How to Photograph a Face

Baby Boy just after his Christening, Hamilton, Australia

Canon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 24-105mm f4 L series lens @ 80mm. Exposure: 1/40 second @ f4 ISO 800.

Who’s got the cutest little baby face? Well, your own (or possibly your pet’s) face aside, as this is such a subjective decision the answer is most likely your own baby. Now that’s established the question as to how to photograph your own prize and joy in a way that captures their beauty remains.

I think a parent, most usually a mother, will identify certain behavioral aspects associated with their child and consider them as characteristics unique to that child. It’s certainly worthwhile trying to record such moments for posterity.

But as far as recording a pleasing likeness a few fundamental elements need to be considered.

Light the Child’s Face

Soft, gentle light will help bring the face to life with beautiful, luminous light. I achieve this with the use of physically large light sources, both indoors and outdoors. When inside a window works a treat, while outdoors I’II often move my subject into the shade. But not too far into the jungle, just a meter or two inside the shade is usually enough. This allows light in, but at a lower level and in a softer, more diffuse form.

Concentrate on the Eyes

As well as using light to bring the eyes to life, critical focusing on the eyes will further draw the viewers attention. The application of a shallow depth of field will further enhance the effect by deemphasizing the out of focus surroundings.

Treat the Frame like a Canvas

It’s important to pay attention to all parts of the frame. In the case of a portrait I generally like to situate my subjects against a background that’s darker than they are. This helps to bring out the shape of the head, particularly when the background is de-focused through a shallow depth of field.

Timing is the Key

Once these fundamental aspects of light and composition are addressed it’s simply a matter of concentrating on expression and gesture. When it comes to portraiture, particularly of younglings, timing is the key. And you’ll be a position to preserve those special moments, in a way that’s fun for all involved, once you’ve attended to the fundamentals previously outlined. 

Gear Smear

Photography, like so manny other things is as hard as you want to make it. This is one of the reasons why I rarely discuss equipment in my regular blog posts. These posts, for the most part, are about photography of which equipment, while important, is by no means the be all and end all.

Do any of you like classical piano music? How much of your listening experience is determined by your knowledge of the particular piano being played. Likewise, owning the world’s best piano won’t do you a whole lot of good if you can’t play it.

When it comes to performance there’s technique (e.g., what a rock guitarist might refer to as chops) and then there’s the more intangible concepts of feeling and emotive playing. I believe this site’s posts live in the space between technique and feeling. I like to call that space experience (and I'm not referring to learning over time, but of simply existing in the moment - much the way we do during heightened states of connectedness) and I’m glad to be sharing that space with you now.  

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru