Why Do I Look Fat in Pictures and Not in the Mirror?
Wondering why you look fat in pictures but not in the mirror? There's science behind it! Find out the reasons here. PLUS, how to look thinner in photos.
Why do I look fat in pictures? If you find yourself asking this question, you’re not alone! We all wonder why we look bigger in photos than we do in the mirror.
The answer is that there’s no single reason. It might be something you’re doing (like posing incorrectly), or it might be the lighting or camera equipment used.
This isn’t an article about whether someone is fat or thin – it’s about how you can stop cameras from distorting the way you appear in a photo.
In fact, there are a lot of factors that contribute to how big you look in photos compared to the mirror or real life.
So, let’s dig into the science behind why photos can make you look fatter, plus a bunch of helpful tips on how to look more like yourself next time you’re in front of the camera.
Why Do I Look Fat in Pictures?
If you worry you sometimes look larger than you are in pictures, you’re in good company.
Almost everyone feels they appear larger in pictures than in real life, but thankfully, there’s a science behind it.
Factors such as camera lens width, angles, and focal length can easily make even the slimmest of people appear wider by distorting their features or expanding the width of their faces and bodies.
Take comfort in knowing that what’s captured in your camera image is so much more limited than what we actually see in person.
Additionally, what you wear and how you carry yourself when photographed can play a significant role in the final photographed result.
So let’s dive deeper into the factors you should consider to ensure a flattering finished product when taking pictures.
The width of your camera lens is one of the biggest factors in determining how you’ll look in photos. Since wide-angle lenses produce more distortion, you could end up looking bigger than you are.
Wide-angle lenses have a field of view that’s, as the name implies, quite wide, which can cause things that are close to the camera to appear larger than they actually are.
(Think about the message on your car’s passenger-side mirror informing you that objects in the mirror are closer than they appear due to the convex shape.)
That same concept applies to your wide-angle lens expanding the width of your face, which can make you look bigger in close-up shots.
Remember that most phone lenses are wide angle (as are action cameras), so taking a selfie with your phone may be the first reason for your face looking wider than it really is.
The focal length of a lens determines the angle of view. The narrower that length (i.e. the ‘longer’ the lens), the more tapered your angle of view.
For example, an 85mm lens is narrower and longer than a 35mm lens, which in turn leads to a more flattering portrait.
Depending on the focal length, there will undoubtedly be lens distortions in your images that can contribute to subjects looking thinner or larger while flattening your striking or distinctive facial features.
This can expand objects and make your face look wider — think back to an unflattering driver’s license photo with a close-up view and white background that flatters almost no one.
Posture and pose
The reasons you may look larger in pictures than you actually are in person include both photography-related factors and non-photography-related factors.
How and where you pose can have a tremendous impact on how you’re captured on film.
Take posture, for example, which can make you look taller and slimmer or shorter and stockier depending on how you stand.
If you’re hunched or slouching, you may wind up pushing your stomach out and losing features that are critical to maintaining a slender look, like your neck, so be mindful of standing up straight with your shoulders back like you were told to as a kid.
Just like in real life, your clothing choices in photos can flatter your frame or possibly make you look bigger than you actually are.
For this reason, you should avoid thick, heavy layers that hide your body and can actually make you look bulkier and instead choose fitted clothing that highlights your shape.
Finally, think about the pattern – horizontal stripes can have a ‘fattening’ effect on your body, making it appear wider than it really is. Conversely, a vertical stripe can make you look thinner and taller.
By wearing clothes that showcase your personal style and flatter your measurements, you’ll not only feel more confident but look more confident while snapping the perfect picture.
Why Does My Phone Camera Make Me Look Fat?
Phone cameras tend to have a wider lens, which, as we covered earlier, can contribute to making you appear wider in selfies. And while wide-angle lenses are ideal for capturing scenic settings around you, they’re not quite as flattering for the head-on shots you take of yourself.
The ultra-wide lens on the iPhone, for example, has a 13mm field of view, which would normally be reserved only for landscape photography or interiors, and even then, it would distort like crazy.
And this isn’t something that’s just in your head. Renowned plastic surgeons have even asserted that your facial features tend to look bigger in photos taken from your phone inside vs. outside in natural light, blaming the perspective distortion effect that causes features that protrude to appear larger than they are.
So as already noted, anything closer to it will naturally appear bigger, while objects farther away may look smaller. For this reason, using your rear-facing camera and holding your phone as far away as possible when taking a selfie can actually help you look slimmer than your front-facing one.
How Do I Look Thinner in Pictures?
Here we’ll discuss several tips you can leverage to look thinner when taking pictures, including photography tips, how you pose, your body posture, what you wear, and other external factors.
Keep your distance
The right distance can make or break a beautiful landscape or architectural shot, but it can also play a huge role in portrait pictures.
Experts recommend shooting from at least five feet away for a clear shot free from perspective distortion. You can experiment with moving a foot closer or farther away and observing how the distortion changes.
Most photographers will immediately notice substantial distortion by moving just one foot closer to the subject and shooting from four feet away.
Their noses will look wider, their eyes may appear closer together, and their foreheads will expand, causing the overall symmetry of a person’s face to change, which can produce a chubbier-looking face.
