How to Find Your Model’s Best Side for Portrait Photography

Photographer Joe Edelman knows a thing or two about how to make a person look good. With a career that has spanned across four decades, he’s taken portraits that have been featured in publications such as Cosmopolitan and Maxim. He offers a few simple steps to help others determine how to best navigate their model’s facial features:

According to cognitive psychologists, the left side of a person’s face is often more emotive because it’s controlled by the right side of the brain (which processes emotion). Indeed, many classical paintings portray the subject’s left side.

However, you can’t arbitrarily photograph a model’s left side and always expect it to be their best without fail. Each individual is graced with different proportions, and elements such as hair, makeup, camera angles, and lighting can completely transform a person’s face. Each person needs to be treated individually.

Many experts agree that human beings find symmetry to be beautiful. However, there isn’t a person on Earth with perfectly symmetrical features. Luckily, the following tips can be incredibly helpful in finding any model’s best features and working with them to create the illusion of symmetry.

1. Get to know each other.

When meeting a model for the first time, study the person you’ll be capturing. Have a conversation and make mental notes of personality traits and body language. Above all, take a good look at the layout of their face. See if there are any crooked features that you want to mask or hide.

2. Which eye is larger?

Every single person has one eye that’s larger than the other. Often times, determining which eye is largest is the key to finding the best side of your subject’s face. Get your subject to smile or laugh; if one eye is significantly larger than the other, smiling will make it easier to tell which side is largest.

3. Use optical illusions.

Once you’ve determined the differences in the eyes of your subject, you can use perspective to balance them out. By photographing your subject with their face at a 3/4 turn, you’ll inherently make the closer eye appear larger. You can use this technique to even out the eyes by having the side with the smaller eye face the camera.

4. Pay attention to the hair.

Hair can play an crucial role in the way a person’s face is framed. If they have bangs that swoop across the forehead, be sure to position the so that their face isn’t obstructed by their hair. Also pay close attention to the way your model parts their hair—tt can serve as a guide to how you might want to position them.

5. When all else fails—experiment!

Understandably, taking all of these details in at once can be difficult for those just getting their start as portrait photographers. If you’re having a difficult time figuring out where to start, just work with a variety of different angles when you’re making test shots. Review the results and work with the poses that seem to be most flattering.

3/4 turn pose

“Success in photography—it’s in the details. You have to learn to see the details and pay attention to them. The rest of it is just basic problem solving.”

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