Photographing men – or conducting couple or group photoshoots that include men – isn’t especially difficult, yet many beginner portrait photographers struggle to capture nice, clean, high-quality male portraits.
I’ve done my fair share of male photoshoots, and in this article, I share my best tips and tricks for great shots, including:
- How to create flattering male poses
- How to keep men engaged in the photography process
- How to get the best results when retouching your portraits
- Much more!
So if you have an upcoming session with a man, or you’re simply looking to level up your skills, read on!
1. Include him in the consultation process
One of the most common complaints I encounter on portrait photography forums is that men tend to be very reluctant when involved in family photoshoots. They turn up to the family shoot looking like it’s the last place on earth they want to be, and their crankiness is infectious. Pretty soon, everyone is annoyed, and it makes your job of capturing all those joyful family connections close to impossible.
I confess that this was also one of my bugbears – until I realized a problem. You see, I was often leaving male partners out of the consultation process. And in every grumpy dad case I encountered, I mistakenly assumed that the woman I spoke with during the consultation would communicate everything to their partner and communicate any concerns their partner might have.
Following a major light-bulb moment, I started to include men in the consultations, and it made a world of difference. As it turned out, my male clients just wanted to be heard! The more you engage with men before the shoot, the more comfortable they will be when you’re wielding a camera, and the better the photos will turn out. (This applies whether you’re photographing a paying client, the guy next door, or your brother.)
So before you conduct a photoshoot that involves a man, talk with him. Ask him if he has any features he’s sensitive about (a prominent nose, a double chin, acne scarring, and a bit of a tummy are common sensitive areas). Allow him to express his insecurities without feeling silly, and reassure him that you can work around these via posing, camera angles, lighting, and post-processing.
Ask him what kind of clothes he feels good in, and make sure he understands how these may work for or against him in photographs. Tread gently; if it’s a family session, there’s a good chance his partner is already on his case.
Finally, if a man makes the effort to dress well for your photoshoot, show him the same respect by paying attention to detail in the editing process. Zoom in close and check for stray hairs his razor may have missed, loose threads, and even smudges left by a child’s fingers.
2. Find purpose and meaning
Before conducting your session, as the man why he wants the photos taken. If it’s an individual portrait, what is he using it for? If it’s for professional purposes, what kind of work does he do? What kind of look does he want? Then tailor your compositions accordingly.
If he’s a passionate kite-surfing instructor, he may not appreciate a moody black-and-white portrait; instead, he’s much more likely to want an image full of color and action. On the other hand, a budding author may love the black-and-white look!
If you’re doing a family shoot, ask him questions about the family. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how often this important step is missed. What does the family like to do together? What is special about his partner? What does he love most about his child or grandchild? Dig deep, and listen to his answers. You’ll appreciate what he reveals, and you can incorporate the insights into your photos.
The image below shows dad with my eldest daughter, and it’s one of my personal favorites. He told me he loves the fact that, even though she is a teenager, she still takes his hand or his arm when they go for walks together through the forest near his home. I like how the arch of the trees frames them. To me, it suggests they are walking toward the future together.
The man in the photos below told me that he marvels at the smallness of his new daughter’s hands and feet. Like many young dads, he is at a very busy stage in his professional life. Often his baby is asleep by the time he gets home at night, so he cherishes the quiet moments they get to spend together.
The photo below features two cousins. They played together as children but have lived on separate continents since their families emigrated from their native country when they were young. I was astonished by how similar their gestures and body language were despite having lived apart for most of their lives, and I wanted to capture that in a photograph. The ocean is symbolic in this photo; though it usually separates them, when I pressed the shutter, they were both on the same side of it.
3. Give him something to lean against or sit on
Regardless of the amount of time you spend preparing, many men are profoundly uncomfortable in front of a camera, especially at the start of a shoot. And if your subject feels uncomfortable, that will come through in the photos, resulting in stiff, awkward, less-than-optimal shots.
So start by asking your subject how they feel in front of the camera. Observe their body language, too, as you take your first few shots. If your subject does seem awkward just standing, ask them to lean against a vertical surface such as a wall, fence, lamppost, or car. It will help them feel anchored and will allow them to angle their body without looking unnatural.
