When composing a portrait, beginning photographers commonly make the mistake of shooting their subject at eye level in most—if not all—situations. In the following video, Doug Gordon at Adorama explains how varying camera angle and camera height affects the quality and composition of a portrait:
Gordon notes that many photographers use the same camera height for all portraits, which leads to stagnant, dull results. He explains that paying attention to camera height yields a world of difference and can truly make your portraits pop.
Camera Angles for Seated Subjects
For his first example, Gordon photographs the model in a seated position. His first shot, taken at a low angle:
Gordon explains that the lower angle of approach isn’t the best for this subject because it creates too much weight in the lower portion of the image, and tries a shot at bust level:
The shot at bust level is a good one, with even body proportions and a balanced head to body ratio. He takes another shot at a higher camera angle to illustrate the difference in this approach:
This approach brings the face closer but makes the body smaller, which Gordon finds disproportionate for this subject. While photographing some subjects above eye level can be desirable for this alteration of perceived body size, it isn’t always the best option for flattering smaller models, and Gordon chooses the bust-level portrait as his favorite.
Camera Angles for Standing Subjects
When photographing standing subjects, camera height determines the base and size of the model’s body. Choosing the appropriate camera height for your subject is key to creating a balanced portrait. Gordon takes the same approach here by shooting from a variety of angles to illustrate the difference in results. His first shot, at low angle:
This angle creates an illusion of the body being bigger than it actually is. Next, a shot at waist height:
This creates an image in which the body appears balanced and natural. The last shot, above eye level:
As noted earlier, this approach decreases body size in the portrait, which can be valuable from some subjects but is less balanced for many slender subjects.
Camera Angles for Head Shots
Portraits from the bust up, capturing the head and shoulders of your subject, are also affected by camera height:
Note that the portrait shot at bust level is the most balanced of these examples. A lower camera height gives the appearance of a fuller face, while a shot above eye level increases perceived head size and distorts the overall balance of the composition. Shooting the portrait at an even higher angle can yield more striking results, as Gordon illustrates by taking a photo of the model while standing on a staircase above her:
For this shot, Gordon also uses a reflector to fill in the shadows and open up the face.
Working with camera height and understanding how it affects your results is key in improving your portrait photography. Gordon recommends shooting at waist level for full length portraits, bust level for seated portraits, and slightly above eye level for head shots. That said, simply understanding the tendency to stay in one position and breaking that pattern can make a world of difference in your photography.
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