5 Tips for Powerful Close-Up Portraits

by David Em

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Close-up portraits are tightly cropped or zoomed in. They show your subject’s face with great detail, and makes the portrait more powerful.

Headshot of a person with curly hair and their head slightly turned.

1. Focus on the eyes

When you’re shooting close-up portraits, you can see the subject’s face in great detail. Since the subject’s face will fill the frame, their eyes are the most important part of the photo.

Related: How to fill the frame

Whether you’re using autofocus or manual focus, make sure you focus on the eyes. This will ensure that they’re the sharpest part of the photo and stand out.

To capture the beauty of a person’s eyes, you must also highlight them with light.

You’ll notice reflections of a light source in your subject’s eyes. They’re known as catchlights, and they make the eyes look full of life.

When you see catchlights, you’ll know that your subject’s eyes are well-lit.

Eyes also tell a story. It’s a great way to make your portraits more dramatic or powerful because you can capture different emotions.

2. Change the lighting

Front lighting is the most common type of lighting for close-up portraits, and it’s also the easiest to use.

Related: How to create rim lighting

However, other lighting methods help you change the look and feel of a photo.

The direction of light will cast different types of shadows. Instead of using front lighting, try side lighting.

Side lighting is light that falls on the subject from the left or right. The light source is placed at a 90-degree angle from the camera.

One side of your subject will be lit while a shadow will fall on the other side. This makes the portrait look more dramatic and gives your subject a more defined facial structure.

You can also use multiple lights and other tools, such as reflectors or diffusers.

3. Don’t shoot wide open

Shooting wide open means that you’re using a large aperture, which results in a shallow depth of field.

Related: Understanding color in photography

For close-up portraits, use a narrow aperture. A large aperture can blur other parts of their face since you’re closer to the subject.

If you’re using an f-stop of f/1.4 and you focus on your subject’s eyes, it can blur their nose and hair.

Instead, use f/8 or a smaller aperture to ensure that their entire face is in focus.

4. Look away or turn the body

Focus on different angles, and avoid posing your subject straight towards the camera.

Close-up portraits look the best when your subject slightly turns their body and turns their head towards the camera. It’ll accentuate their face, neck, and jawline.

Related: Landscape vs. portrait orientation in photography

Along with different body angles, capture portraits of the subject looking or facing the side, and looking away.

By implementing different angles and directions, your portraits will be more creative and powerful.

5. Use props

Props are an excellent way to make your portraits more creative and interesting.

After capturing portraits without props, bring them out and have fun.

You can use props to add blur in the foreground, decorate the background, or give your subject something to do.

Related: 11 tips to take the perfect profile picture

Aside from fun and creativity, props can help you tell a story. It can enhance the photo because it can better portray your subject’s personality and interests.

Another benefit of props is that it helps your subject. If they’re not comfortable in front of the camera, giving them something to do will make them look more natural and relaxed.


Close-up portraits fit a subject’s face tightly in the frame. It shows a lot of details, emphasizes expressions, and highlights your subject’s eyes. Use the tips that you learned to make your portraits more powerful.

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Featured image courtesy of Pexels.

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