The Photo-Zen Online Photography Magazine

< Back to index

Corrective Portraiture

By Kenneth C. Hoffman

Why do you like some portraits of yourself and not others? The answer lies in the way the portrait was taken and how close your portrait comes to the accepted idea. People like to think that if a portrait of themselves is needed, they might as well look their best. A portrait photographer must evaluate the overall look of a person and devise a plan to show the person in their best light.

Every characteristic of the face can be emphasized or minimized with the proper use of lighting, angle, lenses and view point. A broad light source 'wraps around' rough or pitted skin, making it appear smoother. Conversely, a small source of light increases the effect of texture and brings out the surface corrugations of the skin. a soft filter blurs the edges of detail, further smoothing the skin while having a minimal effect on more substantial features, like eyes and ears. So if the subject benefits from a smoother look, use all the methods above in addition to a good makeover.

A high camera angle is an important tool for the portrait photographer. When a subject looks up into the lens, neck wrinkles disappear and the eyes appear larger. Excellent for a person with bangs, a high camera angle emphasizes a broad forehead and diminishes a too strong chin. A low camera angle on the other hand strengthens a weak chin (good for men), increases the drama in a strongly lit pose, and fosters a feeling of candidness in the picture.

A normal lens (50mm on a 35mm camera) shows a view of 46 degrees and comes closest to portraying the human face and body (down to the waist) in a normal perspective. The foreshortening neither helps or hinders the perspective of the facial features. A two X telephoto lens (100mm) reduces the foreshortening by fifty per cent, flattening the perspective in a flattering manner. Large noses are rendered shorter, the differences in the right and left sides of the face are noticeably minimized, and a turned body has more equal proportions when compared to each other. Photographers call this focal length a 'Portrait Lens'. If even less foreshortening is required, a 150mm or 200mm lens could be used. Wide angle lenses should be judiciously used: never within six feet of a face and never tilted up or down more than one degree. Outside these perimeters will give up distortions of the unflattering kind, undesirable unless an extreme effect is needed for a specific purpose or an 'outr' look.

A flattering camera view point shows the facial features to their best advantage. Long noses photograph best straight on the camera. High cheekbones are benefited from a slight turn and a high main light. Ears that stick out look best when the far ear just disappears behind the cheek, the near ear placed in a shadow. Profiles are interesting and artistic but are seldom beautiful. A profile portrait highlights the shape of the head, the curve of the neck and the character of the nose and lips. Handsome and regular features are needed for this treatment. Crooked smiles often look better from a slight turn of the head, either to the left or right. Both view points should be considered, photographed and compared. If one such view point seems more even, concentrate on that angle. We live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. While the person inside is the one that counts, the person outside is the one we have to look at. Let's make them look great!

Retired portrait photographer. 71 and still going.

Article Source:

© All photos Copyright Ian Mackean. All rights reserved.  |  Privacy policy