Point Of View: Add Camera Position To Your List Of Pro Techniques
Monte Zucker• Posted Nov 1, 2005
Have you ever considered creating people portraits? I mean real portraits,
pictures that capture the essence of that individual and have character and
style. If so, I just want you to know that there's a lot more to people
portraits than posing and lighting. One of the most essential ingredients is
your choice of camera position.
That may seem to be "a given," but you would be amazed at how many people think of camera position as "right about here" or "eye level" or "shoulder height," and many other similar vague statements. That's not what we should be thinking when we're creating portraits. We should be thinking that camera position is an angle of the face. Camera position should be either full face, 2/3, or profile.
Take a few moments and look at people in commercial advertisements. Look at the people on TV and in the movies. What the average person overlooks is that truly great photographers usually pick a camera position that shows one of these three facial angles. Is it a coincidence? Not on your life! These three camera positions are as integral to the effectiveness of the image as is the subject's expression.
One of my most popular and recognizable images is this full-face portrait. The lens of the camera was positioned to see the face coming directly toward the lens. You see the same amount of her ears on both sides of her face. Her eyes are positioned about 1/3 of the way down from the top of the picture. Her face is not turned, even slightly, in one direction or another. I'm not showing you anything new, but what I am trying to stress here is that I was thinking "full face" when I positioned the camera for this portrait.
Throughout the history of art portraits have been created with the artist's eye and/or the photographer's lens at the exact position where you see the 2/3 position of the face. That is where the viewer sees the front and one side of the subject's face. You see both eyes with the farthest eye going almost to the edge of the outline of the face. There is a slight piece of flesh separating the eye from the background. The tip of the nose does not come close to the edge of the cheek. The bridge of the nose does not cross over the far eye. If the nose starts to cover the eye, the face turns more toward the viewer showing a little more flesh on the outside edge of the eye.
No matter where you look--magazine covers, TV, movies, etc.--more than any other view of the face you're going to see this 2/3 position. It's not an accident. It's done purposely, because this is usually the most flattering angle of the face. It slims a round or angular face. It shows the cheekbones more clearly than when looking at a full face. From this angle the facial features are defined more sharply than from any other position.
Look all around you. You'll become more and more aware of the value of this camera position. See the strength of this man's portrait, created by placing my lens where it saw that exact angle of his face.
The profile angle of a face is one that dates back to the caveman. Drawings can still be seen on walls etched there forever by people who recognized the character that can be seen by viewing one side of the face. The Egyptians were also famous for their drawings of profiles, although they drew eyes from the frontal position. Today, when we photograph people in profile we often have them looking slightly to the side, so that the camera sees the pupil of the eye, rather than looking at a blank, white eye socket.
Camera position for the profile is where you see exactly one half of the face. When photographing a profile I usually suggest that you place your lens in a position where you see a little of the second eye/eyebrow and then back off until you lose that. In this way you're sure to see the complete profile. Oftentimes photographers get too far behind the face and don't show quite enough of the side of the face, showing more of the back of the head.
There's no question, impact is what it's all about. Even for this "candid" shot of the couple I still went for his profile over the 2/3 camera position of her. Okay, I didn't get either. But, the expressions make up for it, don't they? Yes! Go for exact camera position, but don't let it hold you back from shooting spontaneously.
In the meantime, if you go away from reading this article thinking that the camera position is where you actually see a full face, 2/3 view, or a profile, you'll be richer and wiser. Even if you have a near miss you'll probably still be a lot better off than had you not been aware of this professional technique.
It definitely helps to be aware of the three exact camera positions, but this doesn't mean that you have to use them each and every time.