10 Tips for a Portrait Close Up

I love a simple classic portrait shot from time to time - having your subjects face as the centre of attention allows to really concentrate on their features and expressions,  and can feel much more intimate than other portrait types.  

And since it's been a while since I've done one, here's a classic "10 tips" post on them for you! 

Get 10 portrait photography tips to help you get great people photos! These headshot photography tips will teach you how to get a great portrait close up.

1) Use a longer focal length 

Use a lens that has a focal length that is 50mm or longer when going for a facial close up – anything less and you will get distortion on the face.  On a full frame camera, 85mm or longer is ideal as longer lengths tend to slim the face slightly, and are generally more flattering. 

2) Position your subject near a light source 

This can either be facing the window, at a 45 degree angle, or even at a 90 degree if you are looking for something more dramatic.   Bear in mind that how the light is positioned can change how prominent particular features are. 

3. Get in nice and close and think about composition.

Think of the rule of thirds and try to position the eyes along on the lines, or position your subject so that the dominant eye is in the centre of the frame. 

4. Fill the frame

You can either fill the frame with their face so that there are nothing pulling the eye in the background, or simply make sure that the background is not distracting, allowing the face to take centre stage. 

5. Over-expose just slightly

This helps bring out their skin tone and the light in their eyes.  Correct exposure is the key to great skin tones, so be sure to try to get this right in camera by shooting in manual mode. 

If you are not 100% sure what settings you should be using when, then be sure to download my FREE manual settings cheat sheet, as it details it ALL for you.

Remember too that white balance affects exposure and also helps make sure that the skin is correct, so be sure to set this beforehand to save lots of time in editing! 

6. Photograph From Above

You can try to photograph them from just slightly above – this helps get light into the eyes for great catchlights and it’s a extremely flattering angle (especially true for women!) 

7.  Use a wide aperture

You can use a lower F-stop to ensure that the eyes are sharp but everything else can fall out of focus - around F2.0 or F2.2 - but be careful with your focusing. However,  if you want everything in focus, then you should use a higher F number as the depth of field will be quite shallow being this close to your subject.  

Again, don't forget to download the manual mode cheat sheet if you need help with your settings (it's free!) 

8. Add visual interest

You could add visual interest in the form of texture or colours, either in the background or with a scarf or headband for example.  Shadowing on the face (by angling the light source) will also add interest and dimension to the portrait. 

9. Crop creatively!

You don't have to be traditional with a portrait if you don't want to - use creative cropping to change the focal point of your image or just do something more unexpected. 

10.  Don't be traditional all the time!

Speaking of non-traditional portrait shots, remember that you don't need to have your subject looking at the camera, or smiling, or any of the other things you would associate with a classic portrait shot - it's your image, so it's your call!