Flatter Faces With The Right Portrait Choices
Simple advice from a pro on making better portraits.
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I've been working with prolific people photographer Howard Schatz on a few projects recently, and when speaking with him about a recent cover shot on Digital Photo Pro magazine he told me about his thinking when it comes to making a beautiful portrait.
"You choose your lens and light according to what you want to say," he told me. "If you want to say funny or grotesque or comedic, you might use a more wide-angle lens. But for beauty, you want to use as long a lens as you can. You want to flatten, to make the nose as little as you can. The wider the angle of the lens, the bigger the nose. So we use long lenses."
That little paragraph contains a whole lot of wisdom that's especially useful for portrait photographers. So I decided to break it down a little more.
Start by determining what you want to say with a portrait. Too many of us inadvertently skip this part, but it's really the starting point for any good photograph. Ask yourself, "What do I want to say with this picture?" In the case of a portrait, it's really a question of what story you're trying to tell about the subject. Are they a goofy comedian, or a serious attorney? Do they want to look especially serious or comedic for some particular reason? Or do you simply want to make them look as attractive as possible? Believe it or not, starting here makes the rest of the process—determining light and lens—that much easier.
That first decision paves the way to inform your lighting choices. While it's possible to achieve flattering beauty lighting with a variety of light sources (and equally possible to make someone look grotesque—accidentally or not—with those same lights) the easiest and most foolproof way to make a beautiful portrait is to choose a broad, soft source. Indirect window light, for instance, or a large studio softbox positioned frontally for minimal shadows and texture gives you a great shot at flattering their face and pleasing your subject.