Simple Rules for Framing Portraits


The style of a portrait photographer is not only determined by the light, the right choice of lens, or the post-processing of the image. Cropping is important because it can determine the final impression the photo makes on the viewer. You can crop a picture either when you take it or with the help of a photo editor.

There are fundamentals to framing portraits. It takes many photographers years of trial and error to isolate them and learn them thoroughly. These rules are critical to the visual impact that portraits will have on potential viewers in the future. To learn how to cut out an image in Photoshop, visit Skylum’s blog page.

Why Do You Need to Crop a Photo?

The first and perhaps the most important benefit of framing and cropping is that you can use it to turn almost any group photo into a portrait of a specific person. It also comes in handy if there are any objects in the frame that grab the viewer’s attention. If they are near the borders, just crop the photo and the problem will be solved immediately.

Also with the help of cropping, you can accentuate a certain detail that was lost in the original photo, merging it with the rest of the subjects. Remember, framing shouldn’t ruin the photo. It should enhance it and make it more expressive. Always focus on the eyes of the model when creating portraits.

Framing Portraits in the Camera

In-camera framing means that you compose and take the shot exactly how you want it to look in the end, rather than shooting loosely to crop in post-processing. There are two reasons for this:

  • Images framed in the camera look completely different from those cropped further in the editor. By filling the frame and cropping tightly, you’ll create a great background blur that eliminates any potential distractions and focuses attention on the subject itself.
  • The original file size remains the same. An arbitrarily photographed and then cropped image may only be a fraction of the original file size, so a file that was 40 MB at full size will be reduced to 4 MB after cropping. 

Also, note that full-size images have much more detail and sharpness than lower-resolution images.

Frame the Way You Feel

Use the following tips as a starting point to find your style. Start with a full-size portrait and crop it using the traditional rules. Later, try breaking them, then analyze the resulting images and decide which way you feel more comfortable.

Create your style of photography by experimenting – every model, scene, or pose will be different. Don’t be afraid to combine them and try something new. The only question to ask when cropping is whether the result looks like a mistake or the author’s intention.

Sometimes following strict rules can rob portraits of their soul and intrigue. So, the more you shoot, the more you will begin to intuit which shot will look right.

Don’t Crop at the Level of Joints and Curves

Cropping at the mid-thigh line is usually more visually pleasing than cropping at the model’s knee. Showing only the part of the knee where the dress or shorts end is also undesirable. In addition, certain poses show the body in a more favorable light. It is always a good idea to find ways to present the model in a way that lengthens rather than shortens her body.

Cropping at the knees, waist, elbows, ankles, and wrists can make the model look extremely awkward in the photo. And cropping the arms or legs will make the person appear squatter or visually taller than they are. Be sure to remember that there are exceptions to all the rules. For instance, you can cut the photo along the joints if you bring those limbs back into the frame through the fold.

Keep the Model’s Eyes in the Upper Third of the Frame

Position the subject’s eyes in the top third of the frame and avoid cropping at the level of the model’s chin. It is advisable to position the camera so that the eyes are in the top third of the frame, as this is the most harmonious way for the viewer to view the shot. Also, you should never crop the chin of a person in the frame, otherwise, it will look extremely inattentive and unaesthetic.

What’s the Best Way to Frame a Portrait

Weird framing is the result of odd poses and unusual angles. Or the inexperience and carelessness of the author. Strange poses and angles can be the result of an unusual idea or uncomfortable shooting conditions. You should also be guided by the style of the shoot:

  • If you are shooting a parade or a corporate portrait, refrain from experimenting. Frame the subject at the waist or hips, and keep both hands in the frame.
  • If you’re shooting a creative or commercial project that requires a strange, challenging, and ambiguous reaction from the audience, this is an excellent time for ambiguous, bold framing.

The rules of accurate cropping are dictated by composition when we need to show the subject as it is. At the same time, the composition is always about meaning, and when the meaning is more important than the model, we can cut it however we want for the sake of the story.

Remember, if you need to cut out an object or crop an image, you can always use a photo editor. Don’t want to spend time learning Photoshop? Then try Luminar Neo – an easy and intuitive photo editor with many professional AI-based tools.