Using Rule Of Thirds In Male Portrait Photography
Faces of old men are one of the most often photographed subjects in the travel and portrait photography genre. Establishing trust is key, like with any portrait photography subject. Travel photographers who often encounter language barriers: a smile, non-threatening body language and request for permission can usually have he subject agree to be photographed.
Black and white conversions of the color images below are overlaid with the Rule Of Thirds grid. Not all compositions are perfect but I wish to present examples when ignoring the Rule Of Thirds is OK, but also when ignoring them was a mistake, resulting in less balanced photographs.
Of course compositions can dramatically be improved upon with cropping but I decided to show uncropped images as I created them in camera.
Travel portrait photography of Vietnamese old man on rice field
It took a chance encounter – with an old Vietnamese man on a rice field in the middle of nowhere, outside Ninh Binh – for a successful series of photographs to be taken. While the surrounding limestone mountains were beautiful, I wanted to make sure that at least in some photos, the backdrop would be simple.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that because the composition is centered – besides the eyes being on the top horizontal grid – not much else is in the key areas where The Golden Ratio would dictate them to be. Not all photos need to follow the Rule Of Thirds as long as the photographer knows that by centering the subject and concentrating on geometry, a more static picture will be the result.
Portrait photography of Vietnamese old man in Ninh Binh
A close-up portrait of the same old man, utilizing a different, more personal vantage point. A long enough focal length and a wide enough aperture allowed for the background to be blurred. While I am not a big fan of the horizon ever intersecting the head of subjects, in this case it is blurred enough and not so intrusive.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see if that the right eye is at the cross-hair of the grid, or at least close enough. I could have raised the eye – by raising the man’s face – in the frame but I didn’t want to crop the top of his head, because I wanted to include his salt and pepper hair.
Portrait photography of old flower Hmong hill tribe man in Bac Ha, Vietnam
Rugged features of flower Hmong man photographed against the surrounding tall mountains, which were blurred to create an uncluttered background. I like that the man’s face is sandwiched between grayish, salt and pepper hair and grayish traditional Hmong shirt.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the face of the man should be higher if the eyes were to be at the grid cross hairs. But it was important to include the man’s messy hair, so a slight deviation from the Rule Of Thirds was necessary.
Portrait photography of daydreaming old Vietnamese man in Ninh Binh
While photographed for a few seconds this old Vietnamese man got lost in a daydreaming moment. For people who are not bothered by travel photographers entering their lives for a few seconds, this daydreaming state is a common reaction. These people and moments often result in the best photos of the day.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that a head-on, centered portrait will place the eyes at or close to the grid crosshairs. By using directional lighting, these images can gain a 3D look and not seem like boring passport photos.
Travel portrait photography of old Cambodian man sitting on his porch
A portrait of an old Cambodian man with a nice, blue color scheme. The man himself was not feeling blue and was happy to indulge me as I unexpectedly showed up in his neighborhood. The open shade provided soft, diffused lighting, which is optimal for shadow-free portrait photography.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the right vertical grid line marks the center of the man’s head, so the most important part of the image – the face – is placed according to The Golden Ratio. The eyes not being close to grid cross-hairs doesn’t matter in my opinion.
Portrait photography of old Vietnamese man in Buddhist pagoda garden
More gray hair and gray clothes here, as an old Vietnamese man is photographed in a Buddhist pagoda’s garden. I do like when clothes introduce a the lack of colors, it makes other areas with color more pronounced. The overcast sky – a.k.a. nature’s soft box – provided us with soft lighting, perfect for kind portraits.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the man’s left eye is basically in the grid gross-hair. These portraits, after awhile almost take themselves. How off-center to place the subject? That depends on personal taste.
Street portrait photography of old Peruvian man in Iquitos
Anytime when the travel photographer doesn’t have to ask for permission – and the subject volunteers – is great because meaningful street portrait photography cannot only contain candid shots. This old Peruvian man with a great face was such person. The background is a bit too busy and a longer focal length or wider aperture would have blurred it even more.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the subject – minus the plastic bag – perfectly fits into the left six sections of the grid. His left eye is basically at a grid intersection so the image does conform to The Golden Ratio.
Portrait photography of old Vietnamese man with bullet hole in forehead
Due to the language barrier I was not able to ask if the marking on the forehead of this old Vietnamese man was a bullet hole or was due to some other accident. And out of respect I did not want to mime the question and reenact the possibly traumatizing incident.
The old many was near a covered porch so the cloudy sky created a directional soft lighting, adding a nice three dimensional look to his portrait.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that as with most head-on travel portraits, the eyes will be on or near grid crosshairs. Even a slight off-center placement of the subject will avoid that “passport photo look”. Plus the above mentioned side lighting totally eliminates the chances for the passport look.
Wide angle portrait photography of old Vietnamese man in Ninh Binh
A wider angle portrait, which celebrates my love of walls and uncluttered backgrounds. I like the color scheme of this photo, the brown edges and the blue shirt against the yellow wall.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the main element, the man’s face is at the grid cross-hair. This positioning with a wider angle composition lets the photographer include either nothing or critical elements in the background, which help telling more about the life of the person photographed. The frame of the door – unintentionally – crops the image alongside the Rule Of Thirds grid line.
Travel portrait photography of intense old Cambodian Buddhist monk
Even though harsh top lighting is not the most flattering for portraits, the harshness of the midday light was appropriate for the intense stare of this old Cambodian Buddhist monk. I had a feeling that I only had a few seconds and a few shots available – based on perceived patience limit – so I made sure to slightly place the monk off-center and include a nondescript background that would not distract from the man’s face.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the face of the monk could have been more off-center and more to the left but surgical precision is not essential when dealing with a flexible, creative guideline like The Golden Ratio.
Street portrait photography of old Vietnamese man with long gray beard
I call these classic images: National Geographic moments. It is great to stumble upon such an expressive face as the old Vietnamese man with long gray beard had. The stone wall and gate created a gray, non-distracting background. Because I like repeating colors, I must note the matching gray of the wall and the old man’s beard.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that even though the man’s body is centered in the frame, his head titled to the side creating an off-center composition. The subject himself placed his right eye into the cross-hair of the grid. If the man’s neck would have been straight, his body could have been placed off-center to avoid the “passport photo look”.
Wide angle portrait photography of cheerful old Vietnamese man
The writing above the gate was such a nice element that I decided to take a wide angle portrait too. The background being basically black and white made the colorful subject stand out even more.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that – perhaps due to being preoccupied with the background – I placed the old man too close to the center of the composition. This can be fixed with cropping and the image would become more dynamic and interesting to look at.
Candid street portrait photography of old flower Hmong man in Bac Ha, Vietnam
When travel photography takes place where people are camera shy, candid portrait photography need to take the place, instead of a more formal setup, as was the case with this of old flower Hmong man. At the Bac Ha Hmong market, I choose a spot where my framing would have a nice, uncluttered background and waited until someone with the “right look” walked into my composition.
Overlaying the Rule Of Thirds grid, we can see that the face of the man could be more to the right, according to The Golden Ratio but that would have placed the man too close to the right edge. This shows that it is a good idea to refer to the Rule Of Thirds but it is not necessary to abide by it.