, there are those who claim that before you have your picture professionally taken, you need to lose weight. Don’t listen to them. Everyone in this world is beautiful in their own way. Whether they are thin, short, tall…Beautiful! Sometimes it’s complicated to capture the beauty, but you will. A positive mindset on behalf of the photographer will result in their subjects being in a good mood. As a result, your subject will be more relaxed, even glow, allowing you to find and capture the most beautiful version of them.

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Ama’s face has a beautiful line from her chin to her ear, and light from above helps highlight this. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Non-model types can be a greater challenge 

Us plus-size girls are certainly beautiful, but we may be more complicated to photograph. With a professional model, it’s simple. I quickly realized this myself when I started taking pictures of them. It was so easy! I felt as if my photography skills had significantly improved.

On the other hand, whenever I encountered a non-model type, it suddenly wasn’t so easy. For a long time, I was afraid of plus-size models because they struck me as going against the traditional definition of beauty. Because it was more complicated, I was afraid that it would affect my photos and I wanted my photos to be perfect.

However, the more experienced I become as a photographer, the more I seek out interesting and untraditional men and women. I’m fascinated by wrinkles, gray hair, a few extra kilos, protruding ribs, and other features that aren’t found on the typical model. And of course, my biggest challenge – plus size. However, I’ve realized that I have a huge advantage on my side. I know what it’s like. I know what angles are unflattering and which can downright bring me to tears.

Women, girls, and even men are all sensitive. Everyone knows the feelings of doubt when they’ve seen an unflattering picture of themself, feeling as if they are as ugly in reality as they see in the photo. 

How to go about photographing plus-size models in practice 

I asked two friends to be my models. Both are beautiful women and photographing them was an experience filled with love. Here’s where psychology comes into play. I carefully instructed both on how to stand and which way to face. I emphasized how beautiful they both are and how great they looked. And most importantly, I showed them preview shots. If there was something they didn’t like, we immediately deleted it. Many photographers don’t like doing this, understandably so.

If you want your model to be comfortable and happy, you should make them part of the photography process. When you see that they like a certain type of photo, take it for them, even if they don’t ask for it themselves. The model will then see themselves in it and this will help them in many aspects. It just may happen that you help someone deal with a mental health or anxiety issue, or begin to accept themselves for who they are.

It’s important to have the photo technique down while at the same time, have a beautiful person to photograph. That is, a subject who feels they are their most beautiful self. If you only worry about your photography being technically perfect but forget about the human element, then your portrait will be all wrong. Though it may be an unconventional opinion, I will always claim that a happy model who loves themself just a bit more is better than winning a prestigious award or getting one million “likes.” This doesn’t apply to all photography. We are specifically referring to photos of non-model types, a TFP contract, or normal portrait photography.

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Ama doesn’t like to smile with her teeth, so I didn’t push her to do so. It’s not necessary. She’s still beautiful with a more subdued smile. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/125 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Some specifics of plus-size photography 

Now, let’s get to the photoshoot itself. It’s not just about what poses work and which angles are better. We also have to understand the psychology behind it all and what can happen if we make a mistake. We have touched upon this in the paragraphs above. Even so, I recommend reading the article about communicating with your subject.

Plus-size photography becomes quite simple:

  • As a general rule, shooting from above eye level is a good idea. This way you’re not emphasizing an unflattering double chin, but rather drawing more attention to the face. This, however, can also shorten the body. I personally like to photograph from above eye level only when I do close-ups from the waist up.
  • Shooting from a low angle is frequently a big no-no, but this isn’t set in stone. Shooting from this angle adds height, which is a good thing. But pay attention to the chin. It will appear larger from this angle.
  • A half profile is always very flattering and a hand placed in the right place can distract from a problematic area. 
  • Crossed legs can emphasize a beautiful hourglass figure. 
  • Hands placed around the face can emphasize a unique feature while at the same time concealing a double chin or fuller neck. 
  • The rule always applies that it helps to stand up straight. An upright posture lengthens the body and has an overall slimming effect. 
  • It’s not a good idea to lift the chin too much, even if it may seem so. It’s okay to have your subject slightly stick out their chin and keep their head straight. A full profile shot is not usually a good idea, and they aren’t even that interesting to look at in the first place. 

Of course, all of these suggestions are personal because everyone is different. 

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Shooting from a lower angle is a possibility, only we have to be a bit inventive if it doesn’t work for the subject. Even so, Ama is one of those who doesn’t have a problem with this angle. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

You can get ideas for poses on Google, Pinterest, or even YouTube. The basic rules apply to everyone the same, and there are ideas for poses for plus size photoshoots as well. 

