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Portrait camera height

Low or high camera angles affect a portrait's appearance


A camera angle that is slightly above eye level is preferred by many photographers, while others recommend shooting at a level even with the subject's eyes.
A camera angle that is slightly above eye level is preferred by many photographers, while others recommend shooting at a level even with the subject's eyes.

Head-and-shoulders portraits are often photographed with the camera's lens positioned at a level slightly higher than the subject's eye level. Many photographers believe this to be the best average camera height, although a lower position is favored by others and may, in some cases, be preferred when adjusting for an individual subject's features or to create a different "feel."

A long nose, for example, can appear shorter when photographed from slightly beneath eye level, but watch out that you don't make the subject's nostrils too prominent. (If you feel you should shoot from such a low angle, raising the light source can cause a shadow beneath the nose that will darken the nostril area, making the openings less apparent.)

A relatively short neck can appear longer from a lower camera perspective, too. (See Corrective measures for more tips on concealing facial flaws.)


When shooting three-quarter length portraits or portraits that take in more than the head and shoulders, the lens is often best positioned between eye level and the upper chest level to ensure that body proportions appear natural.

Nothing, except B&W film, is black and white, though. There is no one correct camera height for the three-quarters portrait.

If you are uncertain, a shoulder-level camera angle is a good starting point, with the camera parallel to the ground. Adjust for height by looking at the effect through the camera's viewfinder, watching all the while for good proportioning and the most complementary appearance in your subject. If the subject's head is beginning to look proportionately too small, or if the torso looks over large, raise the camera height, and vice-versa.

Begin with your lens at shoulder level for a 3/4 portrait, and make minor adjustments up or down for the best look.
Begin with your lens at shoulder level for a 3/4 portrait, and make minor adjustments up or down for the best look.

Any full-length photograph of a person requires the camera to be perpendicular to the subject to avoid distortion. Waist level is the ideal camera height.
Any full-length photograph of a person requires the camera to be perpendicular to the subject to avoid distortion. Waist level is the ideal camera height.

Full-length portraits require the lens to be perpendicular to the subject - that is, parallel with the ground. A full-length portrait taken at eye level will make the subject look shorter. For correct proportioning, the lens should be roughly about waist level. If not, some distortion will occur. This distortion could be beneficial, dependent on whether you wish to exaggerate or downplay the subject's features.

A lower camera angle may make a subject appear taller, and legs to be longer. The trunk, however, may look shorter and out of proportion if too low an angle is employed. It is a matter of degree, and you must be careful not to go too low or the subject's head will appear tiny in relation to the body, while the feet will look overly large.

Choosing a higher camera angle will cause the subject's head and upper torso to seem larger, which can be advantageous when photographing someone whose head is disproportionately small.


Low camera angles are often preferred by entertainers and others who have frequent use of professional headshots and promotional portraits of themselves.

They feel a lower-than-eye-level angle has a psychological impact on the portrait's viewer; it tends to "empower" the subject, in a manner similar to the psychological effect of placing a judge's seat high above the rest of the courtroom. You know who's in charge by how high he or she is.

You must be careful not to use a camera angle that is too low, though. It can result in a prominent nose or the chin being overly-emphasized, and the subject will not be able to open his or her eyes widely when looking down at the camera. Shooting the headshot from about shoulder height, not much lower, will generally produce the desired picture.

Some models and entertainers prefer to be photographed from a low camera angle. Although this example is too low, it does reinforce the idea that a low camera angle makes the subject appear psychologically more powerful.
Some models and entertainers prefer to be photographed from a low camera angle. Although this example is too low, it does reinforce the idea that a low camera angle makes the subject appear psychologically more powerful.

A high camera angle may tend to make your subject look less imposing and more docile or servient. Some feel a high camera angle can make subjects look younger.
A high camera angle may tend to make your subject look less imposing and more docile or servient. Some feel a high camera angle can make subjects look younger.

A high camera angle, by the same token, may tend to make the subject look diminutive and less dominant or not as much in charge. A business executive who wishes to give the impression through her or his portrait that he or she is very much in control of things would probably choose a low camera-angle portrait over a high one, all other considerations being equal.

High camera angle is often improperly used when photographing children, pets and seated subjects. Why? Because the inexperienced photographer doesn't think to adjust his or her own level lower to the same level as his or her shorter subject. Place your camera lower for a better shot of a small pet, a little child or another subject that is lower than you.

Heads appear too large and the body is foreshortened with a high camera angle. There are advantages to a high shooting position. It tends to cause the subject's eyes to open wider when looking up, and the nose and chin look less prominent. It's a good way to de-emphasize or conceal a double chin, too.


Eye-level is generally a safe bet for most close-up portraits when a subject's physical features don't require alteration through the selection of a different camera height. Proportions usually appear normal, and subjects are generally quite pleased with the results.

Don't be afraid to experiment with different camera heights, though. An unusually high camera angle can isolate your subject. A very low camera height may be suitable to express characteristics of your subject's lifestyle. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to portrait creativity.

Shooting with the camera at eye level produces a neutral, but pleasing, effect in close-up portraits that is complementary to most subjects.
Shooting with the camera at eye level produces a neutral, but pleasing, effect in close-up portraits that is complementary to most subjects.
Related topics...

Portrait lighting errors

Portrait subject placement

Portraits & posture

Portraits & the eyes

Portraits & the tip of the nose

Portraits and the smile

Portraits in bright sunshine