Illustrated Tips for Close-up Portrait Photography
Close up portrait photography, especially of girls and babies is a rewarding experience but not just from the creative standpoint. It is almost not fair, as viewers inevitably will be drawn in by the facial features and big, innocent eyes of children.
Close-up children photography allows the photographer to capture images without the extra clutter, the distracting elements often present, especially when it comes to travel portraits, where the photographer is not always able to choose a simple background.
Close-up portrait photography of smiling Vietnamese girl
Close-up portrait taken in the Cambodian border town of Chau Doc, Vietnam. Even though Chau Doc is a popular travel destination for both Vietnamse and foreign tourists (mainly for Sam Mountain), I doubt that too many tourist photographers wonder the streets of the surrounding neighborhoods. The level of enthusiasm shown to the arriving photographer can indicate how off the beaten track a location is.
Overlaying the Fibonacci spiral, we can see that the girl’s left eye is positioned according to The Golden Ratio. Her round smiling face and jaw line almost perfectly follows the Fibonacci spiral. On later thought I wish I would have placed her face more towards the right edge of the image.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the most prominent features of the portrait – the eyes and the corners of the mouth – are pretty much in the cross hairs of the grid. Still, the portrait seems too symmetric and too centered. So we have a composition here which is in accordance with the Rule Of Thirds grid but does not really work.
Close up portrait photography of Cambodian big eyed baby girl
The soft, diffused light in the open shade, under the tarp of a small convenience store was the perfect portrait photography lighting for this adorable baby. This is a great age for portrait photography as self consciousness doesn’t effect the subject, it is pure innocence and wonder in the eyes.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that both the baby’s left eye and her mouth are right under a grid lines. Her left eye is not exactly at the cross hairs but it doesn’t seem to effect the balance of the composition. It is a nice off-center street portrait, according to The Golden Ratio with a sufficiently blurred background.
Arriving to a poverty stricken neighborhood with a full stomach is a bit unsettling at first but the kindness and welcoming locals quickly put the travel photographer at ease. The uniqueness of a blonde Cambodian child and the perfection of the soft, diffused light in the open shade drew me immediately to take this closeup portrait.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, it seems like this composition is not supposed to work – but it does for me. None of the eyes are in the cross hairs but evidently they don’t have to be. A clear exception for the mandatory use of the all mighty Rule Of Thirds.
The eyes and the nose are in dead center of the grid, but with the Rule Of Thirds grid removed, the face of the child doesn’t seem “that centered” to me.
Closeup portrait photography of daydreaming Vietnamese girl in pink hat
This personal portrait was taken after this girl and her family finished searching through a mud pit for small fishes and snails. This is just a quiet daydreaming moment caught, at the right time.
Overlaying the Fibonacci spiral, we can see that the end of the spiral is almost perfectly over the closer eye of the girl, which is one of the key places viewers would focus on after starting to explore this image. The spiral also nicely follows he girl’s round face, making this composition in agreement with The Golden Ratio.
Close-up travel portrait photography of Cambodian girl in open shade
Another example of a great travel portrait photography moment, when all key ingredients were there for the photographer. The beautiful face, self confidence, curiosity and personality of this Cambodian girl living in poverty. Also the classic, soft portrait lighting which is often found in open shade.
As far as more specific facial attributes are concerned, portrait photographers are well aware how the distance between the eyes is a key factor, when judging beauty. If eyes too close together do signal mental retardation, this portrait – due to a generous distance – does depict a beautiful, healthy girl.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, the composition is only partially in accordance with The Golden Ratio. The left eye and the mouth are over grid lines but the eye is not in the cross hairs. Because this portrait composition definitely works for me, it seems like that – at least in the case of a close-up portrait – the roles of the actual grid cross hairs are not significant.
Close-up street portrait photography of Vietnamese girl straight stoic face
There are a wide variety of personalities, moods and behaviors a street portrait photographer will come across. A stoic face, and complete lack of emotion can result in a funny portrait, as this kind of behavior is not typical of the dynamic, without-filter personality of most kids.
This Vietnamese little girl was photographed – once again in open shade on a very bright day – at her mother’s sewing and clothing store at a local market on the beautiful island of Phu Quoc.
Even before we overlay the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see on the above image, that the girl’s face is too close to the center of the frame. The grid reaffirms this as none of the key elements of the portrait are even close to the grid lines, not to mention the cross hairs. The composition is not in harmony with The Golden Ratio, and it shows.
Close-up portrait photography of Cambodian girl in poverty
Although entering a neighborhood in poverty can be an unsettling experience for travel photographers, there is fun and lightheartedness to be found as a series of silly portraits I took proves it. Close up portrait photography was only one of the genres explored. While the surrounds are important to capture with a wide angle approach, closeups convey an even more personal story.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid shows what was expected, a symmetric face centered in the frame and filling the frame will work. The eyes and the corners of the mouth are just about right over the grid cross hairs.
I should have included equal amount of both ears in the frame but this can be fixed with cropping.
Close up portrait of Vietnamese flower Hmong girl with cute pigtails
The beautiful flower Hmong ethnic features, the cute pigtails, the soft portrait lighting via the open shade and the fitting wooden background all contribute to the success of this portrait.
By now we can quickly see that overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid will not reaffirm the compositional choice that was made here. Indeed, the subject should not be so close to the center of the frame. If the final image would be cropped into a different aspect ratio, the portrait could be placed more off center and once again be in accordance with The Golden Ratio.
Close-up street portrait photography Vietnamese little girl with puffy cheeks
Kids with puffy cheeks will inevitably provide the street portrait photographer with many keeper images. The language barrier, the different facial features and weird clothing of a foreigner with a large camera will throw off young children.
Often times these first few bewildered moments are the best for natural, authentic portraits. As soon as kids snap out of the trace caused by seeing this weird foreign creature, they often either start posing for the camera or become self conscious – either way lessening the authenticity of the moment.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the portrait is too close to the center of the composition and is not in accordance to The Golden Ratio. One might think that such a symmetric face could be placed dead in the center, but more often than not it is not a good idea to do so.