How To Photograph The Female Face – Portrait Photography

Whether it’s a wife, girlfriend, daughter or even a complete stranger – when you photograph a female’s face, she expects you to make her look terrific.

Within reason.

I’m not saying you should use heavy diffusion and cake on the make-up so that she becomes unrecognizable. Or do a lot of extensive retouching to make her look like a movie star. That’s not what she wants (even though a lot of women will jokingly ask you to do those very things).

What she probably wants is to look like herself on the best day she ever had!

And you can do that—with the proper selection of clothing, lenses filters, and lighting.

How to Make a Woman Look Her Best in Photos

Ask your model to get plenty of rest the night before her portrait. Bags and bloodshot eyes don’t photograph too well. Keep a small bottle of Visine, Murine, or some such product in your camera bag for red eye emergencies. Believe it or not, a small dab of Preparation H under (not in) the eyes will work wonders on the bags.

Photographic lights tend to wash out our faces—even if it’s only an on camera flash—and a touch extra make-up will help. Let her handle her own make-up, but ask her to apply it just a little heavy. Not too much.

Unless she has scars she doesn’t want showing or an incredibly long neck that you want to minimize, stay away from turtle necks. V-necks tend to visually lengthen the neckline and upper torso and are slimming.

On clothing, stay away from prints and loud patterns. They tend to draw the eye away from the face and we want HER to be the star—not her clothing!

Shadows define shape, so darker colors that minimize the appearance of shadows are more slimming.

female portait tips

Photo by Nick Arnot

When posing, have her seated on a stool or chair—preferably with no back—where she can have both feet flat on the floor and so that she cannot lean back and/or lounge. Have her sit up straight. (Like Mother always used to say!)

Have her turn about 45 degrees to the side so that she is not straight on to the camera. The only time you want a subject’s shoulders straight on to the camera is if they are a football player in full uniform.

Wide faces can be narrowed by turning her head to a three quarter view. Thinner faces can be widened by having her turn more toward the camera.

In our current cultural view of beauty, high cheekbones are considered beautiful. So…positioning your light a little higher will make the light hit the cheekbones and cast shadow underneath. This will visually give her high cheekbones!

Shadows tend to recede in a photograph and brightly lit areas come forward, so whether you light the side of the face toward the camera (and have shadow on the other side), or whether you light the further side can make the face look thinner or wider as desired.

Above all, be sure there is a catch light in the eyes! The eyes are the windows to the soul and without a catch light, they appear flat and dead looking.

catchlight for portraits woman's eyes

Photo by Marina Vitale

No matter how long you study photography, there is always some new thing to learn and add to your repertoire, but if you keep these pointers in mind, your female portraits will generate a fantastic reputation for you.

About the Author
Dan Eitreim has been a professional photographer in southern California for over 16 years. His database exceeds 6,000 past clients, and he says that selling YOUR photography is easy if you only know a couple tried and true marketing strategies. He’s created a multimedia presentation that can teach ANYONE how to sell their own photography and generate freelance income in as little as two weeks. To learn more and enroll in a FREE photo marketing course, go to:

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5 responses to “How To Photograph The Female Face – Portrait Photography”

  1. eyes are the windows to the SOUL.

  2. Peter says:

    @ steven: unless you’re a shoe (well spotted :-) )

  3. Biju says:

    I’m smiling to see it “Whether it’s a wife, girlfriend, daughter or even a complete stranger – when you photograph a female’s face, she expects you to make her look terrific.” . Beautiful Quote to me.

    That is why, I read full and make me more creative on my way….

  4. D Horn says:

    The EXPRESSION is the window to the soul.
    Getting a good EXPRESSION is the key to a good portrait.

  5. Lasse says:

    Many photographers are looking too much at exposure and too little on stance, position etc.

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