Close-up portrait photography: how to shoot unusual portraits in stunning detail

Close-up portrait photography: how to shoot unusual portraits with maximum impact

You might not realise it, but people can be some of the most challenging and rewarding subjects for macro photography. There’s almost an infinite number of ways in which the human body can be photographed, from friendly snaps to extreme abstraction.

With close-up portrait photography you can play around with all the camera angles, creating unusual portraits, exotic close-ups, and abstract artistic interpretations that use extreme lighting and imaginative, original photo compositions. In this tutorial we explain everything you need to know to get started.

Close-up portrait photography: how to shoot unusual portraits with maximum impact

Close-up portrait photography: capturing colour and detail

The human body has more potential for immediate emotional impact than any other subject. Unless you’re aiming for extreme abstracts, it’s almost impossible to take photos of people and their bodies without packing an instant emotional punch.

Compared to other kinds of macro, people shots are less about pure geometry and composition, and more about balancing those elements with emotional content.

The range of styles extends from clinical close-ups – often unappealing by definition – through portrait photography, to erotica at the far extreme.

Whatever the goal, it’s always important to consider the emotional content in the photo, and the possible reaction of a viewer.

Close-up portrait photography: capturing colour and detail

For example, eye close-ups are inherently expressive, so you don’t need to show the rest of the face to create an impact. The shape of the eyelid alone relates what the model is feeling.

A good shot depends as much on capturing this successfully as getting the basics correct.

This modifies some of the rules of composition. The point of interest will usually be where the expression is strongest and most obvious – it may not be where the geometry balances and this can make thirds less useful.

It’s worth keeping them in mind, but sometimes you’ll get the best result by putting your subject in the middle of the frame.

As with other kinds of close-ups, focus doesn’t have to be precise and full-field. You can use it creatively to enhance mood, and the right expression will carry a shot even if it’s not technically perfect.

People macro is very intimate, and potentially intrusive. Having someone poke a lens in your face is difficult for many people.

If you’re going for extreme close-up work with a compact instead of a DSLR macro lens that allows imaging from a distance, it’s important to keep the subject relaxed and at ease.

This isn’t just good for them, it’s also more likely to result in a better photo, because some of their mood and attitude will carry through to the image.

Artificial lighting also has to be handled very carefully. Flash units are bright and lighting an eye shot with flash may be dangerous.

Flood lights run hot, so models have to be protected from this, too. Common sense is usually enough to prevent health and safety risks, and the safety and comfort of models should never be ignored.

PAGE 1 – Close-up portrait photography: capturing colour and detail
PAGE 2 – Close-up portrait photography: getting accurate flesh tones
PAGE 3 – Close-up portrait photography: capturing textures
PAGE 4 – Close-up portrait photography: how to compose faces
PAGE 5 – Close-up portrait photography: using light and shadow
PAGE 6 – Close-up portrait photography: using props


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