How to Get the Perfect Portrait Angle as Proven by 'Science'

Surprisingly small changes to the position of your camera can actually make your images much more successful. Ed over at Photos In Color decided to set himself the challenge of trying to make the perfect headshot in studio conditions. While keeping the lighting and the camera distance from the model the same each time, various heights and angles were tested and carefully captured so the differences could be compared.

Having this scientific and controlled approach really does allow you to see those subtle changes which you sometimes might miss in the heat of a photoshoot. Now even though the changes are rather small and may even be undetectable to most, those unconscious signals given out from a portrait could really be the difference between an image being just good or really great.

It's actually fascinating to see in the video how the differences in the camera's position can actually alter the shape of the model's shoulders and head. Knowing how to control these changes to your advantage is a valuable skill when working with models of all shapes and sizes.

Take a look to see the findings yourself and decide on which combination of height and angle are most appropriate for your next masterpiece. I'd love to hear which images were your favorite and why. Personally, I preferred the more dynamic angles when the camera was moved away from the center as they are more dramatic, but that's just me.

Log in or register to post comments

21 Comments

gabe s's picture

So fresh! She looks really fresh. Fresh? Good tips, but I feel the images lack any contrast. They look really flat.

Paul Adshead's picture

Lighting aside, I hope you can see the subtle changes in dynamism between the shots?

gabe s's picture

You can see it a little. The problem is like Pete said, you can't see her chin in some of the images.

Pete Whittaker's picture

I agree with the comment about lack of contrast. Maybe the power of the fill light was too close to the key light because it seemed to me like her chin was almost the same tonal value as her throat and the jaw line was just being lost.

Seeing the different angles all together was nice but repeatedly saying that this was science was cringe worthy (at least for me).

The hypothesis needed to include a statement about the intent of the photo. I know for casting it's desirable to have a very simple, straight on head shot but as a portrait where you're trying to make your subject look their best, his recommendation of eye-level, straight on seemed a little too "Department of Motor Vehicles" for my tastes.

Paul Adshead's picture

That's fair Pete, execution wasn't the best but the concepts in the video are definitely worth knowing...

Michael Lloyd's picture

Although I agree with some of the insights of this post, a "one size fits all" approach does not work for everyone, different people look better differently, I usually try different angles and lighting and because I shoot teathered, I review my shots instantly and I come up with the "best" look when I see it, it's a feeling or experience. I also have interviewed the subject beforehand and ask what the image will be used for and I take all these questions into concideration. Also is it just me or do you see shadows right under her eyes and do we want that? I would not...

Paul Adshead's picture

Looking past the lighting, I hope you found the video of some use. These concepts really can make the difference in a shot...

I can't get past the obvious shadows under her eyes in the image he's calling "fresh". The key light needed to come down a little or tip her head up a touch. I think a head shot is more about finding a lighting pattern that is appropriate for the subject and what they'd like to convey and working with that person to create a rapport that makes a good shot possible.

Paul Adshead's picture

You're right, there's lots more than technical skill involved in capturing a good portrait. Still, I hope the video gave you some things to consider...

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

Thanks for sharing. It's certainly a good place to start/finish/build from/build confidence etc. It was fun playing around with it a bit.

Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks for sharing too Aaron! This looks great!

Robert Arbitter's picture

Thanks for sharing. Interesting info, but the title "Why this is the perfect PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY angle - Proven by SCIENCE" is totally incorrect.

Paul Adshead's picture

'Science' is in quotes in the title because the video keeps saying 'Science' in a tongue in cheek way...

Richard Lee's picture

Photographers have no intellect. Not even close to science but some will think so.

Paul Adshead's picture

'Science' is in quotes in the title because the video keeps saying 'Science' in a tongue in cheek way...

It's the tradition in shooting women to shoot slightly from above (slight birds eye view), which is a pretty established way of shooting. But the "science" here relies on complete bogus grounds. "Oh, it's so fresh" is hardly a criteria for judging something. To make it more scientific you could've randomly selected a bunch of different photographers from different backgrounds and asked them what image they thought were shot at the best angle aesthetically, but even then you would probably just reinforce tradition.

Personally I favour photos shot where the subject is powerful, whether they are a woman or a man. And those tend to be shot from slightly below, looking up.

ps. What's with the blown out highlights in the introduction? :O

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Tobias, the 'science' relates more to a 'scientifc approch' which Ed has used to minimise as many variables as possible. Maybe a few more vaiables should have been removed too.

I agree that the word fresh doesn't help much...

"Science" is a bit of a clickbait title and really made me cringe, but I did appreciate the grid-fire approach and subtle changes to the image.

I personally have different preferences though: for me the #6 (center, 8" up) seems to be the winner for this model. I think this is largely due to her symmetrical hairstyle and flat lighting. On most models, I lean towards a side, slightly above shot (#5 and #7). The dead eyes were also a bit distracting--I would have preferred a separate, higher catch-light, but again, I understand why you're going for symmetrical-flat lighting here to evaluate positioning.

Normally I perceive the lighting, hairstyle, model, and style-goal all to have a greater say in the appropriate angle than flat shots like this would indicate, but this still helped me seeing it all together. Thanks for posting the video.

Paul Adshead's picture

The 'science' relates more to a 'scientifc approch' which Ed has used to minimise as many variables as possible.

Thanks for your imput on which of the 16 images in the grid were your favourite. I was hoping more people would tell me their opinion on which they prefered for a headshot...

Jonathan McMorran's picture

Thanks for posting this! I appreciate the thorough approach to testing out different angles (whether or not people agree its science is pretty irrelevant).
I liked number 6 the best, personally, and then 5 and 7. They had a good balance of being dynamic, but not too dramatic. So, I guess I liked the slightly higher angle more generally. I didn't agree that the bottom three were more intense, they felt flat to me. I found the extreme edges to have a bit more drama though.
It would be a curious social experiment to have a large number of people (especially if they happened to be casting agents or HR personnel), rate the various angles/looks for things like honesty, trustworthiness, etc. It could be helpful for clients when making their picks.

Paul Adshead's picture

What a great idea! my other thought was to use a realistic manikin so the expression and position stay identical and thus remove another variable.

Thanks for your comment!