Should I chop off the top of the head?

Chris Lane / photography / / 1 Comment / Like this

The title is in reference to portrait photography and alternative composition styles. I recently posted on twitter for suggestions for a post and got a reply from @twenty3times with a question:

I thought this was a great idea for a post. I will expand on the initial question and talk a little about alternative face portrait compositions as well. My son Tristan (4yrs) graciously and with waning patience helped me out with this. I sat him in a chair next to the window for a simple fairly traditional portrait style sitting and proceeded to shoot while moving my camera around.

The most traditional shot would be something like this:

Traditional portait sitting © Chris Lane Photo

Well, maybe not with that pose, but you get the idea!
So the question was, how does it work to lop off the top of a head? I tried a variety of shots with that in mind:
multiple images © Chris Lane Photo

What did I figure out after experimenting with this? I think the best way to use this composition style is when it is either very close to the face like this:

Very close portrait © Chris Lane Photo

or if there is something to balance the composition on the bottom of the image such as the hands and knees in this shot:

balanced © Chris Lane Photo

With this image in particular, compared to the other very similar image in my thumbnails above is that this photo has the subject off center. I think this also helps in the head chop. Maybe it’s just because it is a better composition anyway, but it does seem to help with this particular predicament as well.

Some other ways it can work is in profile images, where the subject is turned to the side. There is true profile which is completely on the side and then there is a slightly turned profile, though not quite a 3/4 view, but just enough to get some of the other eye in the image.
balanced © Chris Lane Photo
The second one includes my tip about having something at the bottom to balance the composition but is also a quite non-traditional composition in that the subject is right at the edge of the frame that he is looking out of. Usually, when looking off frame it is into more space, such as this:
balanced © Chris Lane Photo

Some other alternative compositions in face portraiture doesn’t have to include the entire face at all. This first one I think has kind of been done to death, so I wouldn’t recommend it. The others, sticking with landscape style, are definitely alternatives and are completely subjective whether you would use them or not. I think they are interesting in that they show the subject’s personality quite well even though not all of them even show the eyes.
balanced © Chris Lane Photo

balanced © Chris Lane Photo

balanced © Chris Lane Photo

balanced © Chris Lane Photo

balanced © Chris Lane Photo

So what did you think? Hopefully I answered the question in this post. Will you be trying this alternative composition style in a portrait? Let me know your thoughts and link to your examples in the comments below!

© This article is copyright of Chris Lane Photo and should not be found elsewhere.