Using Facial View and Camera Angle to take Flattering Portraits - Digital Photography School
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Using Facial View and Camera Angle to take Flattering Portraits

facial-view-camera-angle-portraits.jpg

In two previous articles we’ve looked at 6 Portrait Lighting Patterns Every Photographer Should Know, as well as Lighting Ratios to Make or Break Your Portrait. In this third and final part of the series, we are going to examine facial views and camera angle and how to select and use both to your advantage and to flatter your subjects. Let’s start by defining these terms.

Definitions or descriptions

Simply put, facial view is what portion or angle of the face that is showing towards the camera. How is the subject’s face turned or angled relative to the lens, and your position at camera.

Your camera angle is where you place your camera, in relation to the subject in so far as the height, distance, and angle to the subject’s face.

Sounds pretty straight forward right? It is, however, small differences in either of the above can produce undesirable results. We’ll dig a big deeper into that in a bit, stay with me!

Facial Views

First let’s look at the 4 mains Facial Views used in portraiture. They are:

Full face is where your subject’s nose is pointing directly towards the lens. You see equal amounts of both sides of their face.

Full face view

3/4 view is where your subject turns their face just slightly in one direction until you cannot see the far ear any more.

3quarter face view

2/3 view is there the subject has continued to turn their head until the line of the nose is almost touching the outline of their cheek on the far side. Be careful not to turn them past that point so the nose breaks the line of the cheek. It’s not a rule, but it is not nearly as flattering that way.

*Note:  notice her earrings in the image above, and how it is not showing below her jawline in the one below.  When she turned her face just a little more, the earring looked like it was coming out of her face so I had her remove it for this image.  Watch for things like this as the facial angle changes.

2thirds face view

Profile is where the subject’s face is turned almost exactly 90 degrees from front, basically their nose is pointing sideways. You should only be able to see one side of their face and not the eye on the far side, in a true profile.

*Note:  once again watch for things like earrings and hair hanging down under the chin, which can look a bit odd. I usually brush hair back and have them remove an earring if it doesn’t look right and looks like it’s dangling under the chin or neck.

Profile view

Camera Angle

Where you place your camera makes a huge difference in how your subject appears in the final image. Keep in mind these are not hard and fast rules. Use them as guidelines and starting points, then use your judgment as each person is unique. Portray that how they wish to be portrayed. When you learn these tips and see how they work in practice it becomes easier and easier to know how to approach each portrait.

  • A high camera angle (above their eye level) will emphasize the face more than the body. This is good for a heavier set person, to help them appear slimmer if that’s desired (HINT: most women will NOT get upset if you make them look slimmer!!)
  • A low camera angle (below their eye or even chin level) can make a person look taller, or seem as if they are more powerful. But, this is not very flattering for most people. You end up looking up their nostrils, and the body appears larger than the head and face, which is generally not desired by most people.
  • For group portraits of multiple people, camera position is generally about eye level, or slightly lower. This cuts down on distortion of the body parts, making them look oddly proportioned.
  • For a portrait of one or two people, having the camera at eye level or slightly higher is the most flattering, for most people.

Lenses

As well as camera height or angle, which lens you select will also change the look of your portrait drastically.  Think about what we know about different lenses . . .

  • wide angle lenses:  emphasize perspective, distorts things, makes them seem more three dimensional
  • telephoto or long lenses:  compress things, isolate subjects, make them look less 3D

That’s all I’m going to tell you about this, I want to find out what I’m talking about by trying it out.  Look at my examples below, then find yourself a person to photograph and use different lenses and see how it changes the image.

Lens views 4up

Tell me what you notice about the examples here.  What do you notice changing in each?

Lens views close 4up 600x637

How long does it take to master this stuff?

One of the most comment questions I get asked by my students is “how long did it take you to learn all this stuff?” – the answer is two fold: 4 weeks, and 25 years! I say that with tongue in cheek but it’s true. I “learned” all the concepts and guidelines relatively quickly because I was in a two year photography program so I was completely immersed in it. It’s like learning a new language, if you move to that new country and you have to speak it all the time, you will learn a lot faster than only speaking it once a month. The same is true of photography. So the best advice I can give you on how to learn faster, is to get out and photograph more often.

The second part of my answer, the 25 years bit, means that I’m still learning. I’ve learned things from my students and other photographers and do so continually. Don’t ever expect to suddenly “get” it and you can then stop learning. It’s a process, and it’s ongoing. As soon as you think you’ve learned it all, or you know it all then it’s time to quit because you’ve probably lost the passion. At least that’s my opinion.

