This month, let’s take a look at extreme closeups in portraiture. For purposes of this creativity exercise, we will be producing images in which the subject’s head/face (or part of the face) fills the entire frame; the head itself should be touching or nearly touching at least two of the four edges of the frame.

close-up portraiture photography tutorial

Narelle Bailey

While a portrait need not be closeup to be intimate, it’s almost impossible to avoid intimacy in an extreme closeup of this nature. Depending on your chosen focal length and how close (from full face to even closer — partial face, some detail of the face) you’re framing, you may literally be getting “right in the face” of your subject. From this very close perspective, the viewer is much more likely to notice details about the face that is unlikely to be as apparent in a wider shot; use that to your advantage. Perhaps you’ll focus on the eyelashes, the texture of the skin, a scar, a birthmark, a chipped tooth, laugh lines, freckles, a cowlick, the language of human expression …. What can you convey about the subject’s personality, mood, or even his/her life experiences? What kind of story can you tell even when you’ve stripped out most or all of the surrounding environment and the contextual clues it provides?

1. Close down!

Remember that the tighter you frame, the more shallow your depth of field. If you want to get everything from the tip of the nose to the tips of the ears in focus, you certainly don’t want to shoot wide open in these circumstances. I’d suggest closing down to somewhere between f/5.6 and f/8.0, chimping, and taking it from there.

black and white close-up photography

Lisa Benemelis

close-up emotive portraits

Meredith Novario

close-up wizard of oz photography

Crystal Whitehead

2. Consider bringing in some additional visual interest.

Although you are shooting very tight, there’s still room to incorporate texture, color, framing, and more. Consider incorporating a scarf, jacket hood, hair or jewelry accessories, working with the hair itself, etc. Also remember that the array of light and shadow can completely change the emphasis of particular features or details.

close-up portrait tutorial

Carolyn Brandt

close-up child photography


close-up freckles photography

Aimee McNamee

3. Try some creative cropping.

Just because you’ve filled the frame with the head/face doesn’t mean the entire head or face need be present. Play with different crops — crop below the eyes, above the mouth, left side of the face only, hair curving around the jawline, etc. How does your crop change the image and the most attractive point of focus for the viewer?

close-up superhero photography

Valerie Rice

freckles detail photography


close-up animal, pet photography


What’s the best way to improve your photography? Shoot thoughtfully and frequently! Try new things and embrace creative and technical challenges. Every month, Sarah Wilkerson posts a new tutorial and challenges our members to join in a new Creativity Exercise on the Clickin Moms photography forum. At the conclusion of the exercise, we select Editors’ Choice images from among the exercise submissions and share them here with you on the blog. Congratulations to the ladies whose photographs included in the exercise above were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices, and thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!

And be sure to participate in the next exercise! Visit the forum where Sarah has posted the next challenge. We’d love to see your work!

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