Hello to all hobby photographers,
After talking about the technical basics, it’s now time for some practical advice on how to actually take good photos. So, let’s start with the different types and categorisations of portrait photography. Generally speaking, every photo partially or completely showing head and body of a person is called portrait. The only exception are photos where you see someone from behind, but I’ll talk about that later. Angle and perspective effect the viewer’s perception of an image.
There are several ways to categorize the various types of portrait photography:
a) Landscape format:
As the name already suggests landscape format portraits focus on people and the landscape surrounding them. Although the background is important it should remain simple. Too many details and people behind the main objects can be distracting and the photo appears too ‘hectic’.
b) The portrait format:
on the other hand focuses on the main person in the picture. There shouldn’t be many or only blurry details in the background, in order not to distract the viewer’s attention away from the person in the foreground.
2. Distance between photographer and subject
This describes how far apart from each other the photographer and the depicted person are and how much of the person’s body is visible in the picture.
a) Total view or entire scene
A person surrounded by landscape can be photographed from greater distance to depict emotions like feeling lost or lonely but also positive feelings like freedom. The closer the camera goes to the person, the more he or she moves into the main focus and the background loses its importance. The midway option between these two extremes is suitable for group photos, where, depending on the size of the group, a bit of background should still be visible. The total view focuses on the person and how he or she is positioned within the surroundings.
The following options depict only parts of a person’s body:
b) American shot:
depicts a person from the knee upwards.
c) Medium shot:
depicts a person from the hip upwards.
d) Medium close-up:
depicts a person from the middle upper body upwards. Because this is the way we normally see people when looking at them, medium-close ups appear natural and familiar to us.e) Shoulder close-up: depicts a person’s head and shoulders.
depicts the person’s head and sometimes part of the shoulders.
f) Extreme close-up or cut-in:
depicts only one body part or small detail of a person e.g. mouth, eyes or hands.
g) Italian shot:
depicts only a person’s eyes.
3. Position of the person’s head
Sometimes a slight turn of the head can change the way viewer’s interpret a portrait significantly.
a) Frontal view:
is very popular with hobby photographers, especially in the day and age of selfies. The person is positioned straight in front of the photographer. Professionals use this perspective rather seldom. It often looks stiff and artificial, because it depends exclusively on facial expressions.
The person’s still looks at the photographer but her or his face is slightly turned away. This position is more popular, because it conveys more emotion for example thoughtfulness
The head is turned so far away, that one eye is still clearly visible. The person can still look at the photographer but more often the gaze is turned slightly away from the camera.
The face is turned even further away from the camera. The second eye is only partly visible or insinuated. This gaze into the far distance conveys thoughtfulness.
Only one half of the face is visible. Like the frontal view this position is rather static and therefore seldom used by professionals.
f) Lost profile:
or three-quarter profile from behind. In this position frequently only the contours of the cheek bones are visible. The viewer’s perspective is as if he or she looks unnoticed over the person’s shoulder.
g) Back View:
Even though a person is in the scene, the main subject of the image becomes the landscape which the person is viewing. The person is used to attract the viewer’s attention towards a given area of the total scene. Therefore he or she becomes a pointer (visual aid). The head or body itself may become a silhouette depending on the lighting conditions. This technique draws more attention to the background and is frequently used in landscape photography e.g. a person looking at a water surface, mountains or a sunset.
a) Normal perspective:
is commonly used for snap shots. The person is captured at eye level, making the picture look accustomed to the spectator.
b) Frog perspective:
The photographer captures the subject from below eye level e.g. by kneeling on the ground like a frog. Make sure to ask the subject to tilt their head forward as you don’t want to shoot the image looking up their nose. This perspective can portray a person as powerful, threatening or distanced.
c) Down angle:
A person is photographed from a position above his or her head, suggesting smallness or subservience. It can also make the viewer wanting to protect the person.
5. Line or direction of sight
Maybe you want to ask now why you should pay attention to this, since you’re already considering the position of the person’s head. However, taking the direction in which a person is looking into consideration can intensify or counterbalance stylistic effects suggested by the perspective.
a) Averted gaze:
The person appears to be alone and lost in thought looking at something else in the scene or out of the frame in at a distant point. You can use a subjects direction of sight to help you as a photographer point to another area of the image you would like to stress to the viewer.
b) Direct gaze:
The person looks straight into the camera, thus making eye contact with the viewer. The picture is not so much about what the person may feel or think, but about the gaze and what feelings and memories this look suggests to the viewer.
This should be enough to start with. In part two I’ll give some more general tips regarding portrait photography.
Translated from a German post by Nadine Alexander Meißinger with advice from Keith Harness.