In the example photo above, the model’s forehead is exaggerated and looks wider than it would otherwise if the photographer had taken a few steps back and used a longer focal length lens.
Choose the right lens
While distance can help alleviate the faux width seen in photos, choosing the right lens is equally important, particularly for portrait pictures. As already mentioned, wide-angle lenses can certainly live up to their name and make your face appear wider.
For this reason, we recommend telephoto lenses and longer focal lengths, which can decrease the distance between things and compress them to look thinner.
When they say
“The camera adds 10 pounds”
they’re not kidding.
Here’s the effect with different camera lenses: pic.twitter.com/xmwbsflVKd
— Jim Zub (@JimZub) July 26, 2016
You can also play around by zooming in and out and tweaking other camera settings to see how your images respond and what the ideal level of zoom is.
Note that zooming in on a phone without a dedicated zoom lens (like the new iPhones, for example) isn’t the same since you’re ‘digitally’ zooming and not taking advantage of a dedicated optical zoom.
One option is to buy a lens for your smartphone – see our guide to iPhone camera accessories for some affordable recommendations.
Show your neck
As stated earlier, your posture in photos can either enhance your features or cause them to disappear entirely. Showing your neck is one of the easiest tips for an instantly slender look.
By standing straight with your shoulders back and your head held high, your neck will follow suit, elongating your frame for a taller, thinner appearance in pictures.
So be mindful of slouching and hunching, which can minimize your overall length and make you look stockier.
Pay attention to your arms
Like many of us, you’ve probably taken a rushed or unexpected photo with less-than-ideal arm placement that left you self-conscious and wondering why do my arms look fat in photos?
But don’t worry because it’s not your arms; it’s where you place them.
If you keep your arms down and pressed against each side of the body, they’re going to look larger than they would if you simply bend them to add a little distance between your arms and the device.
We recommend creating subtle shapes with your arms by holding them at waist length or simply putting your hand on your hips to counteract your camera’s tendency to enlarge things.
Pick the right fit
Again, as is the case in person, certain clothes can affect how your body looks. Chunky, heavy layers will, of course, give the appearance that you’re drowning in your clothes, while tastefully fitted clothes will flatter your best features and perhaps even minimize some of your least favorite ones.
Loose-fitting blouses and large prints and patterns can give the illusion of a shapeless silhouette that can make you look larger than you are, so we suggest smaller prints, monochrome looks, or even the classic slimming look of an all-black outfit.
Why do I look skinny in the mirror but fat in pictures?
Plain and simple physics can explain why you look great in the mirror and bigger in photos.
The width of the lens, as well as your distance from the camera, can make you look larger or smaller in photos than you do in person or in the mirror.
But rest assured that most times, this is truly an optical illusion based on the photography equipment you use and the clothes you wear. Professional photographers will generally take distance into account, achieving a narrower end result with a close-up shot.
Aside from being mindful of your gear and focal length, if you’re worried about looking larger in photos, you should again pay attention to what you wear.
Of course, baggy clothing will create the illusion of a fuller figure, but if you are going for comfort and don’t want to lose your shape, you can balance things out. If you choose a flowy top, wear fitted skirts or trousers and if you wear baggy pants, try a more contoured top.
Simple wardrobe and gear choices can be game-changers in determining how you’ll look in pictures. So, if you’ve ever asked yourself, “why do I look fat in pictures” now you know where to start!
Why Pictures Make You Look Fatter FAQs
Does the camera really add 10 pounds?
No — While the distance between you and the device and even the thickness of your lens can make you look wider than you actually are, this is due to lens distortions produced by wider lenses. This can be avoided by choosing the right angle and taking the optical properties of the device into account.
Why do I look fatter in photos than in the mirror?
This can generally be attributed to optical lens properties, but other factors include poor posture, hunching, which can diminish the length of your neck and torso, as well as baggy clothing.
Do phone cameras make you look fatter?
Phone cameras do have the ability to make you look larger because the front-facing ones are so close to your face and body and tend to have a wide lens. We recommend using the rear-facing camera to add some space between you and your camera to achieve the look you want.
Are mirrors or photos more accurate?
While you actually see a reversed self-image when you look in the mirror, many agree the reflection from a mirror is more accurate than a photo. Again, how you look in photos will depend on critical factors such as the distance between you and your camera, as well as lens thickness.
How can I see how others see my face?
A rear-facing camera will deliver the most realistic perspective others see when they look at you. Because front-facing phone cameras usually have a wider lens, they do tend to distort and expand the look of your features.
Ultimately, a lot of people believe they look bigger in pictures than they do in person. One glance at this experiment conducted by photographer Dan Vojtech will show the remarkable impact focal length can have on distorting and plumping up your face.
But don’t worry; there’s a nearly endless list of options to combat the dreaded extra width induced by cameras.
Industry experts can choose the appropriate distance and field of view to relieving any worries their clients may have, while selfie-takers can simply add more distance between themselves and the camera or try the rear-facing camera to maintain a slimmer appearance.
Check out these 8 essential tools to help you succeed as a professional photographer.
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