Glamour in your Lens

Taking Glamorous Portraits

STRICTLY, PORTRAITS--using the word as meaning pictures of a face alone--don't belong in this book at atll. Pictures of pretty girl's faces are made by much the same technique as any other faces, and this book is principally concerned with faces only attached to attractive figures.

But for two reasons there must be a section on portraits.

First and most important is that whatever type of picture you take of a pretty girl (except possibly nudes), the face is always more important than anything else.

You can generally make a less 100 percent figure look good if it's attached to a pretty face. You can seldom make the most perfect figure in the world look very appealing if it's attached to an unattractive face.

Your model's face, then, being so important, should at least sometimes receive your undivided attention.

In portraiture faces matter more than figures.
Photo Ken Ross-Mackenzie.

In the second place, you'll often be taking portraits without noticing it. Outdoors most of your pictures will include the whole of your model, but as you move close you get less and less of her until what you take, whatever she's wearing, is to all intents and purposes a portrait.


To take a really good portrait it's necessary to think past the film to the finished print. How is your picture going to look on a rectangular piece of bromide paper?

You will often get negatives in which your model's face looks absolutely perfect but which won't make good prints, simply because the composition is wrong. Framing a face is usually much more difficult than framing a complete girl.

One of the principal difficulties is the girl's shoulders. Shoulders straight on, with a face on top of them, look too wide. Usually a slight turn to one side or the other helps. Raising one shoulder is advisable, too.


If a girl comes to a studio to have her picture taken, she will usually wear an evening dress if she has one. And so often you pictures of a head on bare shoulders with two thin straps that disappear at the bottom of the print without having accomplished anything.

In all head-and-shoulder portraits, the selection and arrangement of the clothes the girl wears can make or mar the picture. What she won't realize herself is that only what shows down to the bust will be in the picture, and you'll have to keep her right. Here are some of the things to avoid in head-and-shoulders pictures.

Unexplained straps hanging down out of the picture. If the girl's dress has a bodice supported by thin straps, it's either better to take in the top of the dress or get her to slip the straps off her shoulders.

Necklines that plunge out of the picture. A V-neck of any shape or length is part of the same mass as the face. If it's short, the point just below it is usually a good place to cut off the picture. If it's long, it's usually best to take in the plunge no matter how low it goes, rather than let it run out of the picture.

Brassieres or halter tops. Where bare flesh ends and clothes begin is a natural point to include in any portrait near the bottom of the print. The garment, whatever it is, makes a base for the picture, rather like the plinth of a statue. We don't expect bare flesh to begin again lower down. This is rather like having a statue and plinth stuck on top of a pillar. Of course, there are occasions when this will be perfectly all right in beach pictures. In the studio, hardly ever. If your picture goes below a halter top, it should generally go right down to where the bottom half of the outfit begins, taking in the waistline.

A Natural Effect

Portraits take a lot of composing, and one way of working, either outdoors or in the studio, is to get your model used to talking to you while you have your eye at the viewfinder. It sounds silly, but if you can make her smile or laugh naturally the picture will be much better than if it's forced. When you make a habit of talking while you're taking pictures she'll come to accept it as natural, and react to you plus camera as naturally as she does to you minus camera.

In the studio, with the camera on a tripod, you can talk to her with your hand on the cable release, without having to keep your eye glued to the finder or screen.

Good portraits capture characteristic moments.
Photo Zoltan Glass.
Focus on the Face

Almost without exception, portraits are taken with the face nearer the camera than any other part of the model. If your camera is at her waist level, she should bend forward. If she's upright or leaning backwards, your camera should be high. It need only be a matter of an inch or two.

You focus, of course, on whatever is nearest the camera. Using a coupled-rangefinder camera you may be tempted to focus on anything you can see in the middle of the window, the farther way shoulder, for example. Resist the temptation. There's nothing more disastrous than a portrait with everything in sharp focus except the face.

Out of Doors

For an outdoor portrait it's not a bad idea to take, for once, the advice of the American glamour photographers and use hazy sun instead of bright sunlight. Generally in portraits you want soft lighting. Instead of taking outdoor portraits in bright sun on an open beach, take them in shade or when the sun is behind cloud. Indeed, an excellent way to arrange your sessions is to take full-length and action shots while the sun is out, and change over to close-ups when the sun temporarily disappears behind a cloud.

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