There are 35 rules (suggestions) that should be followed if one expects
his or her portrait images to rise above the "that is a nice picture" to "WOW
you did that?" status. I have never seen them assembled into a book and
published, other than a book by master photographer Don Peterson written in
1985. He listed 25 of them. Even when Googling it all I get is his rules
(posted by myself and one other person) over the past several years on various
websites. Several of those "old rules" have become "obsolete" in the new
millennium. My list has been garnered over the last 25 years and modified
somewhat by the "relaxation" of posing in the last ten years or so.|
Why rules? People will simply not spend $100.00 for an 8 x 10 snapshot. They will however spend $100.00 for an 8 x 10 if it is a beautiful portrait, and if you follow the rules you should get beautiful portraits. Once you learn them you can then judiciously bend or break them a little to acheive that "perfect" image that you see in your mind.
These rules are for PORTRAIT images. Just as there is a difference between a pick up truck and a sports car, even though both are motor vehicles, both run on gasoline and both will get you to your destination in comfort, there is also a difference between portraiture and fashion images. In portraiture it is all about the face. In fact the word "portrait" literally means "A pictorial likeness or photograph of a face." In fashion photography it is all about the clothing. While some rules will cross over some don't.
Rule # 1. No Sleeveless Clothing in The Head and Shoulders Portrait. I took the image on the left, cloned her blouse several times in order to cover her right upper arm. Note the difference as to where your eye is drawn when you view the image. In a portrait the first thing you should see is the face.
Now lets move on to the next one. Rule # 2. "No shorts in group portraiture." This happened to me twice this year (for the first time in years!) Even though we specifically state in our clothing consultation NO SHORTS we still get people who show up in shorts. When this family called, they said they wanted to be photographed in blue jeans and asked if that is OK. I said yes and told mom to make sure the shirts/blouses are all the same color. I of course was expecting long blue jeans NOT shorts. The image below is one of the poses. Note how dad's and his youngest daughter's bare legs really attract attention. That is because our eyes are attracted to bare skin, and that is why the ONLY bare skin that should show in PORTRAITURE is the face. Remember, the FACE is what portraiture is all about.
3. Avoid Bright Colors and Bold Patterns in Clothing. The idea of a portrait is to see the face of the subject. Brightly colored clothing and bold patterns draw the eye away from the subject's face. (This is especially true in the head and shoulders portrait.)
4. Avoid Football Shoulders-The body should not be turned straight to the camera.
5. Solid Pyramidal Base - The body should not be turned 90 degrees away from the camera. 45 degrees is usually the ideal angle for the head and shoulders portrait. Posing someone at a 90 degree angle to the camera does not allow the head to appear to have proper support. After posing the subject at a 45 degree angle, bring the arms out to form the sides of the pyramid.
The above rules are true whether you are shooting a head and shoulders image or a full length family portrait. My examples will be of the head and shoulders image. I borrowed these images from my video "Photographing The High School Senior Girl in the New Millenium." Also note I broke the "no sleeveless clothing" rule. Remember, the main thing in portraiture is to keep the main thing (the face of the subject) the main thing.
Lastly, Sit Tall- (Rule 7) Do not allow your subject to slump over or get round shouldered. Note how May has slumped over in both of these images making her look short and dumpy.
Rule # 6, Correct Posing Stool Height- I have found that a 24 inch tall stepladder works wonderfully as a posing stool for nearly all of my traditional head shots, provided my subject is not very overweight. For the overweight subject use a taller stool to allow their paunch to drop. I added a wider top rung (the seat) to the wooden ladder because most people's buns are wider than 4 inches!
In the image I posted below, you can see my modified stepladder. It also shows how raising the leg closest to the camera will tilt the torso (and the shoulders) slightly away from the camera, which happens to be Rule 9. This rule applies to females only.
9. (Females) Lean Slightly Away From The Camera. I also place a small wooden wedge under the buttock closest to the camera. This will keep the shoulder that is closest to the camera higher than the other one, but will still allow the subject to relax. I added "sides" to my widened top rung with slots on both sides for the wedge to fit into.
