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How to Use Portrait Angles Effectively: A Visual Guide

Discover the power of portrait angles

When it comes to creating a successful portrait, there are a lot of moving parts. We often talk about lighting, composition, and camera gear, but while all three of those things are important in creating your final image, they aren’t the only variables at play.

Another important part of capturing top-notch portraits is the careful use of angles. Understanding and making good use of angles in portrait photography allows you to capture images of your subjects in the most flattering way (which, I’ll add, is unique to each person you photograph!).

Now, under the umbrella of “angles” are two different aspects:

  1. Facial view
  2. Camera angle

Facial view simply refers to how much of a person’s face is visible in the photograph. Whether or not you recognize the term “facial view,” you probably understand that there’s a visual difference between a photograph of someone looking directly into the camera and a photograph of them in profile. These are two different facial views (and they sit at opposite ends of the facial views spectrum).

Camera angle is also a fairly simple concept: it refers to the perspective from which you hold your camera. In portrait photography, this is really about whether you’re holding the camera at eye level or above or below the eye level of your subject.

Angles in portrait photography

The concepts themselves are pretty simple, right? The difficult part is learning how these variables interact with each other.

So let’s walk through some examples of different facial views and camera angles using the same gear, subject, location, and light while observing how different angles change the look and the feel of each image.

Camera angles in portrait photography

To illustrate different camera angles, I’m going to show you the same subject with the same full-face view. Only the camera’s perspective (and, consequently, the viewer’s perspective) will change!

The eye-level camera angle

This is one of the most common camera angles in portrait photography, where you simply place the camera at the subject’s eye level, like so:

Angles in portrait photography

This camera angle results in a portrait that is balanced and shows the head and body in a way that feels naturally proportionate (in other words, perspective distortion is almost or completely unnoticeable). And since an eye-level angle allows the subject to look directly into the lens, the images tend to create a feeling of connection between the subject and the viewer.

I’ll also note that an eye-level angle tends to be very flattering for most subjects.

The high camera angle

A high camera angle involves photographing from above the subject’s eye level, which creates photos like this:

Angles in portrait photography

With this angle, the focus is on the face rather than the body, and for adults, it can be very slimming.

Now, I’m not at all concerned with making children seem slimmer than they really are, but I do still use this angle a lot when photographing children because I like the way it emphasizes the childlike qualities of the kiddos.

I also find that parents tend to really enjoy photographs of their children taken from a high camera angle, and I believe that’s because parents see their children from this angle quite often in their day-to-day life, so it feels very natural and candid.

As a bonus, shooting from a high angle makes it easy to achieve good catchlights in your subjects’ eyes, and it can also help to camouflage a less-than-desirable background.

On the other hand, this camera angle may not be to your advantage in some situations. It creates obvious perspective distortion (where the head is unusually large compared to the body), so if your subject is very thin, shooting from above can sometimes make your subject look like a bobblehead, which is very rarely flattering.

The low camera angle

Angles in portrait photography

Shooting from a low camera angle – with the camera placed below the subject’s eyes and tilted up – is a very mixed bag. On the one hand, it can make people seem tall and authoritative, which is great for certain business portraits. On the other hand, it can create double chins and make people look larger than they really are, which your clients likely won’t love.

Note that even a slight low angle can have this effect, so it’s particularly important to keep in mind if you’re photographing someone who is taller than you. If you’re 5′ 2″ and the person you’re photographing is 6′ 4″, you may need to be creative to make sure that you’re not photographing the whole session from a low camera angle. Have your subject sit, crouch, or find something that you can climb on, at least for some of the photos – it really will make a difference.

I’ve used this camera angle a handful of times with newly walking babies, and could envision using it with a wider angle lens (to capture more of the body) if I were photographing a politician, a football player, or someone who wished to appear particularly powerful. Overall though, this is usually not the most flattering angle for portraits.

To sum up…

Angles in portrait photography

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try capturing the same image from two different camera angles. The image above demonstrates how the same subject appears from eye level as well as from a high camera angle.

If I did a poll, I bet I’d find that some people prefer the eye-level shot and some prefer the high camera angle. This is largely a matter of taste and preferred aesthetic, so I frequently make a point to include both types of angles in my portrait sessions.

Facial views in portrait photography

As I explained in the introduction, facial view is independent of the camera angle, so it’s important you think about both factors when doing portraiture.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the facial views available to you:

The full-face view

Photographing a subject full-face means that their face should be pointing directly towards the camera lens:

Angles in portrait photography

With a full-face view, you can see both ears and both sides of the face in equal amounts.

Full-face portraits often convey a sense of confidence and assertiveness, especially when the person being photographed is looking directly into the camera with their eyes. These portraits also tend to feel very balanced, especially when you place the subject in the center of the frame.

Partial views

Angles in portrait photography
I photographed the left-hand image with a 3/4 facial view; the image on the right was taken with a profile view.

Other facial views include the 3/4 view, 2/3 view, and profile view. With a 3/4 view, the subject has turned just enough so that one of their ears is no longer visible to the camera. With a 2/3 view, the subject has continued to turn so that their nose is just about to break the plane of their back cheek. For a true profile portrait, the subject’s face is turned 90 degrees and is perpendicular to the camera.

Shooting with the subject’s face turned to a 2/3 view or a 3/4 view tends to convey a more casual and less assertive portrait. Images shot with a 3/4 facial view and the subject looking just off-camera are often the most successful candid images because the facial expressions are still easily visible to the viewer.

Similarly, shooting in profile allows for portraits that feel unposed while also being graceful and demure (particularly when shot in silhouette).

Angles in portrait photography

Enhance your portraits with angles

The best way to really understand angles is to grab a friend and go experiment. Take photos from every camera angle you can think of, including non-traditional angles like a bird’s-eye or worm’s-eye view.

Then take a photo with every facial view: full face, 3/4 view, 2/3, and profile. If you’re really feeling ambitious, try combining facial views and camera angles. Ask yourself: does the feel of the portrait change if you shoot full-face from eye level versus from a high camera angle?

Pretty soon, you’ll be able to envision different angles in advance, and you’ll be able to achieve more powerful portraits on a consistent basis!

Now over to you:

Do you prefer images with a particular facial view and/or camera angle? What tends to be your preference and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Meredith Clark
Meredith Clark

is a wife, mother, native Oregonian, complete bookworm, Top Chef lover, and new quilting addict. She believes that photography is for everyone – it is a gift that allows us to capture and document both ordinary and extraordinary moments in our lives. You can see more of her work at Meredith Clark Photography or connect with her on Facebook.

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