3 Quick tips for close-up portraiture

  • close-up portraiture photography tutorial

3 Quick tips for close-up portraiture

Above photo by Narelle Bailey

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.

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. Bring 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!

About the Author:

Sarah Wilkerson is the CEO of Click & Company and also provides mentoring services, teaches advanced Click Photo School courses on composition & creativity, and authors the “Why It Works” series in CLICK magazine. She specializes in low light photography, everyday documentary, and tilt-shift work. A former attorney and Duke graduate, Sarah resides in northern Virginia with her Army JAG husband, four children, and three dogs. Visit Sarah Wilkerson online.


  1. celestejones Nov 07 2012 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    beautiful work ladies. <3

  2. JSingleton Nov 07 2012 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Amazing work, ladies!!

  3. Jo Clark Nov 07 2012 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Lovely work ladies! I adore all the different compositions and focus points used to make your statements. You’ve inspired me today 🙂

  4. Meredith Nov 07 2012 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    Gah! So flattered to be among all of this amazing-ness! <3

  5. Carolyn Nov 07 2012 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    I’m soo happy to be among these amazing photogs!!! Goegeous work ladies!!

  6. Clickin Moms Nov 07 2012 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Thank you Stacey! Seriously one of the best compliments ever!

  7. Lisa Benemelis Nov 07 2012 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    I love Sarah’s creativity exercises. She always gets us to reach a little bit deeper to a place we didn’t even know existed. I’m honored to be one of the images on the blog today along side these other wonderful photographers. Thank you. <3

  8. valerie Nov 07 2012 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    So humbled right to see my image with these incredible photographers!!! Thank you CM, you are the best inspiration for a female photographer!!!

  9. Alicia Johnson Nov 07 2012 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    Love the idea of these creativity exercises. Great way to get new ideas for shooting.

  10. Elodie Brunel Nov 08 2012 at 12:57 am - Reply

    I’m really humbled to see my picture here and sooo happy ! I can’t say ‘Merci’ enough to clickinmoms. This is such an amazing place to learn photography and to be inspired. Thank you.

  11. Sara Carlson Nov 08 2012 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    Love the freckle face….they are all inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Aimee Nov 08 2012 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    Such happiness I felt when I saw my sweet freckle faced niece! Honored and thrilled to have her portrait chosen amongst a sea of such beautiful entries. I just love you, CM.

  13. Ray Tapajna Nov 16 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply


    It is a keeper. I makes a person want to come back again and again for for lasting impression and for that something extra in life. It is not only endearing but also endearing.

Leave A Comment


Follow this blog

Get a weekly email of all new posts.

Email address