Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A Short Wedding Photographer Question

"Is it true you should never use a photographer who is shorter than you?" This is a question I was asked on Saturday at Debenhams Wedding Weekend. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question either. The maxim "never use a photographer who is shorter than you" has been around for such a long time that many folk wonder is it really true or just an old wives tale?

Well for wedding photography I would say the simple and safest answer is, Yes, the saying is true! Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll give you a basic exercise where you can prove this for yourself.

There are many aspects that affect and influence how people will look in a photograph. Lighting, angles, location, posing to mention just a few. The age old saying we are considering revolves around one of these fundamentals - angles. The angle you are photographed at has considerable influence on how you will look. As photographers we are always looking for angles that will flatter a person and make them look good and whilst there are some angles that do this there are also angles that do the opposite, and so of course we try to avoid these! One of the most common of these unflattering angles is a low angle.

It is probably easier for me to give you a simple exercise to do yourself to illustrate and prove this rather than try to explain it in words. Stand yourself in front of a wall mirror that is at the same height as your head. Now if you look straight ahead at yourself you are seeing yourself as a camera would see you if held by a photographer who is the same height as you. Now...tilt your head down very slightly as if your photographer is a touch shorter than what you are. What is the very first thing you notice about yourself? You have instantly given yourself a double chin! It doesn’t matter how many different ways you do this it is unavoidable. If you don’t have a double chin you’ve now given yourself one, if you have a slight double chin you’ve now made it a large one. This is how you will look if your photographer is shorter than you, your face will be fattened up. It is a basic, unavoidable truism. You can even try experimenting with different heights of photographer. Lets say your photographer is only two inches shorter than you. Imagine him standing in front of you and asking you to look into camera. What do you see when you do so? It is quite amazing, and frightening, just how pronounced your double chin has become. Try imagining a photographer 4 or more inches shorter than you. Very scary isn’t it? This is because low angles are not only unflattering but exaggerate and distort making you appear fatter than what you really are. Some times you may see people being photographed who have obviously heard the above axiom and so they will deliberately try looking over the photographers head to avoid the double chin look. However, this looks very unnatural as it gives the head a very weird look and also creates the affect that they are looking down their nose. So, please do not do this.

Now whilst we are still in front of the mirror lets cheer ourselves up, lol. First of all go back to looking straight ahead, nice and level. We’ll now do the opposite and imagine our photographer is a little bit taller than we are. What happens now when he asks you to look into camera? Because you are now having to tilt your head slightly up towards him this actually does the opposite and stretches and smooths out your neck and facial muscles which slim your face down and gives a very flattering appearance.

To illustrate this I’ve first of all posted a photograph of myself. Because I do a bit of freelance work in the media I often need to refresh my head shots so I use my wife, Diane, to update them periodically. As I am taller than she is I will always sit for the photographs. This means she is photographing me from a slightly elevated angle. I never stand up even though I feel more comfortable standing than when sitting. It’s not that I’m excessively vain but being aware of the short photographer syndrome why would I choose to be photographed at an unflattering angle?

In the next two photographs you can see this illustrated on a wedding day. The first wedding photo (kindly photographed by one of family) shows me doing a quick pre-ceremony photograph with the groom, Gary. Although Gary isn’t a particularly short groom as you can see he is still a few inches below my six feet two. The following photo shows the image I shot. Remember that this is about 15 minutes before his wedding ceremony so not only is Gary naturally nervous but like most people he isn’t a great fan of having his photograph taken. However, having been shot from an ideal height he looks natural, relaxed, handsome and stylish. Similarly, the next again shot is from later in the day Gary now with his new wife.

It has to be pointed out that avoiding the short photographer proverb isn’t as critical if you are going for a studio session. Here the photographer is in his own environment and can have you seated, kneeling, on the floor or wherever he wants. But when it comes to weddings it really does make a difference (that is why if a wedding photographer offers you an Engagement Shoot don’t go for a studio session but ask for a location shoot, perhaps even at your wedding venue). I know some wedding photographers in Edinburgh and around the country carry a short step ladder with them but personally in my experience of a wedding day there would only be limited opportunity to use this and it would also slow things down too much for my liking.

So I hope I’ve managed to answer and explain that adequately. I do understand that selecting a photographer is a personal thing and the above explanation of the old maxim may not worry you, on the other hand if you are looking for an Edinburgh wedding photographer it might help you in choosing one. I had several other good questions posed over the weekend so I plan on answering some more of them in future weeks as it may be of help and interest to anyone else who has thought about the same thing. Feel free to bring some questions with you to the Edinburgh Corn Exchange and Fashion Show this weekend, too. I’ll be happy to see you!


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