Rule 8. Lean Forward Slightly-"Over the belt buckle." This eliminates the static straight up and down look and will give a feeling of movement and motion to the portrait.
Rule 10. Project The Chin - Especially if your subject has a full or double chin. By projecting the chin out toward the camera and using a slightly higher camera position the double chin can be nearly eliminated. Photoshop can finish the rest!
11. Proper Head Tilt- Never tip a man’s head to the high (feminine) shoulder as he will look feminine. Women's heads can be tipped toward either shoulder, but the feminine shoulder is more appealing.
Now the female in the masculine and feminine head tilts.
I have noticed that female photographers are not as "wary" about photographing men in the feminine head tilt. Perhaps it would be a good idea to ask the male prior to making the capture if they mind if they look feminine in the image. If they say go ahead, do it.
Rule # 12. Proper Eye Direction-Generally speaking, in males the eyes should follow the direction of the nose. For females there should be slightly more whites of the eyes on one side than on the other. Rule 12a. The eyes should never be turned so far in their sockets that there is no white area on one side. A slightly higher camera angle will give more whites at the bottom than at the top which is more appealing in images of young females. In the image below the subject is staring up into space. Some wise sage once said; "The eyes are the windows to the soul." This is not to say that every image must have the subject looking directly at the lens, but it seems most people like images that the subject is looking at the camera (them) and sales data will bear this out to be true.
Rule 13. Proper Camera Height - Generally speaking, the camera lens should be at about eye level for head and shoulders portraits, chin level to chest level for ¾ length and chest level to waist level for full length portraits. An even lower camera height for heavy set brides, that are posed standing, will make her appear taller and more "regal."
This rule is perhaps the one I break most often. Just as I will not tilt the head of a 60 year old female as much as I will of a 16 year old female, I also don't usually stand on a step ladder or stool to photograph a 60 year old woman, but I do for a girls high school senior portrait. A higher camera position in head and shoulders portraits of high school seniors will give their eyes a more "glamourous" look. If the 60 year old woman wants to look glamourous, I will of course use a high camera position (or if she has a double chin) it all depends of the final use of the image.
In the image below, I broke rule 13. I was on a step ladder about nine feet above the subject in the second image and at ground level for the first image. Note how much thinner she appears in the second image. This seems to work best for subjects seated on the floor.
Rule 14. Use The 1-2-2 or The 1-3-2 Posing Technique. Males look best with the 1-2-2. Females look best with the 1-3-2 technique. For a complete run down and additional information on this technique see my posting in this tutorial sub-forum entitled The 1-2-3 Posing Technique. The images below shows both.
Rule 15. Avoid Flat Lighting. Portraits usually look best with one side brighter than the other side. When the shadow side of the face is closest to the lens it is called short lighting. Short lighting will make the face appear narrower and more slender. If the shadow is on the side opposite of the lens it is called broad lighting. Broad lighting will make the face appear wider and heavier. Flat lighting is where there are no shadows on the face at all. On camera flash will give you flat lighting. In the image below, the flat lit image was lit with my home made ring light, the other with a 24 x 32 inch softbox with louvers at camera right.
Rule 16. Watch the Nose and Cheek Line-The face should not be turned so far away from the camera that the nose will break or nearly break the far cheek line. This will make the nose look large. 16 a. The far eye should either been seen completely or not be seen at all, but one should never photograph the face so that only 1/2 of the far eye shows. Note that this pose will also cause the subject's eyes to have too much white on one side of the eye as opposed to the other side of the eye (a violation of rule 12.)
I am posting several today and tomorrow as I will be gone next week helping out with Hurricane Katrina rebuilding.
Rule 17. Avoid Clutter - Simplicity is usually best! Too many props in an image or a busy, sharply focused or brightly lit background will create confusion for the eye.
17 a. Busy clothing will create confusion for the eye. The eye should immediately be drawn and rest upon the subject. Using a telephoto lens with a large aperture will give you short depth of field which will blur the background.
