Common Problems and Solutions.

Today's post features a few of the many tips available in Jeff Smith's Guide to Head and Shoulders Portrait Photography. It is available from and other fine retailers.

While there are many problems to correct, even in a head and shoulders style portrait, the following are the major ones. Basically, you’ll need to adapt your poses to cover, disguise, or cast a shadow on the areas of the body and face that are problems. You will find that many of the more relaxed poses already hide some of the most annoying problems your clients have.

Double Chin. A double chin (or the entire neck area) is easily hidden by resting the chin on the hands, arms, or shoulders. Be careful that the subject barely touches his or her chin down on the supporting element. Resting on it too heavily will alter the jawline.

Another way to make a double chin and loose skin on the neck easier on your client’s eyes is to stretch the area, pulling it tighter. To do this, turn the body away from the light, then turn the face back toward the light. This will stretch out the double chin so that it will not be as noticeable.

In poses like these, the neck and chin area is concealed. This is helpful for hiding the area if it’s a
problem—but the poses also look great for trim subjects.

When a traditional head and shoulders pose is needed (for a yearbook, business publication, etc.), it is sometimes impossible to use the hands or arms to hide this problem area. Posing the body to make the neck stretch can only do so much to hide a large double chin. In a case like this, you do what some photographers call the “turkey neck.” To do this, have the subject extend their chin directly toward the camera, which stretches out the double chin. Then have them bring down their face to the proper angle. Most of the time, this eliminates the double chin from view. This technique is especially helpful when photographing a man who is wearing a shirt and tie. Men who have large double chins often also have tight collars, which push up the double chin and make it even more noticeable.

Here seen from the side, the “turkey neck” pose helps stretch out the area under the chin for a more flattering appearance.

Wide or Narrow Faces.
If the subject has a wider face, you can slim it by increasing the angle of the face to the main light. This creates more shadowing on the face. Conversely, if the subject has a very narrow face, you can make it look fuller by decreasing the angle of the face to the main light. In both cases, however, note that this change will result in other lighting changes on the face, such as the nose becoming more prominent as the face is turned away from the main light to slim it.

Ears. Corrective posing is the best way to combat the problem of ears that stick out too far. Ladies who have a problem with their ears usually wear their hair over them. In this case, make sure that the subject’s hair isn’t tucked behind her ear, as this will make the ears stand out. Larger ears can also stick out through the hair, making them appear really large.

Without hair to conceal them, the best way to reduce the appearance of the ears is to turn the face toward the main light until the ear on the main-light side of the face is obscured from the camera’s view. Then, move the fill source farther from the subject to increase the shadow on the visible ear, or move the main light more to the side of the subject to create a shadow over the ear. Reducing the separation between the subject and the background in this area will also make the outline of the ear less visible. Overhead hair lights should be turned off to avoid highlighting the top of the ear.

Turn the face toward the main light to conceal the far ear, then reduce the fill light on the shadow side to obscure the other ear.

In a situation where the ears are so large that they can’t be hidden in this manner, you have two choices: either let the ears be seen or highlight only the “mask” of the face, letting both sides of the face fall into shadow.


Available Light

Today's post comes from the book Available Light: Photographic Techniques for Using Existing Light Sources by Don Marr. It is available from and other fine retailers.

These shots were created in an alcove near the parking lot at a all—glamorous, I know. The sun bounced off the pavement to the right of the camera. To the left of the camera was a dark doorway. The light on her face was coming strongly from the side and below. This is the first type of open-shade light: open shade side lighting. You really can’t lose with this kind of light. It’s soft and directional and provides flattering results for most subjects. There is a nice light ratio (difference in exposure) from the light side of her face to the shadow side.

Here, we see open-shade side lighting. The warm-colored walls helped maintain a nice skin color on the shadow side of her face.

Here is an important aspect to keep in mind: The open-shade area you choose to shoot in will have an effect on the color temperature of the shot, especially in the shadow areas. By setting your white balance to the shade setting on your digital camera, you will be able to correct the cool color temperature of open shade to a more neutral color. The camera will correct for the light, but it won’t correct for the environment that your subject is standing in. In this shot, the warm-colored walls helped to keep the shadow side of her face warmly colored. If these walls had been blue, however, the shadow side of her face would have had a definite cool color cast.

