Skip to main content

Cropping & Composition

Lesson 4 from: Portrait Photography Bootcamp

Lindsay Adler

Cropping & Composition

Lesson 4 from: Portrait Photography Bootcamp

Lindsay Adler

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

4. Cropping & Composition

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The lesson is about the importance of cropping and composition in portrait photography. The instructor discusses the concept of head space, eye line, background elements, and subject placement. She provides examples and tips on how to effectively crop and compose portraits.


  1. What is head space in photography?

    Head space refers to the amount of space above or below the head of a subject in a photograph.

  2. Why is it important to consider head space in a portrait?

    The amount of head space can affect the composition of the photo and the viewer's perception of the subject. Too much head space can make the subject look less important, while too little can make them appear cramped.

  3. What is the rule of thirds and how does it apply to eye line in portraits?

    The rule of thirds divides a photograph into nine equal parts, and the eyes of the subject are usually placed on the top third line. This composition technique helps create a stronger and more visually appealing photo.

  4. Why is it important to leave space for the subject to look into?

    Leaving space for the subject to look into gives the photo a sense of depth and allows the viewer to imagine what the subject might be looking at. It also helps create a more balanced composition.

  5. What should you consider when choosing a background for a portrait?

    The background should contribute to the overall composition and not detract from the subject. It can add color, context, or leading lines, but should not pull the viewer's attention away from the subject.

  6. What are some cropping guidelines for portraits?

    It is recommended to crop at narrowing points, such as the waist or above the knees, to create the illusion of a more slender subject. It is also important to avoid cropping at joints or the ends of appendages, and to crop into the top of the head or around the forehead for a more impactful composition.

Next Lesson: Group / Accessories

Lesson Info

Cropping & Composition

Some of the elements to a great portrait aren't just gear, it's not just lighting, it's not just posing. Sometimes it's just how you capture that image. Which could be in your composition and crop. So as we proceed with all of these different lessons from the bootcamp, I want to make sure that I explain what I'm looking at when I look at crop and what I'm looking at as I look at composition. Because I remember this, and I, when I had a portrait studio in upstate New York for like eight to 10 years, like eight years, and I'd always get the question from mom and dads, why did you crop in on the head? Have you guys ever had that question? Like, if I cropped off the top of the head they'd be like, oh, I want the top of the head. But then at the same time, I always found if I took the exact same photo, one was further back and one was cropped in at the head, the exact same photo, the same file, I just cropped it two different ways, they would be attracted to the one that had been cropped in...