Call to action – practice at home ongoing

This is not an assignment but rather a suggestion to just start noticing the facial view and how to adjust your subject. If you sit a person by a light source such as a window, you can see that just by them turning their head towards the light, it will also change the lighting pattern that falls on their face. See how this information can then be used to your advantage once you know the basics.

Different facial views will be flattering for different people. Experiment and see what works best for each person you photograph. Have the person sit and just turn their face and see how the shape of their face changes and how the light falls on them differently.

While you’ve got your subject for the last exercise see if you can slip this in too. Take 5 images of your subject from different camera levels. Don’t change your lens focal length, or distance to them – just camera height:

  • one at slightly below their chin
  • one at slightly below their eye level
  • one at eye level
  • one at slightly above eye level
  • one at quite a bit above eye level

Which is the most flattering angle for that person?  From which angle would you most want to be photographed?  Why?

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Darlene Hildebrandt is the Managing Editor of dPS. She is also a photographer and educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their photography skills through photography classes, and photography travel tours (join her in Nicaragua in November). Darlene has a FREE ebook (grab a copy here), and an online course 4 Weeks to Better Photography, use the code "dps10off" to get $10 off.

  • raghavendra

    wow, Too many views for a portrait , a good experience photographer have given this ideas :)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/03/kids-feeding-goat.html

  • http://www.clickudos.com/ rohit kothari

    Hi Darlene,

    its really a nice and descriptive post on how to use camera will doing portrait , even this thing i have notice in few photographer that some time their portrait look so beautiful and some time its just become more than worst even if they have good model, what i like in this post is camera angle points is too informative now i can practice more on this.

  • http://energizeyourphotography.blogspot.com EnergizedAV

    I have used all of these positions for seniors getting their head shots for the school year book. You just don’t know which one they will choose. I give them a good seven or so images to choose from including right side and left side. We are all so unique, and have a “look” that works for us.
    Good post, thank you.

  • Ljubo

    this is my favourite camera angle for portraits http://www.flickr.com/photos/keselj/7759245988/in/photostream/

  • http://portraitinspiration.com/ Jai Catalano

    Rosanne said it took her 10 years to be an overnight success. Very inspirational that you still learn (from your students as well) after 25 years.

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    Thanks for the comments! Yes Jai, I get tips from all over the place and sometimes even from students. Could be a tutorial they saw or a way of doing things. I think if we keep an open mind and don’t automatically assume that because we have more experience there’s nothing to learn from the other person. I think sometimes pros that have been doing this for so long get stuck in a rut and their style becomes stagnant. I like looking at other people’s work and if I can’t readily see how they did it I’ll either try and figure it out myself or just ask them.

    For those of you new to photography – please don’t be afraid to approach ANY photographer and ask them a question. Most will be willing to answer you as they were where you were once and someone answered their questions.

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    @ljubo – very nice portrait of the girl! Well done

  • Scottc

    Interesting stuff, portrait photography is certainly my weakest point and this article makes some great points that can be practiced.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Mathew

    Darlene, Thanks for these usefull tips. Would you recommend manual focus or auto focus for portraits (one or two people and for small group)?

  • Geoffrey_K

    I really enjoy these articles. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.nwannecasey.co.uk Nwanne

    Darlene this is brilliant. Thank you for taking time to post!x

  • ccting

    Ya, i used to do facial analysis for my clients 2 months before the shots

    1. I disable on the lighting you use for facial analysis as it tricks the eyes..
    2. I usually do more in-depth facial analysis that involves some medical terms.
    3. I believe the camera angles for facial analysis is not sufficient in the post
    4. Not only you need to determine camera angle & lens, but the lighting strategy.

    I am just a noob.

  • ccting

    The history of facial analysis that I believe:
    1) Leonardo da Vinci has stated the proportion of body & head in 1490..

    I take photos of the belows & analyse for 2 weeks:
    a) forehead
    b) eyes
    c) Front face elements
    d) Frankfort horizontal Plane
    e) Facial heights, horizontally and vertically, above, lower,
    f) units on face
    g) skin tension lines test (important for emotion)
    h) Nasofrontal angle
    i) eyebrow position (important for makeup advice)
    j) eyebrow to ansal line (makeup advice)
    k) Chin (fat?)
    l) neck (fat? thin? long? short?)
    m) ears (huge?)
    n) Nasofacial angle
    o) Nasomental angle
    p) Simon’s nasol
    q) Basal base
    r) Lip ratio
    s) etc many more..

