How to photograph large people: a tasteful approach

If you are a portrait photographer, or if you take portraits during your spare time, you must have come across this issue at least once - photographing large people is a hard thing to do, especially if you want to obtain some great shots, and make the model feel comfortable.

Our society is built in such a manner that it makes it difficult people that are not within the Hollywood model to feel comfortable with their weight - and it is not at all surprising if you think about it. However, your assignment is not to pass on judgment or lessons in regards to this, but to actually help them take a beautiful shot - because no doubt about it, large people does not mean ugly people.

One important rule of the thumb is to always remember that making your model feel comfortable is key - otherwise, you will end up handling a bunch of poses that seem incredibly unnatural, precisely because your model is uncomfortable. You can discuss with your clients / subjects - they already know they are large, and they rely on you to hide that, not enhance it.

This means that when you bring up the subject in a tasteful manner they will always be ready to tell you what they think would be wrong about certain images. Moreover, it would be wise not to go around their wishes since if they dislike the results they will lose all confidence in your photography skills and the uncomfortable feeling will rise.

Another important thing to avoid is focusing on making them smaller - you see, whenever discussing with your model, avoid constantly saying things like "this shot might make you look smaller". This means that whereas the image looks good, the model will know that it's all about the perspective the photographer used, and it doesn't really look like that in real life. You can do that quietly, if you feel you are up to the task but again, do not overcompensate since it will create the opposite effect on your model.

Instead, learn to focus on their attractive parts - some people have a beautiful look, others might be great between the things that they like (for example while they read, or they work). Discuss these facts with your model, and make sure you go through all the details before the session. Afterwards, you can start focusing on a couple of things such as:

  1. Use telephoto lenses rather than wide lenses. Wide lenses have the tendency to create distortions, and that does not compliment your model's general outlook. You can also further check in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom if you can correct any possible distortions that might have come up at a more thorough inspection.
  2. Do not shoot from low angles - you might have seen this on TV but that is done with incredibly thin people precisely to add them some weight, and width, in other words, to create a more "complete" photograph.
  3. Take your shots from a higher ground or shots of them looking up - however both these framings are used and overused in general therefore it might be a creativity limit.
  4. Avoid full-body shots since these are usually a genuine reminder that some things could have been thinner, and these are never nice reminders.