Choose a Close-up Rather than a Typical Portrait - dummies

Choose a Close-up Rather than a Typical Portrait

By Thomas Clark

A close-up — a portrait in which your image is cropped in tight so that the subject takes up most or all of the frame — is a crafty tool in a photographer’s bag of tricks. However, people generally don’t like to have a camera too close to them, for the fear that the image will reveal too much.

Part of the success of a close-up portrait relies on trust between the subject and the photographer. The rest of a close-up portrait’s success relies on technical abilities and decisions that you make.

A good portrait can tell many things about a person by revealing her expression, the details in her surrounding environment and background, and by the design elements in the image. A close-up portrait can also tell a lot about a person, but it focuses on specific details to tell a story.

By leaving certain elements out of a frame, you can produce detail-oriented images with clear messages and interesting compositions. The close-up portrait is an ideal photography method for drawing attention only to what you want people to notice in an image.

If your entire message can be told in the subject’s eyes, then why include anything else in your frame? If you’re most interested in the texture of someone’s skin, instead, then move in close to capture that detail.

Close-ups can be used for:

  • Headshots: A head-shot is a tightly cropped portrait meant to show a person’s facial features and attributes. It can be used in conjunction with an actor’s resume or on the front of a model’s or dancer’s comp card. This type of portrait is either cropped to show the head and shoulders, or cropped into the face and head in order to reveal the facial features prominently.


100mm, 1/160, f/5.6, 100

  • Intimate portraits: An intimate portrait (in regard to close-up photography) is one that reveals personal, delicate, or special details about someone. This can be the wrinkles on a person’s face, the point of contact between two body parts (such as licking the lips), or a tear in someone’s eye. This photograph shows an intimate portrait of a woman brushing her hair aside with her fingers to have a necklace unfastened.


100mm, 1/160, f/2.8, 50

  • Abstract images: Abstract photographs don’t represent anything in a literal sense. The actual nature of a subject is unknown, and the feelings or impressions a viewer gets from an abstract photograph are created by design elements such as colors, contrast, lines, shapes, forms, and textures.

    In macro and close-up photography you can take away the literal sense of a subject by getting in close enough that a viewer can’t recognize what they’re looking at. Try using an extremely shallow depth of field, or photographing from acute angles to help abstract a scene. This photograph contains no literal representation and therefore can be considered abstract.


100mm, 1/125, f/2.8, 50

  • Detail shots: A detail shot can consist of any detail or feature you find to be interesting. This can mean filling your frame with someone’s eye to show what the iris looks like up close, or photographing someone’s smile alone.


100mm, 1/125, f/11, 200