As photographers we are privy to certain experience and understanding that the average person is not. Our working relationship with the nuances of camera and lens physics and how that plays into subject representation is, actually, uncommon. And when it comes to shooting people, we certainly have a better foundation on which to stand to make them look their best, especially portrait, fashion, and beauty photographers, and one of the things we have to contend with is this persistent notion that the camera adds 10 pounds. inexact

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The idea that the camera adds 10 pounds is a pervasive and persistent one throughout the mainstream and even in the modeling world, but how true is it? Well, to add a little more fuel to the fire, more fodder for discussion, the Sci Show made a short 2 minute video in an attempt to explain it.

Now, of course, this was meant for a broad audience, so photographers acquainted with the ‘phenomena’ needn’t be cynical even though they address something all of us already understand, and that’s the effect focal length has on the appearance of a subject, or more specifically, the relative appearance between parts of a subject.

We understand wider lenses will distort depending on orientation and distance in a way that’s typically less flattering (though if you’ve shot enough you know when you pull that wider focal length out to elongate a face or figure), and that longer focal lengths (up to a point) ‘compress’ features in a generally more appealing way.

But other than that the video suggests that a large contributor to the theory is that when we see with our eyes we are using stereoscopic vision, where as with a camera it’s monoscopic, and that stereoscopic renders depth better, given a better sense of relative depth perception, and a better more ‘all-round’ view compared to the flatter look of a monoscopic lens which can create the perception of larger features. Does that mean it’s 10lbs worth? That’s probably a matter of opinion and seems arbitrary, but there does seem to be some bit of truth to it.

So What Can You Do?

Well, it comes down to knowing your subject really and having a particular vision, and experience. There really is no substitute for experience here because I could tell you that 105mm is pretty ideal for headshots as that’s my experience from the typical distance I like to shoot, but you’ve got to know when to identify that as a crock for the situation.

There’s no blanket answer, and there are many things you can do to look slimmer in a photo, from lighting, clothing, make-up, and posing is a huge one. We ran a story a bit ago with a series of videos and tips on ‘How To Pose So You Don’t Look Fat In Photos‘ that’s worth taking a look. Also, if you’re a wedding photographer our latest premium content on Photographing The Couple covers a lot of this ground in detail to help you make your clients look their very best, every time. Check it out.