In the left image below, the pattern of the blouse is too busy and the background is too sharp. These two problems have been corrected in the image on the right. A simple blouse change and moving her forward about 12 feet (and stepping back with the camera 12 feet) allowed the background to be softened. This could also be done in Photoshop.
Rule 18. Crop Between The Joints, Not At them. Cropping at a joint makes the subject appear amputated. Several months ago, I critiqued an image on the 'net that broke this rule and the image maker responded that he sees "amputated" limbs in fashion magazines all the time. I told him he needs to keep two things in mind. 1. He was seeing the image after the art director of the magazine had cropped the image to fit the space allowed in the magazine, and these rules are mainly for the portrait photographer.
Rule 19. Watch Recessed Cheek Line with Glasses. I usually have the subject obtain empty eyeglass frames which will solve the problem immediately. Otherwise you may have sacrifice good lighting and turn the head straight toward the camera.
Rule 20. Don’t Overuse Hair and Kicker Lights-The hair light should kiss the hair, not blast it. Same for the kicker lights.
Rule 21. If It Bends, Bend It-This rule is perhaps the single most important rule. 21 a. Wherever there is a joint, “break” it. Combining these rules along with Rule 8 (Lean the body over the belt buckle, Rule 9 Lean slightly away from the camera Rule 31 If the subject has two of them make them different and lastly Rule 32 (A general rule) Avoid 90 Degree Arms will create a very dynamic image devoid of any staticness. These rules are basically true whether the pose is a head and shoulders pose or a full length seated pose.
Note in the posted image nothing is straight (other than her wrists) or straight up and down. She is at a 45 degree angle to the camera, leaning back, her hips are canted, her shoulders are slightly tipped, her head is tilted, her back leg is bent, both elbows are bent, all of her fingers are curled and even her eyes are not straight in their sockets (Rule 12.) All of this bending, leaning, tilting, twisting and turning also helps in following Rule 31, If The Subject Has Two of Them, Make Them Different. Note her hands are not at the same height nor are they across from one another, her elbows are at different heights, her knees (even though you can't see them) are at two different heights.
Rule 22. Don’t Stack The Hands or Clasp Them Together-Seperate them and place them apart and between the joints. Hide the rear hand if possible in group portraits. I've posted three images showing how this rule was broken three different ways.
Rule 23. Subdue the Near hand-The hand that is nearest to the lens will appear larger than what it actually is. 23 a. Don't project the hands toward the lens and keep them within the range of focus. 23 b. Generally speaking, if the hand is above the subject's waist, the fingers should be directed upwards. If below the waist, the fingers should be directed down. The little finger side of the hand photograph's best. I will post an image that does NOT break this rule.
I'm back. Ok, Rule 24. Don’t Photograph The Back of Women's Hands. The sides are much more graceful than the flat of the hand. Fists are masculine, open hands are feminine. Note how much more graceful the edges of the hands of the young lady in the second image looks when compared to the flat back of the hand in the first image.
This is perhaps a better example of showing how the sides of the hands photograph better than the flat back.
Rule 25. Place the Weight on the Back Foot- and shift the hips (with standing poses.) This will put the hips and shoulders at a pleasing angle. Ask the subject to point her foot that is nearest to the camera toward the camera and shift her weight to the back hip. This means the front leg and foot will have no weight on it. She should then bend her knee slightly toward the other leg. This will give a pleasing “S” curve to her body.
As you may have already noticed, some rules are for women only, some for men only, some for couples and groups only. Then there are rules for seated poses only, standing poses only and some work best on younger subjects as opposed to more mature subjects.
Rule 26. (Couples Portraiture) Do Not Photograph Two Heads at the Same Height- Ideally the eyes of the shorter subject (usually the female) should be at the same height as the mouth of the taller subject.
Rule 27. (Couples or Group Portraiture) Have No Head Directly Above Another-All heads should not only be at different heights but also not directly above another subject.
Rule 28. Avoid Crotch Shots-Raising the leg that is closest to the camera in a standing pose will prevent shooting into the subject’s crotch. In groups, turning the subject's body to a 45 degree angle and keeping the legs together should prevent shooting into the crotch. This rule has been "relaxed" in the last decade or so for high school senior images, especially for boys and to a somewhat lesser extent for gals.
