It is a fact that about 80% of individuals do not like they way they look when having a portrait created of them. Most do not realize that their issues are subconscious. Why subconscious you ask? Simple, when you look at a photograph of yourself you are seeing what everyone else see when they look at you, not the inverted image of yourself you are use to looking at everyday in the mirror. Think about it, if you have a part in your hair it may look to you that it is on your right in the mirror, but everyone else sees it on your left side.
No puns intended, but portrait photography is a very negative business. Not in emotional terms of sad or bad, but in physical terms. As a portrait photographer our job is to look at our subjects and physically analyze them and determine what is wrong, or what do they not like about themselves, and make corrections accordingly without letting the subject know what we are doing.
There are, of course, the obvious physical characteristics that we deal with when photographing multiple subjects such as height and size of each subject. Not just from head to toe, but how long a person’s legs and/or torso are can cause posing issues when they are seated. The more challenging issues are handling facial characteristics. Nobody is perfect, all faces have faults of some kind; some are just more exaggerated than others. Most people have one eye that is larger than the other, the larger generally denotes the predominant eye and can often indicate if a person is left or right handed. Almost everyone has one ear higher/lower than the other. Many people have multiple chins. The problems are many, so below are an outline of faults to look for and how to correct them by using lighting and posing techniques.
A subject’s cheek bone defines their face. High cheek bones are preferred for those who model professionally, you want to use butterfly patterns or modified loop patters for this person. If you want to subdue the high cheek bone light them from a slightly lower angle to flatten their features. Subjects who have low cheek bones you want to light them from a higher angle when creating their portrait.
When your subject has wide cheek bones you need to thin their face, this can be accomplished by using spot grids or barn doors to narrow them.
Use a lower fill light to correct for what we call hollow cheek bones. By lowering the light you are diminishing shadows so they do not look so deep or hollow.
Subjects who have round and flat cheek bones will need some artwork done afterwards; however, you can help yourself by placing your main light at a higher angle and using a head screen to control light that is over illuminating the subject’s forehead.
If your subject has a protruding chin lower their head or raise your camera point. Conversely, if they have a receding chin have them raise their head up and lower your camera angle and place your light at a lower angle. The double chin is the most common that you will come across. Simply lean your subject forward and have them raise their head in order to stretch the neck thus removing or diminishing their double chin. Placing your main light in a loop or modified loop pattern will help create shadows that will aid with diminishing double chins as well. Be careful to pay special attention to the side of the neck for any fat lines. Good retouching skills will help you here as well.
Two issues you will face with ears are large and/or protruding ears. My advice with large ears is to first angle the subjects head so one ear is not visible and keep the visible ear in the shadow area so it is less prominent. Avoid full face poses, lighter backgrounds and using light from behind your subject if they have protruding ears. You may also want to use a gobo or head screen to shade other light sources from striking the ears.
They say that eyes are the soul of a person and they are no different when it comes to portraiture. Subject’s eyes can make or break your portrait, so I am going to spend a little more time discussing them.
Remembering that there is only one sun in our solar system we only want to have one catch light in the subject’s eyes. Catch lights should be either in the 1:00 or 11:00 position. Most portrait photographers in the old days use to retouch catch lights so there were only one in each eye. Some portrait photographers think that multiple catch lights add more dimension to the eyes, so if multiple catch lights work for you then leave them.
Remember high school physics? Your teacher most likely demonstrated the dime and quarter (large eye/small eye) parallax. Although not always noticeable, everyone has one eye smaller than the other. For those who have one eye noticeably smaller you want to make sure you turn their head so the larger eye is further away and the smaller eye is closer to give the illusion that they are the same size.
If your subject has small or squinty eyes lean them forward and have them look at a high point over your head so their eyes appear open in the photograph. Now, a small percentage of young kids, especially girls who are high school age have a week muscle in only one eye that we have come to call a lazy eye. After noticing which is their lazy eye turn their head slightly so the lazy eye is closest to the camera and without making them stare at a specific spot. You will need to do something to catch their attention just before you make your exposure.
Some people have drooping eyelids. This is very difficult to correct, and most prevalent with older subjects. The only thing that really works well is to lower the subjects head, have them look up to you and pray.
It is a fact that some people have deep set eyes. There is very simple correction for this, just lower your main light and reduce your light ratio by using a stronger fill light.
The first thing you should do when doing your facial analysis and discover your subject is cross-eyed is to have them turn their head in both direction to determine which is more crossed; then find the best angle having them use a viewpoint to focus on that is at a far distance.
Glasses are real fun!!! I try to find out prior to a session if the subject wears glasses. If they do I ask them if they have an older pair that we can use and take the lenses out. By doing this we remove both visual and light refraction.
Although most people associate visual refraction, most forget about light refraction. When light travels though glass it loses intensity resulting with less light touching the face. If you have to photograph someone with glasses try positioning the main light source at a high angle, tilting the strobe head down, and possibly slightly tilting the glasses forward. Visual refraction is most prevalent with those who were glasses with a strong convex shape. Try keeping both the pupil and iris clear avoiding shadows caused by the rim. Generally speaking there is always some positive artwork to be done whether by hand or digitally in Photoshop.
Overall, when it comes to eyes, move the subjects head until their eyes look good.
Face & Head Shapes
Everybody’s facial construction can be described by one of the following basic geometric shape, circle (round), heart, oval or square. Some faces are long and skinny while others can be short and wide. Optimally, we want to create the most graceful lines as possible, so we want to pose and light our subjects to create an oval appearance to their face.
