Whether your portrait subject is vertically challenged or your goal is to make someone appear larger than life, there are some simple techniques you can employ to help someone look taller in photographs. Here are three steps to help portrait subjects appear taller.
Start with a low camera angle
If you position your camera at eye-level or higher, you’re going to naturally make your subject appear slightly diminutive in the composition. This is inconsequential in many portrait situations, but when you’re shooting a full-length composition it can make the subjects look shorter than they naturally do. Lower the camera to waist level and you’ll emphasize the fact that you’re subtly looking up at your subject—a surefire way to give the appearance of importance, as well as height.
If you want your subject to look really tall—superhero stature, in fact—drop the camera even lower, to knee- or floor-level. This hero vantage point will accentuate the legs and minimize the hips, shoulders and head, but in so doing will give the subject a towering impression. It’s not always the most flattering place to start, but with some thoughtful posing—including leaning the subject in toward the camera to counteract some of that distortion—you can emphasize height without skewing the body shape too much.
Back up and use a long lens
Now that your camera is lower than usual, switch lenses to the longest one in your kit that will allow you to still fit in the area in which you’re working. The great portraitist Howard Schatz once told me that using the longest lens possible is standard operating procedure for making portrait subjects look their best. This is because the longer the lens, the smaller the features. (Conversely, a wide angle close to the subject exaggerates the features closest to the camera and creates an almost clownish appearance. See the image atop this page, which shows how you can achieve the look of height with a wide-angle lens for comedic effect.) With full-length compositions this distortion changes from noses and chins to legs and hips, since they are now closer to the camera. With a longer lens and the camera farther from the subject, distortion will be minimized and the subject will look less round and more vertical.
Pose for flattering hips and legs
One way to appear taller is to first appear thinner—as in physically occupying a thinner space on the sensor. Viewed straight on, I’m a fairly square shaped fellow (unfortunately) but turn me to the side at just the right angle and I turn into a bit of a rectangle, taller than I am wide. Eureka! This same principle works for most folks, no matter their shape. Make someone look thinner and they will, as a consequence, appear proportionally taller. So how do you help them look thinner? Choose a side light position, perhaps, to split them in two visually with light and shadow. Or better still, pose them such that they are not only turned at an angle at which they appear thinner, but also with legs converging in a v-shape that narrows toward the bottom of the frame. That narrowing at the bottom of the frame helps with drawing the eyes up toward the center of attention and further enhances that feeling of height. If you’re cropping your pictures later, crop at the narrowest point (near the knees) to help this effect. A pose with feet close together brings the legs naturally together in a thinning manner that, combined with the right light and body position, will help them look taller too.