This is a Part 1 of a two part article
Part 2 can be found here
This article is sourced from Benji’s Sonshine Studios. He is the author and copyright holder of the tutorial.
There are 35 rules (suggestions) that should be followed if one expects his or her portrait images to rise above the “that is a nice picture” to “WOW you did that?” status.
Now onto the Portrait Photography Tips
Why Are There Rules to Posing for Photographs?
People will simply not spend $100.00 for an 8 x 10 snapshot. They will however spend $100.00 for an 8 x 10 if it is a beautiful portrait, and if you follow the photography poses rules in this tutorial you should get beautiful portraits. Once you learn them you can then judiciously bend or break them a little to achieve that “perfect” image that you see in your mind.
This photography posing guide is for portrait images. Just as there is a difference between a pick up truck and a sports car, even though both are motor vehicles, both run on gasoline and both will get you to your destination in comfort, there is also a difference between portraiture and fashion images. In portraiture it is all about the face. In fact the word “portrait” literally means “A pictorial likeness or photograph of a face.” In fashion photography it is all about the clothing. While some rules will cross over some don’t.
Rule # 1. No Sleeveless Clothing in The Head and Shoulders Portrait.
I took the image on the left, cloned her blouse several times in order to cover her right upper arm. Note the difference as to where your eye is drawn when you view the image. In a portrait the first thing you should see is the face.
Rule # 2. “No shorts in group portraiture.”
This happened to me twice this year (for the first time in years!) Even though we specifically state in our clothing consultation NO SHORTS we still get people who show up in shorts. When this family called, they said they wanted to be photographed in blue jeans and asked if that is OK. I said yes and told mom to make sure the shirts/blouses are all the same color. I of course was expecting long blue jeans NOT shorts. The image below is one of the poses. Note how dad’s and his youngest daughter’s bare legs really attract attention. That is because our eyes are attracted to bare skin, and that is why the ONLY bare skin that should show in PORTRAITURE is the face. Remember, the FACE is what portraiture is all about.
3. Avoid Bright Colors and Bold Patterns in Clothing.
The idea of a portrait is to see the face of the subject. Brightly colored clothing and bold patterns draw the eye away from the subject’s face. (This is especially true in the head and shoulders portrait.)
4. Avoid Poses that Show Football Shoulders
The body should not be turned straight to the camera.
5. Solid Pyramidal Base
The body should not be turned 90 degrees away from the camera. 45 degrees is usually the ideal angle for the head and shoulders portrait. Posing someone at a 90 degree angle to the camera does not allow the head to appear to have proper support. After posing the subject at a 45 degree angle, bring the arms out to form the sides of the pyramid.
The above tips are true whether you are shooting a head and shoulders image or a full length family portrait. My examples will be of the head and shoulders image. I borrowed these images from my video “Photographing The High School Senior Girl in the New Millenium.” Also note I broke the “no sleeveless clothing” rule. Remember, the main thing in portraiture photography is to keep the main thing (the face of the subject) the main thing.
Lastly, Sit Tall – (Rule 7)
Do not allow your subject to slump over or get round shouldered. Note how May has slumped over in both of these images making her look short and dumpy.
Rule # 6, Correct Stool Height
I have found that a 24 inch tall stepladder works wonderfully as a posing stool for nearly all of my traditional head shots, provided my subject is not very overweight. For the overweight subject use a taller stool to allow their paunch to drop. I added a wider top rung (the seat) to the wooden ladder because most people’s buns are wider than 4 inches!
In the image I posted below, you can see my modified stepladder. It also shows how raising the leg closest to the camera will tilt the torso (and the shoulders) slightly away from the camera, which happens to be Rule 9. This rule applies to females only.
9. (Females) Lean Slightly Away From The Camera
I also place a small wooden wedge under the buttock closest to the camera. This will keep the shoulder that is closest to the camera higher than the other one, but will still allow the subject to relax. I added “sides” to my widened top rung with slots on both sides for the wedge to fit into.
Rule 8. Lean Forward Slightly-“Over the belt buckle.”
This eliminates the static straight up and down look and will give a feeling of movement and motion to the portrait.