. And they'd ask for that one. But then they'd ask for it with a looser crop. And so there's some method to the madness there. And I kind of wanted to dive into that whole concept of crop. And where can you crop. Where should you crop. Cropping into the head. Composition. Where should the eyes be looking. All of that. So that is what this segment is going to be all about. Those core elements of cropping and composition. So let's start off with a little bit of your composition checklist. And I'm going to go through each of these elements one by one and explain what you're looking for. So, throughout the rest of all of these lessons, the rest of all of these segments, when you look at an image you'll understand, this checklist was going through my head. It's always going through my head. Expect for now, with many years of practice, I don't have to think about the checklist. It's already built in. And I am currently 15 years into having a photo business of some sort. And so the more that you practice, it's just in the back there. And it runs through automatically. Same thing with posing. Same thing with lighting. Your checklist is running on autopilot so you can focus on interacting with other people. So we are going to train our minds to go through this checklist. So we're going to cover head space. As one thing. We are going to cover eye line, background element, and subject placement. So I'll tell you what I'm thinking for each of these things. But of course, as with any rules, rules are meant to be broken. And so anything I ever say, feel free to, at some point, completely disregard it. But there's a reason for the rules. And when you understand them it helps you understand what makes a good photograph. And it makes it a little bit easier when you're there taking the photo to not have to focus on all these elements if the rules are already kind of ingrained. Then you can figure out when you want to break them. Instead of, oh what were those rules again? So let's talk about head space. Head space means in general how much space in your composition, in your crop, above or below the head. It could also mean, sometimes people talk about head space in front of or behind the head. But usually it means above and below. And what is the perfect amount of head space? The perfect amount of head space is that which is not detrimental to your photo. At what point does it feel like there's just enough breathing room, but not too loose that the subject feels like they're randomly floating in space. Or when is it tight enough to have an intense connection between the subject and the viewer without it feeling too squished. So, one of the things that I notice, and a lot of portrait photographers as they're getting started, shoot way too loose. Lots of space on either side. And a lot of negative space above the subject's head. Like a pretty solid amount. And that negative space, that empty head space, actually puts visual weight. Even though there's nothing there that extra space above the head it feels like it's weighing down on the subject. So if you crop so that it's just, maybe just below the neck, but then you have lots of space over the head, the way that you compose there, this empty space actually minimizes your subject. It actually makes them less important in the frame. So, how does that translate? I'm gonna show you several examples because there's not a right or wrong answer. But there are definitely some clear ways that it pulls away from your photo. You don't wanna pull away from your subject. You wanna have a good balance. Too much above makes the, too much above their head makes it look like they're being weighed down. Too little makes them look cramped. And then also for below. For the cropping of head space below. If you put most of the photo at the bottom half of the body, if the head seems small, especially if you crop in at the head and then there's a lot of negative space down here, sometimes the head feels small. The body feels large. Or if you crop really close on the neck and really loose above the head, it looks like a floating head. There's not shoulders on there. It feels disembodied. So let me show you a good example of what this looks like. And so here's a photo of a girl, this is Raquel. This is one of my assistants. Where there's too much head space above and too little head space below. Now it is okay to have a portrait that's really, really close up. A very tight portrait. Where you crop into the neck. You don't always need to see the entire neck and shoulders. But in the case like this, where there's a lot of space above her head, it seems to make no sense why you would crop off there. It just looks like a floating head. So if this was the only photo that I had, and I wanted to salvage this, I wanted to make it a better portrait, I would have to crop out some of that top head space to make the lack of head space below make sense. And so I would have to do something like this. Those are the exact same photos. It's just cropped in from above. And now it's much more immediate. You connect with her eyes. And the fact that I can't see her neck and shoulders doesn't bother me anymore because it is meant to be a tight photograph. Whereas in the other photo, the lots of head space above and the tight crop below makes no sense. Why did you need to crop off her neck? So that's an example of head space. Now, cropping on the head, this is the question that I got endlessly. Cropping in closer to your subject, cropping in the top of the head it gives more impact. It gives more immediate connection between the viewer and the subject. And, I mean, really, do you need to see the top of somebody's head to know what they look like. It's really not important. And so again, with the high school senior portraits I'd shoot them forever, and the parents would always love the ones that were cropped in at the