That Face!

Last week I wrapped things up with three tips for posing your subjects better, and boy did that launch a flurry of questions…so many that I think the next podcast will be dedicated to tips on posing your subjects.  There’s so much to take into account, it really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

However, until then a few nuggets here and there will have to do.  (I am trying to coordinate with friend-of-the-blog Kevin Mullins to have a go at a podcast and this would be a great subject for him as he’s an accomplished wedding, event, and photographer from across the pond.  Kevin, I promise we’ll find a date here soon!)

So, the nuggets for this week are facial features – because at the heart of the portrait photographer is bringing out the beauty in your subjects’ face!  Here’s a great set of tips for bringing out the best in your subjects!  When shooting subjects it helps to keep in mind the three basic facial positions:  full front, 3/4 pose, and profile positions:

Three-Fourths view

Three Fourths View


Profile View


For subjects with round or wide faces, it helps to raise the camera angle slightly so as to look down to them just a little bit.  This elongates things a little more and minimizes the width perception.  It also helps to approach them with a pose that has a 3/4 look rather than a full frontal look.

For subjects with a thin face, just the opposite holds true – have their full face looking toward you with the camera and try to keep the camera at eye level with your subject.  Going up or down below their eye level will only serve to elongate a thin face even more.

For subjects with a large nose, it can often help to have them also face the camera directly.  By doing this, their nose will point straight into the camera to help minimize its size, and lets viewers see the rest of their pretty face!

For subjects with a smaller nose, it’s time to shift back to the 3/4 look…this will bring more depth to their face and “enhance” things a little…

Other tips I’ve picked up that are not specifically related to facial positioning include things like:

  • People Deep-Set Eyes – Point light into their eyes. Light coming too far from the sides will accentuate the depth.
  • Glasses – Bounce the light off the ceiling where possible. If not, position the subject so that glasses are pointed away from the lights.
  • Dark Hair – Make sure that the background provides enough contrast so hair doesn’t just blend into it. Hair lights or a light on the backdrop are extremely helpful. Also make sure the background doesn’t show through hair.
  • Double Chin – A slightly higher camera angle will be more flattering than straight on. It also helps to have the subject leaning forward.
  • Large ears – Use a ¾ face pose or a profile.

There you have it!  Great ways to capture portraiture, specifically when working with facial angles.  Special thanks go out to my good friend Evan Ashenhurst for sharing some of his portfolio for this article.  You can see more of his work on his website at:  Ashenhurst Photography

A final footnote – since I will undoubtedly get a few questions about which lenses are best to shoot portraiture with, my favorite is the nifty fifty actually.  Amazingly sharp and the 1.8 depth of field is to be envied among all glass.  If you’re in the market for a portrait lens, you’ll definitely want to check this bad boy out.  Here’s the Canon-mount, a steal for less than $150 retail!

Canon Mount 50mm 1.4

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2 comments for “That Face!

  1. April 12, 2011 at 4:37 am

    Hi there,

    Just a quick comment about the nifty fifty….
    I use it for my portraits too, but I’ve found it to be quite “soft” at f1.8, but reasonably sharp at f2.8. I would like to know if you have found this to be the same, or maybe it is just my nifty fifty that does this. I’ve often tried it on f1.8, but had the same results with it each time. I shoot portraits with my Canon 40D.

    Thanks for the great info,


    Rory Mole

  2. April 12, 2011 at 5:45 am

    Any lens will be less than stellar at the perimeter of its focusing range. It’s for that reason that I enjoy the f1.8 because when I stop it down to 2.8 it’s just super sweet. If you need super shallow dof then it’s nice to have the 1.8 available, but the sweet spot does start a bit further down in my experience.

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