Welcome to this weeks portrait tips and techniques post, “Facial Recognition”. This is a small part of the topic covered in my eBook, Natural Light Portraiture. Many photographers ask why they should learn facial recognition when their style is candid. My answer is always the same, learn and understand the facial angles that enhance people, then if your style is reactive (candid) you will know where to position yourself to achieve the best result. Of course this applies to lighting also.
Above is an example of positioning myself in advance, knowing the little girl was heading out the gate and having her mother call her, I could achieve a natural portrait of her with the two-third view of the face. This angle of the face is the most flattering angle.
Below is the same scenario, knowing what’s going to happen and being in the right place. Sometimes you still have to move slightly to get the angle correct.

For the directive (posed) photographer  it’s even more essential to learn how to guide or direct the subject to achieve a flattering portrait. Quite often people will reject an image, not knowing the technical reason, but  because they find it unflattering. For example, double chin, bent nose, eyes positioned wrong and so forth. These are some of the reasons people don’t like being photographed, mainly because the photographer doesn’t understand how to choose the correct facial angle to suit each subject.

So what are the correct facial angles? Let’s start with FULL FACE. An easy way to remember it, is to call it the “two ear pose”. Some call it the passport shot, but a slight turn of the shoulders and the head slightly turned away with two ears showing, it’s a more interesting portrait. See below for an example.

The eBook has a facial recognition chart that shows the facial problem and the recommended facial angle and lighting to enhance it.

Next is the two-third angle of the face. As mentioned above this is the most flattering angle and the most used. There are two variations, (1) classic two-third view is where the eyes look straight ahead in the same direction as the nose and (2) modified two-third, where the eyes come back to camera.

The difference is, with the classic version you can turn the head as far away from the camera as possible as long as you don’t break the line of the far eye socket and the nose stays inside the cheek line. The modified two-third is turned less, allowing the eyes to come back to camera comfortably without appearing over corrected. See below for example of the two variations.

Good portrait and wedding photographers understand these guides instinctively, so it becomes second nature to them, especially when under time pressure. They know what to look for and how to achieve it, including lighting which is another subject for another time.

I hope these tips give you some understanding that there is more to just point and capture when photographing people. There is a thought process that can quickly be applied, whether you’re a classic/contemporary or candid photographer. If you want to take your craftsmanship to another level, learning facial recognition  is one big step in the process.

Sorry for the plug, but my eBook has more information on facial recognition plus more tips and techniques for being a natural light portrait/wedding photographer. The information has been compiled over a 25 year period of studying and learning from some of the worlds great masters, living and passed. This knowledge is timeless and the skills learned will stay with you for a lifetime.

More information at About this eBook.

Untill next week, happy shooting,


portrait tips and techniques

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