Why this is the perfect PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY angle – Proven by SCIENCE

Why this is the perfect PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY angle – Proven by SCIENCE

Why this is the perfect PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY angle – Proven by SCIENCE

Whenever I am taking Portraits or Headshots I know that I always have my ‘go too’ sets. A lighting setup, a few poses and definitely my favorite lenses for Portrait photography (either my Nikon 85mm or 105mm), but when it comes to angles this is always trial and error throughout the scott. So I set out to see if I could find the ‘PERFECT’ headshot angle that works every single time. To do this though I know that I needed a controlled environment so i could really use ‘science’ allowing me to correctly analysis the images. i use science very lightly as I am not really trained in in scientific research but this was as close as I could get in my studio without any training.

Camera Settings

So here was the setup. i used my Nikon D800 with the 85m f1.8. I shot at f8 with a flash sun speed of 1/250th and ISO100. Pretty simple. I used a very simple clamshell lighting setup using 2 Elinchrom ELC1000 lights to create some nice soft shadows.

Portrait Photography For Beginners

Test Conditions

Next I had to decide how I was going to actually do the tests. it took a lot of figuring out but in the end I decided on the following. The camera would remain exactly 6 feet from the model at all times and would move left to right in 2 foot increments. I worked this on the floor in a curve shape so that the distance was always the same. Next was the camera heights. To start off I though we should start at eye level and move ice 8inch increments above and below. As I knew the lower angles were not going to give that ‘perfect portrait’ angle i went only 8 inches below then 8 inches above and 16 inches above eye height. You can see this demonstrated in the video and in the image below.

These setting could have been anything

The actual setup for this was very precise but the reality is that if I change anything then everything changes, I know a lot of people like to shoot a lot further away at 12-15 feet but for this project this was impractical. Imagine if i had wanted to change the vertical angle as mush as I did from 15 feet away i would then have to change the camera height by multiple feet each time to get the same results. My setup was in the name of ‘science’ (hahahaha) and practicality.

Portrait Photography For Beginners

By using the setup above I had created a kind of grid which allowed me to clearly represent the images. basically i was taking 5 photos at each height and a total of 4 heights. I then numbered the grid so i could keep track of the images.  Now everything was setup all I had to do was take the photos.

Model Conditions

I asked the model, Rosie White (check here out @dancelovely on youtube and Instagram) to stay pretty neutral throughout but to give i give open smile. she always kept her shoulders facing forwards and just turned her head towards the camera. The shots only took around 15 minutes to complete.

Portrait Photography For Beginners

Consistent Edit

I did a very simple edit on one of the photographers (white balance and basic tone) then synched the settings across all images so that the settings were consistent. When placed in the grid I think the images give a nice and clear look into how the angle of a shot really changes how it feels.

Portrait Photography For Beginners

Conclusion – ‘SMILE’

You will see my full conclusion in the video however I found that the 8inches above the model (at 6 feet with an 85mm lens) is the most pleasing to my eye. it adds an element of lightness to an image. Also the wider we get the more dynamic the shot. You will see that I talk about the idea of the SMILE. the wider you go the higher you can go.

I have tried to explain my findings in the image below.

Portrait Photography For Beginners

All in all I really enjoyed doing this project and whilst it may not be perfect science i think I have now got closer to being able to take the Perfect Portrait on each of my shoots. Sometimes the more knowledge we have gives us more confidence in our choices.

Thanks so much for taking a look at this and I hope you found the findings as interesting as I did.
Take a look at all the the images below and tell me what you think. I have the reference numbers on each of them.

Nikon D7500

The D7500 can almost be renamed “Nikon D500 lite” due to the 2 bodies sharing a lot of similar key features. Your resolution remains at 20.9MP for both.

Panasonic S1R

The Panasonic Lumix S1R is Panasonic’s attempt to make a splash in the mirrorless camera world. Very similar to the Lumix S1, this camera’s primary focus is to deliver crisp, clean, professional images.

About The Author

Ed Gregory

Ed is the founder of Photos in Color, Stokpic, In Color Studios and Co founder of Dance Lovely. From performing on broadway and International world tours as an actor to shooting editorials for magazines he has been obsessed with the creative industries his entire life. He says 'I was born an artist, its the only thing I know'. Ed has traveled to over 30 countries lived in 10+ and even lived in the jungle in Borneo. As a visual artist he has created documentaries, magazine covers, TV spots and countless digital publications the world over. .... 'Judge you success by growth not by comparison' ....


  1. Marie Schaller

    First, beautiful work as always Ed. Two thoughts on this (Ill preface by saying I am fairly new to SLR, and I do not have experience with portraits): first, I feel that the photos just to one side, or just below (so, 10, 12 and 14, 16) create the overall best look. I feel that by taking just a slight angle more clearly defines the model’s features; it creates a more striking image, in my opinion. The chin, for example, doesn’t blend in to the neck, like it does in a dead center shot. I also feel this gives a more natural appearance to the photo.
    My second thought may be more of a question. Your model is young and gorgeous, with great facial features. Not everyone has this, so using one angel for one model (and by “model”, I mean your subject), may not work for all. True? I, for one, should NEVER have my photo taken dead on! Not very complimentary. Perhaps that is why I think the photos I chose from this shoot are the better shots.

  2. Laurie

    Great video as always!!!! Love the SMILE analogy! Missing the dance!

  3. David Brown

    Thank you for this. It is a beautifully presented and very useful. I will definitely be using and testing it’s findings. Perhaps the same thing with a male subject would be interesting.
    The one thing it isn’t is science. This is an excellent example of rigorous art. One of the great failures of modern thought, en masse, is the lack of respect for rigorous art, and the overextend use of the word science.
    As a piece of photographic education, I’d give this an A+, and I will be sharing it. For philology, it gets “standard not yet met”, but in the end I am very glad to have seen it. Thanks

  4. Lokutus

    use a spellchecker next time…..

  5. Alkis

    Great work and analyse like always. For me personally No 5 & 7 are by far the most perfect angled photos. As you said slightly to the left or right and slightly up..!!
    Thanks mate.


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