head because it was so much more immediate of a connection. My suggestion to you is that if you're going to crop in, commit. Like, commit to that crop. And don't just crop of like a sliver at the top of the head 'cause then it looks like you mis-aimed. Like it looks like you just forgot to give head space. But if you crop in a little bit more it looks like it's on purpose. And, there's some places that I would be careful of cropping in. So here, these are just my general guidelines if you, you know, look at me. I recommend that you don't just crop the very top of the head. But if you are cropping, don't just stop at the hairline. If someone has a large forehead, if you crop at the hairline, you will make that forehead look so much bigger. But you also don't want to crop just above the eyebrows. Because if you crop just above the eyebrows, it looks like their face is squished in. Like they're trapped in a box. So a lot of times, it would be somewhere in the middle of the forehead. Or somewhere in the middle of the hair. That's going to give you a better crop if you do crop into the head. I'm not saying that you need to crop into the head for every shot but if you're going to do it, commit and be purposeful with that crop. So, let's look at a couple examples. So this is all the same photo cropped in different ways. It's all the exact same photo. All I did is, in LightRoom I made virtual copies, I cropped in. And I think that they have different impact to them. The one on the bottom right I feel most immediate. Like I'm really connecting with her and the camera. But I think the one on the bottom left I think she looks a little bit more elegant because I can see her longer neck. And I can see her shoulders. And her long neckline and clavicles. But none of them are right or wrong. They're all just a different take on things. But if you look at the top right for example. Let's suppose she had no bangs. And her bangs were off to the side. If you cropped right there, in that top right photo, her forehead without those bangs would look very, very large. So this is something that you'd have to be aware of. And try to train your eye to see in camera. And that's why I recommend you don't crop right at the hairline. The picture on the left, the top left, it's fine. But be careful it doesn't look like a mistake. It's just barely cropped into the top of her head. And it may look like you just mis-framed. All right. Let's talk about eye line. In portraits, over and over again, you'll hear that the eyes are the windows to the soul. It's what you connect with. And so, typically in a portrait it's the first place you look in the photo. It is the very first thing you look at. So it becomes a very important element in your composition. If you have misplaced eyes it's going to give you a weaker photo. Typically eyes are placed, and this is not always, but most of the time they are placed on the top third line of the composition. Usually in a head shot. So if you divide you photo into rules of thirds the eyes aren't usually lined up with the bottom third. It's usually lined up with the top third or maybe someplace in the middle if it is a tight head shot. So you wanna be very careful where you place the eyes. And you also want to make sure that the eyes have somewhere to look. This rule can be broken. But if the edge of the frame is right here of for the subject and then there's a lot of negative space behind them, that edge of the frame, it's like a stopping point. There's no thought of what's beyond that frame. What are they looking to? It feels more compressed. Claustrophobic. And it gives less room to imagination. The subject is going to look more uncomfortable. So I have examples of this. But usually the eye line is rule of thirds. Have the eyes line up with the upper third. Not usually the middle or the lower. And give the space, the face some space to look into. So for example, here is a tight head shot. The picture on the right, you can see that her eyes are lined up with the upper third. If it was lined up with the lower third, there would just be a lot of random empty head space. So it wouldn't really make sense. Or, I was in one of my best friend's weddings, and I was also on portrait duty, and this is one of the pictures that I took of her. And so notice her eyes are approximately, in this head shot, on the top third. Right now I'm talking more compositionally about head shots, tight shots. And then also she's not centered in the frame. She's a little bit off to the left hand side. So her eye is in one of those power points. And that's compositionally, when you have the rule of thirds, where those lines intersect are points of power. They're points that draw your attention. That make for a strong composition. So that's talking about the rule of thirds and that top third eye line. So take a look. Start looking at portraits that you really love. A lot of them you will notice follow this rule. Not all of them. You don't have to follow this rule. But it does seem to add impact. So let's take a look at that eye line. Where the eyes are looking. How much space they have, or the head space in front of her. So in this picture of Raquel, the edge of the frame is just a few inches from her face. So she doesn't really have anywhere to look into. Whereas, if I pose her on the other side of the frame, she's gazing into the future. There's a little bit of momentum to move. And so it would be the same thing if you have someone running in a shot. You're doing a portrait of someone exercising or running or playing basketball and there's a lot of negative space behind them. And then the edge of the frame in front of them. It communicates something very different. It's more like end of the line. Instead of lots of possibilities. Emotionally you connect with these two photos differently. Whether you intend to or not. Perhaps in the photo where she's at the end of the frame she's thinking about things that are behind her. Things that she wants to forget. Whereas, in this photo I feel as though she's thinking about the future. And the possibilities are there. You could use either as a tool of communication. But generally you try to leave some sort of negative space or eye line for the subject to look into. All right, now, let's see how that plays out though when the subject is in a different place then their eyes are looking. And so here's my friend Angela again, for one of her bridal portraits that I did of her. Now, she's in the right hand side. So you would think that okay, well maybe I want more space over there to the right. But in fact her eyes are looking back to the left. So where her eyes are looking is where I left the negative space. So she has room to look into. And I feel, going back to what these signify, as a bridal portrait, she wants to look into the future. She wants to have someplace to look. If she was looking directly out of frame it would feel a little bit more compressed. Perhaps not as uplifting. And here's another example of a high school senior portrait that I did. The girl is looking back over her shoulder. Now there's not much space in front of her to move. But there's negative space back towards where she is looking. So I keep some space towards where the subject is facing. Let's take a look now at a couple other elements of crop and eye line. So looking at these, I'm, let's kind of figure out which one you think is most successful. There's not necessarily a right or wrong answer. Though there's one I definitely don't like. I definitely think the one in the top right doesn't work for me. She has a floating head. I don't see where her shoulders are connected. And if I want to be that cropped in close on her neck, I should probably crop in close from above. And that negative space above her head in the top right is weighing down on her. She's lost. There's not connection. It really isn't achieving anything. Now the top left isn't wrong, per se. What I think, is by putting her eye line so high up in that frame she seems more dominant in the frame. She's more dominant and more powerful than the viewer. And it's okay compositionally. Although since she's centered I think it loses a little something. And the one that's closest to correct would be the center bottom. Her eye is on that third. And she has some space to look into. You could make arguments for why different photos could work in different situations. But more traditionally, it would be that bottom center working successfully. All right. Let's talk about background elements for composition. In any photograph you're background needs to be contributing or not taking away. If it's a portrait, it's all about that subject. And so if you can see the background is it contributing because of the color? Or is it contributing because of the leading lines? Or is it contributing because that background tells something about your subject? But in any of these cases, it shouldn't pull your eye away from the subject or detract from your purpose. And so, what I learned, since I started as a nature photographer is before I would click the shutter, I would always trace my eyes around the edge of the frame. And see if there's anything that felt like it was pulling me away. Like a little distracting element. Or maybe it was a line in the background that would cut through the subject. If that's not contributing I need to get rid of it I need to find a different composition. So here are the things you want to watch out for in your background that you want to avoid. You want to avoid strong lines or patterns that are pulling you away from the subject and not working towards an interesting composition. So a strong line, for example, a horizon, that cuts straight through the subject's head. That's going to be a distracting element. And you should try a different composition. I try to put that horizon line maybe above their head. Or, below their shoulders. In general if you have a strong line above the head or below the shoulders will give you a better result. Or maybe there is a pole. A light stand. Directly behind their head. If it looks like it's growing out of their head, you need to try a little bit of a different composition. So it's not pulling your attention away. Or maybe there's a really, really bright highlight behind their head. Where the first place you look is your subject's eyes. But then instantly at that bright highlight. And you can't help but continue to look there. Any of these elements you should try to find a way to simplify. And as I've talked about in another segment, you can use a narrow depth of field to try to help soften these elements. Simplify your background. Get back to focusing on your subject. But a lot of it does come to composition and just changing the angle of your lens slightly. In this example here, I was shooting on the highline, which is near my studio in New York. And, there's this really cool building behind her, but then there's this, it's basically a frame. You're supposed to look through it and it frames the city. And it makes this really unsightly line. So in the first portrait I took of her I took at eye level. I'm photographing her straight on. So that her eyes are even with my camera. And what I see in the background, is this really distracting line that goes right through the middle of her head. And so, to me, that's not really contributing anything. 