Above or below the nose?
posted Friday, April 10, 2015 at 5:32 PM EDT
There are so many psychological factors affecting the emotional reaction a portrait will receive. Color, light, clothing, hairstyles, body language—not to mention facial expressions.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from producing 200 episodes of the Radio Picture Show, it’s the infinite and subtle variety of factors that give seemingly simple and similar photographs their own personality.
If you looked at a pile of 100 smiling, looking-into-the-camera baby portraits I think you would come to the same conclusion. It’s why you, an amateur photographer, can take a picture no one has ever taken before. That’s a beautiful thing. That thought alone can keep both of us going for years. I digress.
I do believe that’s it’s something relatively simple that explains the variation in reaction; are your subjects looking up at the camera or down at the camera?
When shooting a headshot, you should ask yourself if you want to be looking UP at the subject or DOWN at the subject — big difference.
I suspect that most of you are thinking in terms of very drastic angles when I ask that question; I’m not. I’m talking about extremely subtle ups and downs.
And here’s a good way to measure whether you’re looking up at someone or down:
Is your camera above their nose or below it? If your camera is higher than your subjects nose, you’re looking down at them a bit. You’ve made them look weak or receptive or anxious or hopeful—the list goes on. If your camera is lower than their nose, you’re looking up at them. They now look more powerful, superior, or arrogant, or royal, or evil…that list is equally as long. Posters for politicians are riddled with this angle.
I just want you to be aware of this. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it in these terms—above or below the nose—so I’m feeling a bit vulnerable or hopeful or evil or something. But if a few of you consider whether you’re looking up or down when you shoot your next headshot, it’s a Photo Tip well spent.