I shoot a lot of portraits. The number one request I get from subjects as they’re preparing for their session is to make them look better than they do in real life. And the number one way they want to look better is to remove any evidence of a double chin. For those lucky among you who don’t have firsthand knowledge of double chins, it’s the bit of extra flab that appears below the chin. If you’ve got one, you most likely don’t want to confront it in your portrait. Here are the tricks I use to minimize double chins in camera and in the computer.
Lots of folks with prominent double chins think if they look up they’ll hide their chin. That’s true, but it also makes it so that the camera is shooting up their nose. Instead of such a dramatic chin up move, have the subject bend at their waist and lean in toward the camera. It accomplishes much the same thing, elongating the neck and minimizing the double chin.
Particularly large subjects look even larger when seated. To minimize double chins and jowls, consider standing the subject instead. This helps to elongate the frame, and minimizes the compression that occurs when seated.
Press the tongue
This one’s a little bit tricky to explain. Ask the subject to press their tongue firmly against the roof of their mouth, because it will subtly tighten the muscles of the jaw—including those below the chin. It frequently has the actual, visible effect of shrinking a double chin.
Move the lights
If you’re lighting the portrait in the studio, consider a lighting profile that will create a shadow below the subject’s jawline. The classic lighting pattern known as butterfly lighting (the shadow beneath the nose is butterfly shaped) will accentuate cheekbones and put the chin in shadow. This position places the light directly in front of and above the subject. To gauge the right position, keep an eye on the shadow beneath the nose. If it blends too much with the mouth, the light is too high. Not enough shadow means the light is too low. You can also watch the jawline shadow, as that’s the goal in this instance. With a butterfly lighting pattern, the jawline produces a shadow that puts second chins in darkness. There’s a list of reasons the look is popular with glamour photographers, and this is among them.
Liquify the chin in post
Using Photoshop’s liquify filter, you can choose the shrink tool to minimize a chubby chin by clicking with a brush approximately the size of the double chin itself. I also like to use the Forward Warp tool (represented by a little pointer finger) to gently reshape the chin and shrink the flab. Be careful, though, as these pushed pixels can begin to look distorted if you push them too far. When I use the Liquify filter, I make sure that any adjustment is minimal. But the good news is, it all adds up and every little bit helps.
Change the shadows
This is my favorite post-production fix for masking double chins. The big difference between a chubby chin and a thinner one is the positioning of the shadow. Typically, what highlights a double chin is that it doesn’t fall to shadow as quickly as a thinner chin would, or because a shadow doesn’t transition where it would on a thinner face.
So if you can add that kind of shadow to the chin and neck, you can make it look instantly thinner. To do this, I use a combination of the clone stamp tool and the paintbrush. With the clone stamp tool set to an overall 30-50% opacity, I click and stamp from dark areas under the chin to bring down lighter areas. I’ll then switch to the paint brush, also set to a low 25% opacity and flow, and with a large, soft brush in place I’ll option-click to select a shadow tone and click to paint it bit by bit to bring down the under-chin highlights. If you can create the shadow positioning that indicates a thinner chin, you’ll largely mask the double chin. It’s surprisingly simple. Combine it with any or all of the other tips listed above and your subject is likely to report that you’ve made their favorite portrait of all time—all because you paid attention to hiding their double chin.