This week, we asked our FGG fans on Facebook how they felt about having their picture taken, and the responses weren't too surprising:
"I'm WAY happier BEHIND the lens because I'm always shocked that the girl looking back at me from a photo is really what I look like."
"Some fat girl always takes my place in pictures, like magic. So weird."
"I want to stop avoiding being in pictures."
Whether staring down the barrel of a wedding photographer's lens or a camera-happy friend snapping yet another round of Facebook pics, most full-figured women have felt that moment of panic right before the flash fires: "Can I squish behind my friend a little more?" "Do my arms look too flappy?" "I wonder if Photoshop has a 'make me look like Kate Winslet' setting?"
Tragically, the "Make Me Look Like Kate!" Photoshop action remains but a fantasy. Still, armed with practical questions from several of my best fat girl friends, I took the subject of looking good in photos to a professional. In addition to covering daily assignments as a photographer for the Grand Rapids Press, Emily Zoladz also freelances throughout west Michigan -- including a booming wedding business. Emily gamely tackled topics ranging from trout pout to how to light up a candid photo, and even shared her own "can I hide it?" area. (Yes, fit girls have them too!) If you've ever wished you could dodge the camera rather than face an unflattering photo, read on and prepare to smile with confidence next time the camera swings in your direction. Knowing how to look our best in photos is an essential life skill for women (and men) of any size, because we deserve to feel fabulous when we look back on ourselves enjoying our favorite occasions.
FGG: What colors other than black are slimming in photos?
EZ: Anything dark, or any combination of dark with light on top (e.g. a dark skirt with a light-colored top). Also, go with what matches your eyes. For blue eyes, navy is a great color. If you have hazel eyes, wear olive or hunter green, and so on.
FGG: Do you light or pose plus-size girls differently?
EZ: I don't light full-figured girls differently. However, side filtered light (e.g. coming from a window or a soft box) is going to be more flattering than direct, unfiltered light on anyone. As for the pose, I think you should pose however you are comfortable. If I want you to sit on a window seat but you feel self-conscious about your legs, then go ahead -- put a pillow on your lap and hug it. A confident, glowing smile is going to be what draws any eye to your portrait, regardless of the pose.
[FGG note: For a pose that elongates your body in a standing photo, try angling your body and feet toward the camera about 45 degrees but not fully sideways. Extend your outer leg slightly farther than your inner leg, and twist only your upper body toward the camera.]
FGG: Is there a universally flattering or "best" angle that makes a fuller face look thinner or minimizes double chins?
EZ: I would say side profiles tend to be more slimming than a full front-on pose. If I am photographing the side of the face, I can see the subject's cheek bones more prominently. Practice for this pose by glancing over your shoulder and twisting your torso SLIGHTLY, as if someone has called your name and you are casually looking to see who it was. Also, keep your shoulders back and stacked high, rather than slouching. It may feel like you are sticking your tummy out, but broader shoulders actually create the illusion of a smaller waist. I would also avoid low angles (if your photographer is crouched down below you, pointing the lens upwards), because this will create double chins.
FGG: Does a "best" side really exist for each person? How do we know what it is?
EZ: I think people really do have a "best" side. It all depends on face structure. Noses are a big factor, cheek bones, as well. If you want to figure out yours, study old pictures of yourself and see if you can find any pattern among the "good" ones. Also, practice tilting your face this way and that in the mirror. Do you prefer the way you look like with your head cocked to the side, or facing straight-on?
FGG: Is it possible to pull off a successful come-hither look without looking like a trout?
EZ: [Laughs] I think the best way to pull this off is just to look serious. Don't think about being sexy, think about being slightly mad. Don't glare at the camera, just pout a little like something is annoying you. Some people are better at this than others. . . my friend Sasha pulls it off brilliantly.
FGG: What about avoiding half-closed eyes and having them "pop" without looking crazy or bug-eyed?
EZ: This is really up to the photographer. Some people are just blinkers, so you need to take several photographs in case you catch them in a blinking moment. To give your eyes a little "pop" without looking bug-eyed, try raising your eyebrows [a bit] and trying to think more intensely. Exert energy into that smile (or that frown, pout, etc.).
FGG: Let's talk group photos: Where's the best place for a big girl to stand if she wants to blend in?
EZ: In group photos, larger figures tend to blend better if they are mixed into the group, not on the end. If you are concerned about sticking out, don't stand dead center, but don't also stand on the end.
FGG: Any suggestions for girls who feels self-conscious of particular features, like wide hips, a belly or large upper arms?
EZ: When that camera is raised and you brace yourself into a pose, think about the features you DO like, not the ones you don't. Everyone has something they are self-conscious about (for me it's my upper arms). Pose how you are comfortable; if that means having to sit down, or twist yourself sideways a little, do it. A confident smile is key.
FGG: How much retouching or Photoshopping is included with professional pictures?
EZ: Retouching really varies depending on the professional and the purpose. I do retouching in weddings, but only for the bride and groom. I have nipped brides' chins and necks up a little, firmed arms and pinched waists. Having said that, I won't do anything that drastically changes the way the bride looks. I am always a little torn doing this, because I want you to look like you. At the same time, if it's only [a slight adjustment] and it's the difference between "Oh, I would love this photo but I HATE the way my arms look!" then the editing might be worth it.
FGG: You take a lot of candid shots -- what advice would you give to any girl about embracing being photographed this way, which sometimes feels "scary" because she can't control how she looks?
EZ: People are the most beautiful (in my opinion) when they are just being themselves. Don't worry about a silly expression or if a shot will be made with your mouth half open. In reality, the photographer is thinking about how the light is hitting you, what angle best creates a clean composition -- and then waiting for a particular moment to happen so that we can capture the essence of you. We aren't going to go with that photo where you look awkward. We just sometimes have to take photos like that until you loosen up enough to show us who you really are.
FGG: Final advice for our readers? Anything goes!
EZ: I know I said it already, but BE CONFIDENT. Your personality is what shows through on film, not some silly jaw clench that you think makes your cheekbones pop.
One of my best friends swears by the "extend your neck out, then tilt your chin down" trick to shave off a double chin. What's your secret weapon for looking fabulous in photos?