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    @Scottc – keep practicing, it comes!

    @matthew – I use autofocus. The new focus screens aren’t as easy to do manual as the old film cameras that had a split screen. I can’t focus manually very well, that or I’m just getting old LOL. Just set your camera to use ONE focus point and aim it directly at the eyes of your subject. The nearer eye is the face is turned.

    @goeffrey_k and @Nwanna – you’re welcome, glad you find it useful.

    @ccting – that’s very in depth but I’m not sure most people will go to such lengths. For me, in portraiture, it’s simply about making the person being photographed comfortable, and making them look good so they are pleased. Could you do more analysis – sure. Is it necessary in most cases – probably not. I’ve never had a client return a portrait complaining that I didn’t get their nasomental image right (whatever that means). Most people just want to be flattered, look a little thinner and a little younger. If you can do that you’ll please them.

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    Leonardo also took months to paint his subjects, so he had the luxury of doing such analyses. In photography you usually don’t get that much time, especially before your subject gets impatient.

  • Mathew

    Darlene

    Thanks for your answer to my query.

    I liked this statement of yours ” Most people just want to be flattered, look a little thinner and a little younger. If you can do that you’ll please them.”

    Its so true :))

  • Mathew

    I normally click portraits indoors by bouncing the flash off the ceiling.

    1. How do I avoid the glare on the specs of people.
    2. Some people wear thick glasses and when I try 3/4 or 2/3 view to avoid the glare, the part of their face near the eyes look misaligned due to the retraction.of the glasses.

    – Mathew

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    @matthew – I’ve been doing this a long time, I’m pretty sure I know what most average people want ;-) I actually prefer average looking, slightly overweight clients – to those that look like Barbie and Ken because Barbie’s usually know they’re gorgeous to making them look good, by their standards is harder.

    As to your other questions. Bouncing off the ceiling isn’t the best type of portrait lighting because you’ll get dark eye sockets, especially for people with deep set eyes. Indoors, try and find a natural light source like a window and use available light. See my other article on lighting patterns.

    1 – very hard to do with glasses. Get them to tip them forward a little. Or worse case scenario, shoot one image without glasses and photoshop their eyes in from that shot later. But I prefer not to have to do that.

    2 – I wouldn’t do those angles on someone with thick glasses for those reasons.

  • http://www.strykerphotography.com tish

    Darlene, I just finished reading through the this and the last two articles. Thank you so much!!! If you had a book, I would buy it. I have been doing photography for some time now and still have a hard time “knowing” how to acheive the look I want without doing a ton of trial & error shots and at this point it is based mostly on intuition. I’ve read books and researched these subjects, but so far your articles are the best explanations I’ve read! It finally is starting come together for me. Thank you again!
    PS – I like the homework assignments you include too :)

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    Hi Tish

    Wow thanks so much for your kind words! I’ve been doing this a long time and it actually took me quite a bit of thought to write it in detail because it’s so instinctual for me now. In doing so I wanted to be as detailed as possible, and I’m so glad you’ve found them helpful. I will be writing more articles for Digital Photography School soon, around one a month so keep your eyes opened. They probably won’t all be on portrait photography though, I may change it up a bit and based on what readers of the sight want.

    Thanks again.

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    Hi Tish – just FYI I do have a free ebook that anyone can access if you go to this page:
    http://www.herviewphotography.com/digital-photography-school

    The ebook is titled: 10 Photography Challenges to improve your photography without buying any new gear. It’s designed to get you out shooting and practicing what you learn on this and other great sites.

  • http://www.strykerphotography.com tish

    Hey Darlene,
    Thanks. I actually already printed it and am working on exercise 1 :)

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    Awesome! Remember there’s a page to share your results and questions as you work through them.

  • Naftoli

    Darlene, great article! with perhaps 1 small nitpick in the second paragraph u write “A handheld meter is an incident meter ” this is not necessarily true. Although not as commonly used today http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/891482-REG/Sekonic_401_364_5_Degree_Spot_Viewfinder.html in film days many photographers would carry around handheld reflective meters to determine the cameras exposure and to evaluate the tonal range of a given scene.

    Also when u replied to doug u wrote “It does seem like the light should add together but it doesn’t work that way. If your main is f11 and your fill is f5.6 you’re shooting at f8 to get a good exposure usually.” that doesnt make sense to me at all. if ur main light meters at f11 how can u not be at least a stop overexposed when shooting at f8??