For portrait photography, it’s a good idea to use a 50mm and higher lens. Longer focal lengths are good because of the personal space that they allow our subject. It also helps when blurring the background and keeping distortion of the face to a minimum. The longer the focal length, the thinner the face and body appear. 

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
An above-angle shot with a playful placement of the hand on the face to distract from the body appearing shorter. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Pay careful attention to photo selection 

In conclusion, I’d like to also emphasize the importance of the final photo selection. It is a good idea to look at each photo and ask yourself if it will make the subject happy. For many of you, it is difficult to judge what is beautiful and what isn’t. So, ask yourself if you would like to have this photo of yourself? A photo where there are visible imperfections, or an emphasis on something that isn’t attractive because it caught you in an unflattering pose?  

When you are able to identify with your subject, you will be able to select the right photos. Generally speaking, pictures of people who are in the middle of talking don’t turn out well. Unless the subject happens to be smiling at the same time, it usually just isn’t flattering. This also includes photos where the subject is frowning or is lost in thought. These unposed photos can be unflattering to your plus-size models. 

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Reportage of wedding preparations. Beautiful expression, good lighting, and a flattering angle. A photo like this should be among those you choose. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Be careful when shooting from angles that make your subjects appear wider. We are no longer speaking only about portraits. This applies to reportage photography as well. The mothers of the bride and other relatives aren’t going to be happy with the way they look in the wedding photos. Besides the fact that they are unhappy, they also won’t recommend you. It goes without saying that these wide-angle shots shouldn’t happen with brides. 

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Getting your picture taken should bring joy. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Everyone deserves a beautiful portrait

In today’s world, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone with a healthy level of self-esteem. On social media, all we see are beautiful people. We see photographers who take pictures of professional models, brides, or muscular men. We try to achieve this level of perfection which is presented to us by social media. 

Also, this perfection is fabricated. It doesn’t exist. The more we try to achieve it, the more frustrated we become when it doesn’t work and we feel disappointed in ourselves. It isn’t easy for a plus-size woman to find a photographer. The portfolios of the majority of photographers are filled with thin models. 

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
Verča beautiful shows off her half profile with good hand placement. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

I myself struggled with finding a wedding photographer when I didn’t see any of their work that portrayed women like me. I’m certainly not the only one. The majority of the brides were thin and beautiful. While I admired the work of many photographers, I couldn’t imagine that they would photograph me. 

I imagined myself in all my glory, smiling and having my picture taken – and I dreaded it. I have a double chin and when I open my mouth just a little, I look terrible. And don’t even get me started on how I look with a toothy smile. I tried to imagine myself having my profile taken, and I was full of dread again. This is my least flattering angle, with my big stomach and that chin again. And just like this, I imagined myself in many poses and situations until I told myself that I don’t want photos of my wedding. 

I chose to give up on professional photography for my wedding because I was afraid of looking at the photos later and having my whole wedding ruined for me. I would see myself as ugly. I have these feelings about myself because I have already seen myself like this in many photos. Since I have the tendency to remember negative experiences more than the positive ones, I can still see the “ugly” photos to this day. I become convinced that that is how I look; that it is my actual appearance.

Plus-size portrait photography (and more)
In the end, I had a friend photograph my wedding. While she isn’t a professional photographer, she knows her way around a camera. Rather than focusing on the nuts and bolts of photography, she focused on me. It is me in the photos, not retouched, but beautiful nonetheless. Nikon D750, Nikkor 105mm Ai-S f/2.5, 1/160 s, f/2.5, ISO 400, focal length 105 mm.

Pay special attention to those you photograph

Portrait photography is the process of capturing the best version of your subject. We all have one. You just have to find it. While the process of discovering it can sometimes be more complicated, a good photographer will always find it. Don’t ever leave an unhappy subject. Someone who looks at themselves and starts to hate themselves, or is full of doubt and fears the mirror. Give special care to those you photograph, give them a wonderful experience, and make them believe they are stunning. Because it is in your power.

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AuthorZdenka Povolen

I haven’t been a photographer for long, but I certainly love taking photos. I like creating atmosphere in my photographs and adding emotion. I think it’s important that a photo has substance. I predominantly photograph people, often in costumes, sometimes nudes, and photographic storytelling series. I value effective communication and a pleasant atmosphere in my photoshoot. I like to use practical effects such as smoke, fire, sparks, light, or movement of cloth and fabric. I know that I still have a lot to learn, but that will come with 20 years of experience under my belt. I believe in lifelong self-improvement.

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