A guide to cropping portraits

A guide to cropping portraits

Cropping portraits is an essential skill that can significantly impact the overall quality of your photographs.

Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just starting out, understanding the art of cropping can make your portraits more engaging and visually appealing. One golden rule to remember throughout this process is to ensure that the eyes remain the sharpest part of your portrait. A key element in drawing your viewer’s attention. I hope this little guide is helpful in capturing your next portrait session.

Prioritize sharp eyes.

The eyes are often considered the windows to the soul in portrait photography. They play a central role in conveying emotions and connecting with the viewer. When cropping your portraits, make sure the eyes are the focal point and maintain their sharpness. This technique ensures that the essence of your subject is preserved, capturing their character and emotions effectively.

Cropping Guide

Avoid cropping at bends.

An important rule to follow is to steer clear of cropping at joints like knees, ankles, wrists and elbows. These areas have a natural bend that can make the composition feel awkward or incomplete when cropped improperly. By refraining from cropping at these points, you maintain the integrity of the subject’s body posture and create a more visually harmonious result. Also, avoid cropping out the chin on tight close-ups. Better to crop the top of the head and leave the chin in.

Crop with intention.

Every crop you make should have a purpose behind it. Whether you’re eliminating distracting elements, emphasizing specific facial features or refining the composition, each crop should contribute to the overall story you’re telling through your portrait. Thoughtful cropping can transform a good shot into a remarkable one, enhancing its impact on the viewer.

Camera angles or positions
Camera angles or positions

Mind your camera positions.

When photographing a subject from the waist up you should roughly have your camera at waist level. For head and shoulders photos, aim for chest level and for close-ups at eye level. Full body length can be waist height or if trying to elongate the body from chest height. I generally find if my subject is standing I will stand. If my subject is sitting I will sit as well.

Of course, there is always a time to break the rules. Anything pointed toward the camera will often be elongated. So try not to have hands, elbows and legs closer to the camera than the body. This is called foreshortening, making objects look bigger than they are, or a forced perspective.

Keep your options open.

While precision is essential, it’s also wise to keep multiple versions of your cropped images. Digital photography allows us to experiment without the fear of losing the original. Saving variations of cropped portraits gives you the freedom to compare and select the best version that conveys your intended message.

Keep the eyes to the top of frame in closeups
Keep the eyes on the top of the frame in close-ups

Position eyes toward the top of the frame.

To maintain a natural flow and balance within your portrait, position the subject’s eyes near the upper third of the frame. This technique draws the viewer’s attention directly to the eyes and allows space for any potential changes in aspect ratios or print sizes without sacrificing the composition’s integrity.

Capture the perfect crop in camera

While post-processing tools can be immensely helpful, aiming to achieve the best possible crop in-camera can save time and preserve image quality. Pay attention to your framing and composition while shooting, allowing you to capture a well-composed shot from the start.

This minimizes the need for extensive cropping during the editing phase. You can always re-crop in post if required. Most cameras have a built-in guide, which can be handy to turn on.

Cropping portraits requires a blend of technical skill and artistic vision. By prioritizing sharp eyes, avoiding cropping at joints, cropping with intention, keeping options open, positioning eyes strategically and capturing the ideal crop in camera, you’ll elevate your portrait photography to new heights.

Remember, the goal is not just to cut out excess but to enhance the visual impact of your portraits while preserving the essence of your subject’s character.