Slimming faces starts at the camera by lighting the thin side of the subject while letting the thicker side slip into shadow. For jowls, a high camera angle with the subject’s chin up works wonders. After using these techniques, slimming, when absolutely necessary, happens at the computer.

Faces aren’t the same on both sides

We photographers want the 2-dimensional photograph of our subject to represent them as they are seen in real life. Few of us notice that the face of almost everyone has a thin and thick side of their face when we are talking with them. We concentrated on their eyes, lips, expressions and gestures.

I find the thin side of my subject’s face before I place the lights. I ask the person to look directly at me for a moment so I can see which side is which. It takes some practice. Which side in the photo below is the thin side and which side is thick?

Which side is thin?

It’s not easy to tell at first just by looking. I taught myself to recognize thin from thick with Photoshop. I used the Rectangular Marquee tool and selected the left side of the portrait above. I duplicated the selection to a new layer then used the Free Transform to flip it horizontally. I did the same for the right side of it as well. The two photos — one with two lefts sides and one with two right sides make it easy to see which side of his face is thin.

This is a great way to easily see the difference. The right side of this gentleman’s face is his slim side. The style guide for this company’s associate portraits calls for lighting from above that evenly lights both sides. If I were making a dramatic portrait of him, the light would have been positioned to his right.

I learned the technique when I was shooting film. I’d shoot a Polaroid test then hold a mirror to each side of the face. That told me the difference. Do this exercise two or three times and you’ll become an expert at thin face detection.


The “why” of face slimming

A standard lighting style for a company like the one above is a perfect example of when and why to slim a face. The gentleman’s company portrait is below with the original on the left. I slimmed the side of his neck on his right. It really doesn’t take much. I used Liquify in Photoshop for this one.

Slimming makes a difference

Photographs are a moment that’s frozen forever and there is no limit to how long someone can look at it. That is the main reason for slimming faces. No one sees the extra jowls or necks that overflow a tight color in person. That weight is only noticed in a still photo. Once a client picks their favorite, I handle the post-production and almost always slim them just a little. Consider this before and after …

Slimming tools

Photoshop, Perfectly Clear and Luminar 4 all have slimming tools. Since I started with Photoshop, it’s my go-to for most of my retouching workflow. Perfectly Clear has some good skin smoothing and shaping tools but more and more, after I do Photoshop work, I finish in Luminar 4. When I have a client that is very concerned about their size, I process all of the proofs through Luminar 4 where it’s artificial intelligence for faces slims each one even when the subject turns his or her head.

Slimming faces the AI way

Artificial Intelligence is everywhere helping us in many ways. One of my favorites is the AI Portrait Enhancer in Luminar 4. I love that when I slim one face in a take, the AI engine analyzes each face and slims them just the right way for each pose. It uses my settings and applies them to the rest of the set. It does not change the size of her hand or her shoulder.

The AI knows where her face is in the frame and only works on it. This is a huge time saver. Here are some before and afters of a model. Notice that having her hand up to her face does not affect the slimming in the set where she is looking at the camera passed her shoulder.

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