  • Naftoli
  • S M Tariq Warsi

    Good

Some older comments

  • Naftoli

    January 8, 2013 03:28 am

    whoops meant to post that comment on this article http://digital-photography-school.com/lighting-ratios-to-make-or-break-your-portrait/comment-page-1#comment-418943

  • Naftoli

    January 5, 2013 04:45 am

    Darlene, great article! with perhaps 1 small nitpick in the second paragraph u write "A handheld meter is an incident meter " this is not necessarily true. Although not as commonly used today http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/891482-REG/Sekonic_401_364_5_Degree_Spot_Viewfinder.html in film days many photographers would carry around handheld reflective meters to determine the cameras exposure and to evaluate the tonal range of a given scene.

    Also when u replied to doug u wrote "It does seem like the light should add together but it doesn’t work that way. If your main is f11 and your fill is f5.6 you’re shooting at f8 to get a good exposure usually." that doesnt make sense to me at all. if ur main light meters at f11 how can u not be at least a stop overexposed when shooting at f8??

  • Darlene

    September 6, 2012 03:05 pm

    Awesome! Remember there's a page to share your results and questions as you work through them.

  • tish

    September 6, 2012 03:15 am

    Hey Darlene,
    Thanks. I actually already printed it and am working on exercise 1 :)

  • Darlene

    September 5, 2012 05:24 am

    Hi Tish - just FYI I do have a free ebook that anyone can access if you go to this page:
    http://www.herviewphotography.com/digital-photography-school

    The ebook is titled: 10 Photography Challenges to improve your photography without buying any new gear. It's designed to get you out shooting and practicing what you learn on this and other great sites.

  • Darlene

    August 31, 2012 03:22 pm

    Hi Tish

    Wow thanks so much for your kind words! I've been doing this a long time and it actually took me quite a bit of thought to write it in detail because it's so instinctual for me now. In doing so I wanted to be as detailed as possible, and I'm so glad you've found them helpful. I will be writing more articles for Digital Photography School soon, around one a month so keep your eyes opened. They probably won't all be on portrait photography though, I may change it up a bit and based on what readers of the sight want.

    Thanks again.

  • tish

    August 31, 2012 07:54 am

    Darlene, I just finished reading through the this and the last two articles. Thank you so much!!! If you had a book, I would buy it. I have been doing photography for some time now and still have a hard time "knowing" how to acheive the look I want without doing a ton of trial & error shots and at this point it is based mostly on intuition. I've read books and researched these subjects, but so far your articles are the best explanations I've read! It finally is starting come together for me. Thank you again!
    PS - I like the homework assignments you include too :)

  • Darlene

    August 17, 2012 02:06 pm

    @matthew - I've been doing this a long time, I'm pretty sure I know what most average people want ;-) I actually prefer average looking, slightly overweight clients - to those that look like Barbie and Ken because Barbie's usually know they're gorgeous to making them look good, by their standards is harder.

    As to your other questions. Bouncing off the ceiling isn't the best type of portrait lighting because you'll get dark eye sockets, especially for people with deep set eyes. Indoors, try and find a natural light source like a window and use available light. See my other article on lighting patterns.

    1 - very hard to do with glasses. Get them to tip them forward a little. Or worse case scenario, shoot one image without glasses and photoshop their eyes in from that shot later. But I prefer not to have to do that.

    2 - I wouldn't do those angles on someone with thick glasses for those reasons.

  • Mathew

    August 17, 2012 12:50 pm

    I normally click portraits indoors by bouncing the flash off the ceiling.

    1. How do I avoid the glare on the specs of people.
    2. Some people wear thick glasses and when I try 3/4 or 2/3 view to avoid the glare, the part of their face near the eyes look misaligned due to the retraction.of the glasses.

    - Mathew

  • Mathew

    August 17, 2012 12:30 pm

    Darlene

    Thanks for your answer to my query.

    I liked this statement of yours " Most people just want to be flattered, look a little thinner and a little younger. If you can do that you’ll please them."

    Its so true :))

  • Darlene

    August 17, 2012 12:05 pm

    Leonardo also took months to paint his subjects, so he had the luxury of doing such analyses. In photography you usually don't get that much time, especially before your subject gets impatient.

  • Darlene

    August 17, 2012 12:02 pm

    @Scottc - keep practicing, it comes!