Rule 10. Project The Chin
Especially if your subject has a full or double chin. By projecting the chin out toward the camera and using a slightly higher camera position the double chin can be nearly eliminated. Photoshop can finish the rest!
11. Proper Head Tilt- Never tip a man’s head to the high (feminine) shoulder as he will look feminine.
Womens’ heads can be tipped toward either shoulder, but the feminine shoulder is more appealing.
Now the female in the masculine and feminine head tilts.
I have noticed that female photographers are not as “wary” about photographing men in the feminine head tilt. Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask the male prior to making the capture if they mind if they look feminine in the image. If they say go ahead, do it.
Rule # 12. Proper Eye Direction
Generally speaking, in males the eyes should follow the direction of the nose. For females there should be slightly more whites of the eyes on one side than on the other.
Rule 12a. The eyes should never be turned so far in their sockets that there is no white area on one side. A slightly higher camera angle will give more whites at the bottom than at the top which is more appealing in images of young females. In the image below the subject is staring up into space. Some wise sage once said; “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” This is not to say that every image must have the subject looking directly at the lens, but it seems most people like images that the subject is looking at the camera (them) and sales data will bear this out to be true.
Rule 13. Proper Camera Height
Generally speaking, the camera lens should be at about eye level for head and shoulders portraits, chin level to chest level for ¾ length and chest level to waist level for full length portraits. An even lower camera height for heavy set brides, that are posed standing, will make her appear taller and more “regal.”
This tip is perhaps the one I break most often. Just as I will not tilt the head of a 60 year old female as much as I will of a 16 year old female, I also don’t usually stand on a step ladder or stool to photograph a 60 year old woman, but I do for a girls high school senior portrait. A higher camera position in head and shoulders portraits of high school seniors will give their eyes a more “glamourous” look. If the 60 year old woman wants to look glamourous, I will of course use a high camera position (or if she has a double chin) it all depends of the final use of the image.
In the image below, I broke posing for photographs tips rule 13. I was on a step ladder about nine feet above the subject in the second image and at ground level for the first image. Note how much thinner she appears in the second image. This seems to work best for subjects seated on the floor.
Rule 14. Use The 1-2-2 or The 1-3-2 Pose Technique.
Males look best with the 1-2-2. Females look best with the 1-3-2 technique. For a complete run down and additional information on this technique see my posting in this tutorial sub-forum entitled The 1-2-3 Posing Technique. The images below shows both.
Rule 15. Avoid Flat Lighting.
Portraits usually look best with one side brighter than the other side. When the shadow side of the face is closest to the lens it is called short lighting. Short lighting will make the face appear narrower and more slender. If the shadow is on the side opposite of the lens it is called broad lighting. Broad lighting will make the face appear wider and heavier. Flat lighting is where there are no shadows on the face at all. On camera flash will give you flat lighting. In the image below, the flat lit image was lit with my home made ring light, the other with a 24 x 32 inch softbox with louvers at camera right.
Rule 16. Watch the Nose and Cheek Line
The face should not be turned so far away from the camera that the nose will break or nearly break the far cheek line. This will make the nose look large. 16 a. The far eye should either been seen completely or not be seen at all, but one should never photograph the face so that only 1/2 of the far eye shows. Note that this pose will also cause the subject’s eyes to have too much white on one side of the eye as opposed to the other side of the eye (a violation of rule 12.)
Rule 17. Avoid Clutter – Simplicity is usually best!
Too many props in an image or a busy, sharply focused or brightly lit background will create confusion for the eye. The eye should immediately be drawn and rest upon the subject. Using a telephoto lens with a large aperture will give you short depth of field which will blur the background.
More Photography Posing Guide, Tips and Tutorials
Did you enjoy Part 1 of 35 Portrait Photography Tips?
Now Read Part 2
For more in-depth reading, we recommend you pick up these two great photography posing guide (available from Amazon.com). They belong on every portrait photographer’s bookshelf. Doug Box’s Guide to Posing for Photographs Portrait Photographers and Posing for Portrait Photography: A Head-to-Toe Guide.