For the next shot, the model faced the dark doorway with her back to the sunlit pavement. This created the second type of open shade light: open-shade backlighting. This type of light creates a nice wrap of light around the edge of the subject. It can be difficult to meter this type of light, though.

Strong backlighting fools the in-camera light meter. It tries to average out the exposure, resulting in underexposure on the subject’s face.

This strongly backlit situation, with all of the sunlight bouncing off the pavement behind her, fooled the camera’s meter. It chose an average exposure to try to tone down all of that bright light, which resulted in underexposure on the model’s face. To correct for the underexposure on her face, I set my camera’s metering mode to spot metering. I took a few test shots to assure that this technique gave me a correct exposure on her face, noted the exposure, then turned the camera to the manual mode and shot at the noted exposure. This way, if I composed a shot where the subject was not completely centered, I could still be assured of a good exposure on her face.

In backlit situations, use spot metering, initially, to meter your subject’s face, but shoot in the manual mode. Then you can step back and choose the composition you want without worrying about the backlight affecting your exposure. You can be assured of a correct exposure on your subject’s face even if you decide to off-center them in your composition.

For the final shot, the subject’s face is correctly exposed and the background is overexposed to white. The white light from behind wrapped around her face to frame it nicely. There was another feature in this glamorous mall alcove: a recessed light in the ceiling. I had her stand under this light. This lit her hair on top and helped fill in the light on her face a bit.

This is open-shade backlighting. The subject's face was correctly exposed using spot metering.


Posing for Children's Portrait Photography

Today's post comes from the books The Art of Children's Portrait Photography by Tamara Lackey. It is available from and other fine retailers.

In contemporary photography, the word “posing” is sometimes used with a negative onnotation. A lot of people say they want to avoid “posed” photographs when they really mean that they want more expressive imagery. However, posing is not a bad thing. Ideally, a lot of what posing is about is setting up an individual in a manner that is most flattering to them and photographing them from an angle and at a focal length that best showcases their attributes.

Even if you never place a child in an exact pose and put her finger exactly like this and sweep her chin to the side exactly like that, it doesn’t mean that you won’t know a heck of a lot more about how to best flatter your subject by learning the basic rules of posing.

Start with poses that kids normally adopt in their everyday life, then go from there.

Some Simple Rules. The following are some simple rules to consider when looking for the best pose in a subject.

1. When posing multiple subjects, consider the physical distance between them. What may be a comfortable space between two subjects in everyday life may look pronounced in a photograph. Consider moving them closer together for an intimate and affectionate look.

Look for ways to show curves, rather than straight lines, in your subjects’ poses.

2. Think about what looks comfortable and start there. Leaning against a wall, a tree, or a window; hugging knees to the chest; laying on their back with their head turned to the side; hands in pockets; arms crossed naturally; “self hugs;” laying belly-down with legs kicked up in the air—these are natural poses for children in their day-to-day life. Start with what looks normal and easy, then let it evolve from there.

3. When photographing a parent with their child, remind them to pay attention to positioning their chin a bit more out and down to avoid an unnecessary double chin. It’s a natural response to laugh and throw your head back and shoulders up, but this can create the illusion of more girth around the neck and chin area. You can easily avoid this by offering a few quick tips to the subject(s) before the shoot even begins.

4. Consider showcasing the beautiful S-curve of your subjects. A completely straight body facing the camera head-on can tend to look stocky. Creating some turns in the form, on the other hand, creates a look that is more fluid, graceful, and attractive. Simply turning an individual to the left or right can create this S-curve quite easily.

With a bit of subtle coaching, you can get a variety of natural poses and expressions.

5. With children, you typically want to get down to their level, but sometimes shooting from above—with their gaze cast upward toward the camera—can really accentuate their striking eyes.

A high camera angle can be used to accentuate a subject’s striking eyes.