Rule 29. Use The Right Key and Good Taste-Generally speaking a subject dressed in all white looks best in a medium or high key background. Conversely, a subject dressed in dark clothing looks best on a medium or dark (low key) background. Note in the above image (the gal in rule # 28) I broke this rule because she is dressed in black with a black prop but on a white background. Again this rule is frequently broken especially in high school senior portraiture.
Rule 30. If The Subject Has Two of Them, Make Them Different. Feet, knees, arms, hands and elbows at different levels are more interesting than when placed side by side. Note in the posted image that everything that can be made different has been made different. His hips are not level, his shoulders are not level, his head is tipped to the masculine shoulder, he is leaning slightly, his knees, feet, arms, hands and elbows are not side by side but are placed at different and multiple levels. Sameness leads to boringness in a photographic image.
Rule 31. Avoid "90 Degree" Arms (a general rule for females.) Don Blair called these arms "Carpenter's T square arms."
Gently flowing lines usually look best in portraits of women. I broke this rule in my example image of rule 25 above. In my bridal example below I followed it.
Rule 32. Don't Shoot Into a Bare Armpit. Either cover it with something or raise the opposite arm and bring the near arm down. I've seen bare armpits covered with the young lady's long hair, flowers, toul, strips of cloth, and small props. With long sleeved clothing shooting into an armpit is usually not a problem. In the example image I covered one with her long hair, and I heavily retouched the other. She didn't buy this image.
Rule 33. (Group Portraiture) Have the subjects at either end of the image face in toward the center. This will keep the viewers attention on the subjects. I also use this technique in my high school senior foilios. The images on the left side of the folio all face to the right and those on the right face left. The master painters of the Rennaissance used this technique to keep the viewers attention within the painting.
Well gang, we have two to go, and I don't have an image to go along with either of them.
Rule 34. Use A Telephoto Lens- Short telephoto lenses will prevent foreshortening, which is where objects nearest the lens will appear larger than objects farther away. Use of a short telephoto lens in group portraiture will make all the faces approximately the same size regardless of whether they are in the front row or the rear row. (I used a short telephoto lens in the family image above in rule 33.)
Rule 35. Avoid Posing A Bride Kneeling on the Floor. The wedding gown is designed to look "correct" and usually flows beautifully (and therefore photographs best) when the bride is standing. A bride seated on a posing stool is of course perfectly acceptable.
P.S. I'm open for suggestions for additional tutorials.
Benji's Book Posing and Lighting
My full color 8.5 x 11 inch glossy 44 page book on how to pose and light the high school senior girl is in my hands are ready to be shipped. It has 44 different poses in it, including head and shoulders, waist up, 3/4 and full length poses. Twenty six poses are shown without a prop, most of the rest of the poses are with chairs that can be bought locally in a second hand furniture store (or new!) I also show a steel "school" chair that I have modified, and I've included instructions how to do it. Four pages of lighting diagrams and five wide angle shots showing the entire scene, then the actual close up shot of that same image so you can see just what the heck the rest of her body is doing to get that great close up shot! LOTS of posing and lighting tips in easy to understand language. Poses for the larger gal as well as the size 6 senior are shown. This is a "lay flat" book that you can show to your client and let her choose what she likes thereby eliminating poses that will not sell.
Benji's Video Photographing The High School Senior in the New MillenniumOver 45 minutes long and jam packed with lots of good instruction on posing and lighting for the high school senior girl. How to get beautiful indoor lighting for head and shoulders portraits, 3/4 length and full length poses. All of this and lots more are covered, most showing exactly what I do to get the shot. I show in several of the images what problems will crop up when YOU attempt this pose and what you need to do to correct it. The exact placement of the lights to get these shots is also covered in detail. Outdoor poses are covered also. Perfect exposure quickly and easily whether you are shooting digital or film. This is the instructional video for you. You have already experienced my easy to understand style of teaching in my tutorials found here and several of them are included in this video also.
How to order: