two girls, concrete wall, loft

Photo Tips – The Pyramid In Portrait Photography And Where To Position The Eyes!

The pyramid is famous for being solid and sturdy... we want this trait in our portrait photography! We have all seen the pyramid shape in group poses, but today's photo tip shows us how to add it to an individual portrait.

Photo Tip #1... The pyramid in portrait photography.

girl, young, pretty
Image from Pixabay via Gilmanshin

For the vast majority of us, the pyramid is a comforting shape. It is solid, sturdy, strong and represents a timeless quality. We see pyramids everywhere we look. Heck, it's even printed on American money - and we don't have any famous pyramids in this country!

This shape has so ingrained itself in our culture and in our subliminal consciousness that we feel a sense of relief and comfort when we see it and a sense of unease and instability when it is missing or used incorrectly. (Upside down.)

In photography, the pyramid is one of the most popular shapes to pose groups in... We can add as many people as we want - so it allows for virtually unlimited scaling. The central or most important figure is generally the highest and all the other people turn into visually leading lines pointing to the apex. And so on.

But we don't often think about the pyramid shape in individual portrait photography - and we should.

One of the rules of great portrait photos is to avoid football shoulders, so we turn our model to the side. But we can overdo it. If we go all the way to 90 degrees to the camera, it is too far. It creates an almost straight up and down image and has no real visual support for the head. To the viewer it appears unstable.

And yes, I know that - at times - we want to do a "profile" image. You have to know the rules before you can safely decide when to break them.
Typically, it is visually more satisfying to pose the subject at 45 degrees to the camera. This is the most slimming angle plus the shoulders help to visually support the head. Then you bring out the arms a bit to complete the sides of the pyramid.

Now we have a solid - and visually pleasing - base for the model's head. The viewer is subliminally more comfortable because nothing appears to be about to fall over!

Photo Tip #2... The Eyes - Where To Have The Model Look.

This is a quick one. When engaging someone, we always look into their eyes. If a person won't make eye contact, it signals something bad to us and sets us on edge. In portrait photography, we never want to set the viewer on edge. We want to draw them into a portrait.
For a very long time, it was the trend to have the subject looking just off to the side of the camera. They were almost looking at the camera, but not quite. I still see this happening from time to time.

Don't do it! Have the model looking straight into the lens, making eye contact with the viewer - unless you have a VERY good reason not to. And by very good reason, I mean one that is not only obvious to you but obvious to the viewer.

Portrait sales figures back up this rule. People like it better when they can make eye contact.

Work these two photo tips into your portrait photography. While they may seem obvious, I see them violated all the time and it can make a huge difference.