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Close Up Portrait Photography Tips

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Taking close up portraits of people in an intimate setting can get awkward if you don’t know how to approach the genre.

We’ve put together this list of for close up portrait photography tips to make your life easier. You can make your models feel comfortable and take amazing photos at the same time.

Make Your Model’s Face Stand Out With Makeup or Face Paint

Close up portrait of a woman with dark background

In close-up photography, it’s easy to notice flaws, textures, and other details. These don’t stand out as much in traditional portrait photography.

Before your photoshoot, make sure that your model is happy with the way they look. The more confident they are, the better your close-ups will look.

You can boost their confidence using makeup, creative face paint, or fake textures. For example, you can use black eyeliner and yellow eyeshadow to make blue eyes pop. You can add a little blush to pale cheeks to make your subject look younger.

Avoid using too much foundation, mascara, and concealer. These will make your subject’s face look cakey and unnatural. This will result in unflattering close-ups.

You can also enhance your model’s face using makeup techniques. You can try fake freckles (drawn with an eyebrow pencil) or puffy eyes.

Take Face Close Ups Using a Zoom Lens

Black and white portrait of a woman

The wrong equipment will make your close-ups look distorted and unflattering. If you take a close up portrait using a wide-angle lens, it might affect your subject’s proportions. Their nose or chin might end up looking bigger than the rest of their face.

This is the perfect effect for funny photography. But it’s not great for conventional portrait photographers!

For the best results, use a zoom (also known as telephoto) lens for portraits. This will allow you to take photos from a distance. And it’ll give your subject space to move around without feeling claustrophobic.

A few great telephoto lenses:

  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Sigma 24-35mm f/2
  • 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II

Use a Large Aperture for a Softer Focus

Close up portrait of a girl in direct light

Close up portrait photography doesn’t come with a set of rules. You can use any photography techniques you like. It’s important to note a few things about aperture and closeups to make the most of your photoshoot.

If you use a large aperture, such as f/1.4, your camera will be able to focus on only so much.

If you like the soft-focus effect, make sure you use manual focus. That way, you can capture the right details, such as the model’s eyes.

For those who want a very sharp close up portrait, a small aperture (such as f/8.0) is the answer.

Use Natural Side Light to Make Every Close Up Look Flattering

Black and white portrait of a child in soft light

Like textures and details, lighting stands out more in close-up photography. If you shoot from the right angles, you’ll be able to shape your model’s face. You can create a sense of mystery, and add depth to your portraits.

There are different types of natural light you can work with. One of the most effective ones for this genre is sidelight. All you need is a window (or an open door) and soft light. Cloudy and sunny days are perfect for this.

You model should sit next to the light source without facing it completely. The light should hit half of their face and then naturally fade out into the other.

This will create a beautiful transition. It’ll make your portraits look like more than a flat picture.

Use Direct Light to Create Stunning Portrait Lighting Patterns

Portrait of a woman with a lighting pattern on her face

Direct light and patterns work very well together. You might find that your close-ups look dull. You can make them look more interesting using custom shadows of your own making.

For this idea, you can get as creative as you like. All you need is bright sunlight and something to cover your model’s face with.

The object should have some kind of pattern. That way, you can experiment with different shadows.

You can use curtains, hats, window blinds, hair, and so on. The more unusual the patterns, the easier it will be to take unique close-up portraits.

Make Your Photos Diverse Using Different Facial Expressions

Portrait of a woman with her hair in her face

The right facial expressions can make your close-ups look joyful, mysterious, or thought-provoking. A subtle eyebrow movement can turn a curious expression into a suspicious one. A shy smile can make a dull portrait look exciting.

To master the art of facial expressions, use references. You can use film stills, stock photos of facial expressions, or your own imagination.

You can’t expect your model to try out different expressions. Especially not at the beginning of your photoshoot. To make everyone feel comfortable, start with normal expressions.

Once they’re used to being in front of your camera, try introducing various references.

Approach this casually and prioritise silliness. Your model won’t feel pressured or awkward. As a result, your close up photography will look interesting and have personality.

Use Foregrounds to Create Interesting Textures

Portrait of a woman with blurry foreground

Foregrounds are great for enhancing compositions. They can add a necessary pop of colour to dull close up portraits. They’re also one of the easiest ways to make close-ups look more striking.

All you need is an object to use as a foreground and a large aperture. The larger the aperture, the blurrier the foreground will look.

You can shoot through semi-transparent objects, such as glass. These create reflections around your model. This will give your close-ups a clean, minimalistic look.

You can also hold an object in front of your lens, making sure that only part of your lens is covered. This will create a blurred foreground. You can use it to hide parts of your model’s face, make your composition more colourful, or add depth to your close-up.

You can use any object you like, but keep in mind that some things make better foregrounds than others. You can get started by using string lights, hands, flowers, branches, and fences.

Experiment With Creative Cropping Techniques to Make Your Close-Up Portraits Stand Out

Close up portrait of a woman with freckles

Cropping doesn’t mean you have to crop your final results during the editing process. You can crop things out during your photoshoot. To do this, change the way you approach photography.

Instead of photographing your model directly, you can photograph half of their face. Or photograph the top of their head, the bottom half of their face, etc.

Combined with good lighting, these cropping techniques will let you get creative. And you won’t compromise the quality of your work.


Close up portrait photography can be so much more than detailed photos of people’s faces.

To elevate your close up photography, focus on lighting, storytelling, foregrounds, and expressions. With these elements, you’ll take authentic and eye-catching photos of any subject.

Check out our article on using portrait mode for best results next!

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