Another option is to find something for them to sit on, like a chair, a bench, or even a rock. You’ll be surprised by how easily it helps your subject relax.
4. Minimize a double chin, a prominent nose, or heavy jowls
Men often have certain features they prefer to deemphasize. It’s important to ask them about this in the consultation process; encourage them to be honest, and ensure that they feel safe sharing these insecurities with you. Often, the list will include double chins, prominent noses, and heavy jowls, so you should take steps to minimize these in your photos.
One way to hide a double chin is to shoot from above eye level with your subject leaning slightly forward. If he’s seated, ask him to rest his forearms on his thighs and angle his knees 45° away from you.
You can also use lighting to your advantage. Strong, directional light can visually slim a face or a torso – it’s a trick that often comes in handy!
The photo on the left was shot from below eye level (the subject was taller than me and was standing) with light falling on both sides of his face. But the photo on the right, where my subject was seated and leaning forward with their head angled away from the camera, is more flattering. Note how strong light reflected off a wall in the late afternoon casts his neck and the left side of his face into shadow.
5. Give him something to do with his hands
When people are facing a camera with their arms hanging down at their sides, they suddenly become self-conscious. “What should I do with my hands?” they ask. And they’re onto something: Dangly hands generally don’t look good! So what do you do?
Instead of letting the hands hang awkwardly, ask him to put one or both hands in his pockets or loop his thumb over his belt. If he’s sitting, have him interlink his fingers or clasp his hands together. If you’re doing a family photoshoot, have him hold a baby or clasp a child’s hand.
You might also consider adding props (depending on the type of male photoshoots you’re conducting). For instance, your subject could hold a book (if he’s an author), a guitar (if he’s a musician), or even an umbrella (if you’re going for a moodier image).
6. Pay attention to the little details
Details such as eyes, lips, and hands help tell a story, and they often depict the connections between people. Of course, you should make sure to get all the wider shots – but don’t forget to zoom in every so often (a close-focusing lens is a big help here) and capture the details, even if they don’t seem like showstopping portrait material.
Hands are a personal favorite of mine. They’re a powerful expression of emotional connection and tenderness, and because of their size, men’s hands are often visually striking when placed side by side with the hands of children.
The portrait below shows a tender and playful moment between father and daughter. His hand is large next to hers, and she smiles as he kisses milk froth from her fingertips.
7. Don’t forget about retouching
Let’s face it: Cameras can be brutal. They do a great job of capturing all those little imperfections the naked eye generally doesn’t see, and they hold it in a static image for the eye to contemplate.
In some styles of male portraiture, this is actually useful. Elderly men with craggy faces are popular subjects for travel photographers and photojournalists. However, wrinkles and blemishes are not something you want to highlight in family photos or corporate headshots, so it’s important that you spend some time removing or minimizing these items in the editing room.
Men will give you hints during the consultation and the shoot. If he cracks jokes such as, “Can you Photoshop me to make me look 10 years younger?” or “Can you make me look like George Clooney?” he’s probably only half-kidding. Just because he’s a man doesn’t mean he’s okay with acne or out-of-place nose hairs.
Now, when it comes to editing, much will depend on your personal style. While I’m not a fan of heavily edited portraits, I still follow a careful Lightroom workflow. With men, I use the Brush tool to soften skin, but the effect is always subtle (his skin probably shouldn’t appear softer than a woman’s or child’s skin in the same photo).
When it comes to blemishes, my rule of thumb is to remove anything that is temporary. Pimples, scratches, stray hairs – if it’s going to be gone from his face in a couple of weeks, I’ll remove it from his face in the post-processing stage. But unless the client specifically asked me to, I wouldn’t remove a mole or a birthmark.
How to photograph men: final words
Photographing men is a very broad and complex subject, but I hope that this article offered plenty of techniques you can use in your next male photoshoot.
Just remember to include your subjects in the consultation process, think about the meaning of each session, and pay attention to the details. Pretty soon, you’ll be capturing some breathtaking images!
Now over to you:
Which of these male portrait photoshoot tips do you plan to use first? Do you have any tips of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!