    @matthew - I use autofocus. The new focus screens aren't as easy to do manual as the old film cameras that had a split screen. I can't focus manually very well, that or I'm just getting old LOL. Just set your camera to use ONE focus point and aim it directly at the eyes of your subject. The nearer eye is the face is turned.

    @goeffrey_k and @Nwanna - you're welcome, glad you find it useful.

    @ccting - that's very in depth but I'm not sure most people will go to such lengths. For me, in portraiture, it's simply about making the person being photographed comfortable, and making them look good so they are pleased. Could you do more analysis - sure. Is it necessary in most cases - probably not. I've never had a client return a portrait complaining that I didn't get their nasomental image right (whatever that means). Most people just want to be flattered, look a little thinner and a little younger. If you can do that you'll please them.

  • ccting

    August 17, 2012 11:29 am

    The history of facial analysis that I believe:
    1) Leonardo da Vinci has stated the proportion of body & head in 1490..

    I take photos of the belows & analyse for 2 weeks:
    a) forehead
    b) eyes
    c) Front face elements
    d) Frankfort horizontal Plane
    e) Facial heights, horizontally and vertically, above, lower,
    f) units on face
    g) skin tension lines test (important for emotion)
    h) Nasofrontal angle
    i) eyebrow position (important for makeup advice)
    j) eyebrow to ansal line (makeup advice)
    k) Chin (fat?)
    l) neck (fat? thin? long? short?)
    m) ears (huge?)
    n) Nasofacial angle
    o) Nasomental angle
    p) Simon's nasol
    q) Basal base
    r) Lip ratio
    s) etc many more..

  • ccting

    August 17, 2012 11:21 am

    Ya, i used to do facial analysis for my clients 2 months before the shots

    1. I disable on the lighting you use for facial analysis as it tricks the eyes..
    2. I usually do more in-depth facial analysis that involves some medical terms.
    3. I believe the camera angles for facial analysis is not sufficient in the post
    4. Not only you need to determine camera angle & lens, but the lighting strategy.

    I am just a noob.

  • Nwanne

    August 17, 2012 02:54 am

    Darlene this is brilliant. Thank you for taking time to post!x

  • Geoffrey_K

    August 17, 2012 02:21 am

    I really enjoy these articles. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mathew

    August 16, 2012 01:13 pm

    Darlene, Thanks for these usefull tips. Would you recommend manual focus or auto focus for portraits (one or two people and for small group)?

  • Scottc

    August 16, 2012 09:57 am

    Interesting stuff, portrait photography is certainly my weakest point and this article makes some great points that can be practiced.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Darlene

    August 16, 2012 07:48 am

    @ljubo - very nice portrait of the girl! Well done

  • Darlene

    August 16, 2012 07:47 am

    Thanks for the comments! Yes Jai, I get tips from all over the place and sometimes even from students. Could be a tutorial they saw or a way of doing things. I think if we keep an open mind and don't automatically assume that because we have more experience there's nothing to learn from the other person. I think sometimes pros that have been doing this for so long get stuck in a rut and their style becomes stagnant. I like looking at other people's work and if I can't readily see how they did it I'll either try and figure it out myself or just ask them.

    For those of you new to photography - please don't be afraid to approach ANY photographer and ask them a question. Most will be willing to answer you as they were where you were once and someone answered their questions.

  • Jai Catalano

    August 16, 2012 06:43 am

    Rosanne said it took her 10 years to be an overnight success. Very inspirational that you still learn (from your students as well) after 25 years.

  • Ljubo

    August 16, 2012 06:29 am

    this is my favourite camera angle for portraits http://www.flickr.com/photos/keselj/7759245988/in/photostream/

  • EnergizedAV

    August 16, 2012 05:11 am

    I have used all of these positions for seniors getting their head shots for the school year book. You just don't know which one they will choose. I give them a good seven or so images to choose from including right side and left side. We are all so unique, and have a "look" that works for us.
    Good post, thank you.

  • rohit kothari

    August 16, 2012 03:05 am

    Hi Darlene,

    its really a nice and descriptive post on how to use camera will doing portrait , even this thing i have notice in few photographer that some time their portrait look so beautiful and some time its just become more than worst even if they have good model, what i like in this post is camera angle points is too informative now i can practice more on this.

  • raghavendra

    August 16, 2012 01:48 am

    wow, Too many views for a portrait , a good experience photographer have given this ideas :)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/03/kids-feeding-goat.html

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