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An Introduction To Photographing Men’s Portraiture

By Brittany Smith on June 11th 2017

For years women have used photography services as a source of empowerment. It began with glamour portrait studios popping up in shopping malls everywhere and over the years has evolved into the era of boudoir. While these types of portrait settings are more intimate in nature, it has been thought that only women would be interested, and as a result we see far fewer male clients.

There tends to be a stigma that men are more difficult to photograph because of this, but that is definitely not the case.

Gear: Canon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L II USM Lens

Tech Specs: ISO 320, f/3.2, 1/160th of a second.

In truth, men do not require any extra equipment or larger studio space to capture them on camera. If you have about four feet of space on a blank wall and a single light, you are set. A good way to approach this is to first identify which side they look best from when lighting them. Once determined, place a light at approximately 45 degrees in relation to them several feet away and then tilted down until the desired light has been achieved. This is a starting point, and while the world is your oyster for creativity, for men, this is often enough.

Photographed with light positioned camera left at a 45 degree angle, tilted down.

Gear: Canon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L II USM LensBroncolor Siros L 800WsBroncolor Beautybox 65 Softbox

Tech Specs: ISO 100, f/11, 1/200th of a second

One issue with men, however, is that there is a tendency for most men to tense up in photos, and become rigid. Tricks to keeping them from looking stiff are to first have them get comfortable at the start of the pose. Some standard posing cues are having them adjust their tie, jacket or cuffs, or placing the hands in pockets or having the arms folded almost always works. Subtle variations and adjusting of accessories is a simple and effective way to get a lot of variety in a short amount of time.

Gear: Canon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L IIProfoto D1 500

Tech Specs: ISO 100, f/16, 1/160th of a second.

There’s much you can do with the single light also to get different looks that include simple changes in position. You can stand them up and face the light source for a dramatic profile portrait with or without a modifier which works well if the client has any sort of double chin, as the drastic shadows can help reduce that. Like women, however, men photograph amazingly well in natural window light and you don’t always need the more angular directional light of a strobe to make men look great.

Gear: Canon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L IIProfoto D1 500

Tech Specs: ISO 100, f/16, 1/160th of a second.

As a female photographer, I find that I am often shorter than my male subject, but the fact allows for a different perspective and often have to have the model look down in order to look at me. As part of this I have learned to tell them to bring their forehead down and out toward my lens, which does a great job establishing or emphasizing a jawline. If they have a great jaw to begin with you can also have them clench down to pop it. It looks very handsome on men and gives it that little extra edge.

Photographed in natural light on a partly overcast day. A scrim was used to block most of the blown highlights on the hair and jacket.

Gear: Canon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L II

Tech Specs: ISO 200, f/5, 1/160th of a second.

Gear: Canon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L II

Tech Specs: ISO 400, f/4, 1/400th of a second.

As with all clients, the more natural the expression the better. A good rule of thumb is to try and capture images that showcase their personality. Some need to be more candid in approach with a lot of smiles while others work better in a hard hitting environment. Remember to keep them relaxed and comfortable during the session and give simple verbal cues as this will yield the best results.

[REWIND: HEADSHOT PHOTOGRAPHY 101: SETTING UP A TETHER STATION]

Brittany is a fashion and beauty photographer who works between NYC, Montana and LA. She photographs the way she has always wanted to feel and believes in the power of raw simplicity. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local coffeeshop, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, or baking something fabulous in the kitchen.
Instagram: @brittanysmithphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jonathan Brady

    Great article, Brittany! 

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