How do camera and face angles affect your portrait photography? And how can you use different angles to create gorgeous portraits?
It’s all in this article!
Because today, we’re going to examine facial views and camera angles. I’ll discuss how to use both these concepts to your advantage – and how you can use them to flatter your subject.
Let’s get started!
What is facial view? What is camera angle?
Simply put, facial view is the portion or angle of the face that is showing toward the camera. It’s how the subject’s face is turned or angled relative to the lens.
Your camera angle is where you place your camera in relation to the subject – that is, the height, distance, and angle relative to the subject’s face.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? It is – but small differences in facial view or camera angle can produce undesirable results. We’ll dig a bit deeper into that in a bit, so stay with me!
First, let’s look at the four main facial views used in portraiture. They are:
Full face, where your subject’s nose is pointing directly toward the lens. You’ll see equal amounts of both sides of their face:
3/4 view, where your subject turns their face just slightly in one direction until you cannot see their far ear anymore:
2/3 view, where the subject turns 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, because you don’t want the nose to break the line of the cheek. This isn’t a rule, but it doesn’t look as flattering.
Note: Check out the subject’s earrings in the image above, and how her right earring is not showing below her jawline. 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 the image. Watch for things like that as the facial angle changes.
Profile, where the subject’s face is turned almost exactly 90 degrees from front, so that their nose is basically pointing sideways. In a true profile, you should only be able to see one side of the subject’s face and not the eye on the far side.
Note: Once again, watch for things like earrings and hair hanging down under the chin, which can look a bit odd. I usually brush the hair back and have the subject remove an earring if it doesn’t look right or if it looks like it’s dangling under the chin or neck.
Where you place your camera makes a huge difference to how your subject appears in the final image.
However, keep in mind that I can’t offer hard and fast rules here. Instead, use my advice as guidelines and starting points, then use your best judgment – because each person is unique. Portray the subject 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.
Here are your camera angle tips:
- A high camera angle (above the subject’s eye level) will emphasize the face more than the body. This is good for a heavy-set person to help them appear slimmer if that’s desired. (Most women will not get upset if you make them look slimmer!)
- A low camera angle (below their eye level or even below their chin level) can make a person look taller or make them seem 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 unflattering.
- For group portraits, the camera position should be about eye level or slightly lower. This cuts down on distortion of body parts and prevents the subjects from looking oddly proportioned.
- For a portrait of one or two people, having the camera at eye level or slightly higher is often the most flattering option.
In addition to the camera height and angle, the lens you select will change the look of your portrait drastically.
Consider what you know about different lenses:
- Wide-angle lenses emphasize perspective, distort things, and make scenes seem more three-dimensional
- Telephoto or long lenses compress things, isolate subjects, and make them look less three-dimensional
That’s all I’m going to tell you about this; I want you to find out what I’m talking about by trying it yourself. Look at my examples below, then find yourself a person to photograph. Use different lenses and see how they change the image.
What do you notice about the examples here? What changes in each photo?
How long does it take to master this stuff?
One of the most common 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 tongue in cheek, but it’s true. I “learned” all the concepts and guidelines relatively quickly, because I was in a two-year program that immersed me completely in photography. It’s like learning a new language; if you move to a new country and you have to speak the language all the time, you will learn a lot faster than if you only speak it once a month. 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 from other photographers and do so continually. Don’t ever expect to suddenly “get” it so that you can stop learning. Photography education is a process and it’s always ongoing. As soon as you think you’ve learned it all, or that you know it all, then it’s time to quit – because you’ve probably lost the passion. That’s my opinion, anyway.
Camera and face angles: Practice at home
This is not an assignment, but rather a suggestion for improvement.
Whenever possible, notice the facial view of your subject and how you can adjust it. If you sit a person by a light source such as a window, you can see that turning their head toward the light will also change the lighting pattern that falls on their face. See how this information can then be used to your advantage.
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, then 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 five images of your subject from different camera heights. Don’t change the focal length or distance to the subject – just the camera height.
Here are the photos I recommend you take:
- One slightly below the subject’s chin
- One slightly below the subject’s eye level
- One at eye level
- One slightly above the subject’s eye level
- One at quite a bit above the subject’s eye level
Then ask yourself:
Which is the most flattering angle for that person? From which angle would they most want to be photographed? Why?
Facial views and camera angles: Conclusion
Now that you’ve finished this article, you should be well on your way to using face angles and camera angles to create stunning portraits.
Just make sure you practice frequently. And before you know it, you’ll be an expert!
What’s your favorite face angle? What’s your favorite camera angle? Do you have any tips for working with these angles? Share your thoughts in the comments!