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Old 11-14-2006   #1
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Default The Rules Of Good Portraiture

There are nearly 40 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 rules have become, let's say, "obsolete" in the new millennium. I have garnered these rules over the last 25 years as a professional photographer. Some of them have been modified somewhat by the general relaxation of posing people in the last ten to fifteen years or so.

Why rules in portraiture? Most people would not spend $100.00 for an 8 x 10 snapshot that they could have done themselves with a point and shoot camera in their own backyard. They will however spend $100.00 (or more) for an 8 x 10 if it is a beautiful portrait of their loved one, one in which they look good, 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 achieve that "perfect" image that you see in your mind.

These rules are for PORTRAIT images. Just as there is a difference between a mini van 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 be applicable to both fashion images and portraiture some will not.

Benji

P.S. Most of these rules are covered in detail in my instructional DVD Photographing The High School Senior in The New Millennium. I also have published a book Posing and Lighting For Senior Girls. PM me for ordering information.

This tutorial is copyrighted by Sonshine Studios 2006.

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Old 11-14-2006   #2
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

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.

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Old 11-15-2006   #3
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

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.

Benji
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Old 11-16-2006   #4
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

Next four rules, (since I have two images that show four problems!)

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.

Benji
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Old 11-17-2006   #5
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

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.


Benji*
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Old 11-17-2006   #6
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

Next rule,

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. In the left image below she is seated bolt upright. In the right hand image she is leaning over the belt buckle to camera left and also slightly to the left rear. I then had her turn her head back toward the main light at camera right.

Benji
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Old 11-18-2006   #7
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

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 manís 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.
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Old 11-18-2006   #8
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

Female head tilt. Note that the female looks good in either the masculine head tilt, or the feminine head tilt. In some poses the masculine head tilt works better for the female, especially if the background or the set she is posed in is a more masculine background or set.

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Old 11-20-2006   #9
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

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, and you should not shoot into the whites of the eyes.* 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.*

12b. The catchlights from the main light are considered correctly placed when they appear at the eleven o'clock or one o'clock position in both eyes. One catchlight is normally preferred because there is only one sun but two or more is acceptable. One catchlight per eye suggests thoughtfulness; more than one creates a look a merriment. In multiple catchlight images the catchlight from the main light should be the brightest.

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.*

Benji
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Old 11-21-2006   #10
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Default Re: The Rules Of Good Portraiture

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 ĺ 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 works best for subjects seated on the floor. Note how the background "moved up" when I raised the camera position up. You may want to pre-position the background somewhat lower to compensate for this.

Benji


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