Most professional models and movie/television stars like Cindy Crawford, Julia Roberts and Marilyn Monroe all have one thing in common. They have large heads, which in turn mean they have larger facial features which are more predominant and in turn photograph better when having their portrait created. Remembering that photography is two dimensional, we can recreate this effect by shooting our subjects from an elevated camera point and having them look up to the camera. By doing this, the subjects face becomes more predominant, but more importantly their body size appears diminished which gives the illusion that their bodies are smaller/skinnier.
Some subjects, especially older subjects have deep defining wrinkles. There are two ways to correct this, one is to make extra work for yourself later and create the image and diminish the wrinkles you’re your retouching skills or you can lower your main light source and place it perpendicular to the subjects face to reduce shadow fall off which is what creates the illusion of depth in the wrinkles. I won’t lie to you; many times you need to use a combination of your lighting and retouching skills.
Some subjects may have a sloped forehead. To correct for this simply tilt the subjects head slightly forward. When you are faced with a subject who has a narrow forehead you should turn their head more to the camera which will result in a wider appearance. Generally heart shaped faces have wide foreheads and narrower longer faces and circular faces have wide foreheads and wide shorter faces. No matter what shape the face, subjects with wide foreheads should turn their faces into and be lit from the short side to diminish the size of their forehead.
Hair is obvious, if your subject is balding or has thin hair use no hair light or a head screen if others are in the photograph with him. Remember basic physics and reflection theory, the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence; if you are using light that may strike the surface of a balding head or a head with thin hair you can also use a lower camera angle to avoiding being on the same visual plane as the specular highlight (the bright spot of light that appears on shiny objects when illuminated reflected) created by the hair light source.
Regardless of all rules, women prefer the side of their hair that looks the best facing the camera; therefore, as long as the opposite side is the “better” side, you want your primary light source to illuminate the opposite side of the face. You must, however, in all cases pay attention to the subjects hair lines to avoid creating unnecessary shadows.
When you are photographing a heavier person you want to do so in a low key light so their body blends into the background. Have them dress in darker solids and use short lighting patterns. Try leaning subjects who are seated or standing forward and raise their head slightly.
You want to avoid using back light to accent a subject’s face when photographing subjects with square and or large jawbones. Try leaning the subject forward and turn their head until you find the position that least accentuates their jaw line
When showing legs in a ¾ pose or full length sitting pose remember you are working two dimensionally, therefore whatever is closest to the camera appears larger. With this in mind, when crossing legs do so at the ankle and make sure you always cross the ankle that is closest to the camera over the ankle that is furthest away from the camera. It is also important that you do not shoot directly into the subject’s knees, turn them away from the camera, so you are not shooting into the subject’s crotch, bringing them into the same focal plane as the rest of the subject’s body.
Remember that when people are standing for a full length or ¾ length pose their weight should be placed on the foot that is furthest from the camera.
With women, the first thing I recommend is a deep color lipstick to add dimension to their face. Light colored shinny lipsticks/lip glosses reflect light make the lips look larger and flatten the subjects face.
It is a wise idea to avoid having subjects with a large mouth smile ‘big’. Have them relax, while you should try encouraging subjects with smaller mouths to smile. If your subject has a crooked smile try having them tilt their head slightly to level their mouth. Also reduce your light ratio and use a stronger fill to soften the shadow under their nose.
Longer necks are generally not objectionable as we strive to pose to lengthen for a graceful appearance. With shorter necks, however, you must make sure to that your subject has excellent posture as this will lengthen the neck. Be careful of your field plane, bringing your camera to a lower vantage point while having the sub raise the angle of their head. Placing your lights at a lower level will also help lengthen the neck line.
You need to pay special attention to the shape of your subject’s nose.
You need to be aware that there are all shapes and sized, including: long, crooked, short/stubby nose and flat/shapeless noses; our job as a photographer is to make them look good. Let’s start with how to correct a long nose. Place your main source of light at a lower angle while raising the angle of the subjects head while shooting from a slightly lower vantage point. With crooked noses you will need to watch the turn of the subject’s head to see where it looks its best. Short or stubby noses are easily corrected by leaning the subject’s head forward and placing your main light source at a higher angle. Unfortunately the best way to handle a subject with a flat shapeless nose is to build it up using your retouching skills.
Perhaps the largest sin in portrait photography is turning the subject’s head so far that their nose breaks the plane of their cheek. Never do this! Always make sure that the subject’s nose stays within the subject’s cheek line.
Scars & Defects
When handling scars and defects my advice is to keep them in the shadows or out of sight from the camera’s vantage.
Most obvious shoulder issue is caused by poor posture. To correct for drooping shoulders have you subject straighten their back even if they are in a pose that requires leaning. When you straighten your subjects posture you not only remove slouching shoulders, but you give your subject a longer neck so their head doesn’t look like a bowling ball on shoulders! When your subject has high or ‘square’ shoulders you need to relax your subject a little and avoid full frontal views. If you are creating a head shot or traditional business/yearbook style portrait you can crop into the shoulders a little bit making them appear narrower to the viewer.
Unless creating a character portrait of an older person, you should use very soft diffused light to create a portrait of a person with wrinkles. Keep your main light source lower and perpendicular to the subject to diminish shadows that will give the illusion of depth to the wrinkles. Avoid close up poses and use soft focus lenses, filters or add softness in Photoshop after creating your portrait.
Most importantly, remember to have fun, but don’t forget you are the image creator. Now you can control everything with the aid of the guidelines from the first three parts of this article from lens selection, controlling your depth of field, and lighting to help you through the creative process of portraiture, you can use them anyway you want. Interested in learning more about creating portraits or other photo related subjects? Click here or contact us directly at (215) 887-1248 and ask for Jeff to inquire about private mentoring. If you are not in the local Philadelphia area, for your convenience, we offer private mentoring via Facetime and Skpe.