'Cause I can't help but look at it. I go to her eyes. And then I keep getting drawn around that line over and over again. So the next thing that I try to do is I try to get at a lower angle to try to get it out of my frame a little bit. But that lower angle unfortunately just puts that same line through the middle of her neck kind of cutting her off. So that didn't work. I could move a little bit. But this is where the good light was. Or this is the light that I liked where I wasn't in the middle of a crowd. So in this last shot, what I had her do, is make herself a little shorter. I had her put one leg in front of the other. And lean forward a little bit. And that'll make her shorter by several inches. And then I got up and I shot slightly down at an angle. And that perspective allowed me to cut out the distracting background elements so that I don't have those lines anymore. What I do see, however, is I still don't necessarily love the highlight behind her head. But at least it is not a crisp line going through the middle of her head. Or the middle of her neck. So if you can simplify your background you wanna go through that checklist that I gave you in the beginning. I'm looking saying, okay, how is her head space? I like her head space here. Looks great. How about her eye line? Okay, she has room to look. She's making connection with the camera. It's also on the upper third. That looks great. But what about the background? There's a distracting element in the background. Can I get rid of that? So that's kind of the order that I go in in trying to improve my composition. Subject placement. There isn't a right or wrong way in a portrait, like in a lot of landscape or travel images, your composition becomes really important. Exactly where you place the elements. And sometimes often in these images you don't want anything centered unless it's an extremely strongly centered image. But you can get away with a little bit more centered images in a portrait. So I'm just gonna show you a couple portraits that I've taken so you can see the eye lines, the compositions, see what works and what doesn't work. So in this portrait, notice her eyes in this head shot are on the top third. She's a little bit looking over the shoulder so I have a little bit more negative space over the shoulder. And more or less that corner of her eye is kind of in that power third. The next portrait I took was a bridal image. And so, if you look more or less her face in the subject placement is in the power upper right hand corner. Her eyes aren't in the bottom of the frame. And there is a little bit of negative space so she's not crammed right up against the edge of that crop. This next photo is a portrait that I took of a couple. They're both dancers. And so if you follow the rule of thirds the line is sitting, the line is sitting just below their leg. Which makes for a powerful composition. And also the interaction of the two of them, that sits right on a third as well. So over and over again, even without thinking about it, because of so much practice, I'm often putting the heads, the bodies, or the eye lines in a rule of thirds. And it gives me more successful portraits. That however is not always the case. Sometimes a nice centered portrait works well. So this is a high school senior portrait that I did. Where the converging lines of the trees behind her and the movement of her dress, it works just fine to more or less have her centered. It's still a successful image. So it's not like every photo you need to do needs to be lined up to that third. All right. So here's my top five tips for having a successful composition. And these are again going back to what I go through in my head. But the first one is get closer. When you're first starting off, if you are giving your subject a ton of space, and the space isn't doing anything for you, cut it out. If the space is not telling a story or adding texture or adding color or adding context and there's just space around your subject, it's a really loose crop, you're just wasting space. You wanna connect with your subject. So, get in closer. But avoid crops that are really close. Like cutting off the neck. So that goes to number two. Use the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds for the eyes on the upper third line if it's going to be a tight head shot. Or in a composition, where can you place the subject's body or head to be on one of the thirds. Okay. So tip number three is leave space to look into. Make sure your subject is not looking just at the edge of the frame, but they have somewhere to look into. And then what I was saying before, is number four, leave some space so the head is sitting on the shoulders unless it is a really tight crop where you crop into the head. My rule of thumb is if you didn't crop into the head don't crop above the neck. If you are going to crop in real tight, commit. Really do it. But if you are going to have some negative space above the head you probably wanna see a bit of the shoulders or at least the neck if there is some head space or negative space above. And then lastly, you wanna follow some general cropping rules. These rules of where to crop your subject are going to give you better results for your portraits. So these cropping rules is what I'm going to spend the rest of this segment on. And as I say over and over again, rules are meant to be broken. So of course, I'm sure you could look at some of my work and I've broken some of these rules. Or even better yet, if you go to the pages of Vogue, you might say, hey Lindsey said you're never supposed to, and then you'll see it in Vogue so, clearly some of these rules can be broken. But let's talk about cropping. And these are our rules for cropping. Here are my do's and my don'ts of cropping. So here are things you do want to do. And I have better illustrations of these as we go forward. But I wanted to introduce these concepts. So you do want to crop at narrowing points. What is a narrowing point? A narrowing point is going to be somewhere in their pose or in their body that looks narrower. So what I mean by that is you probably if you were going to photograph and photograph me here, you'd be better off cropping me at the waist than at the widest part of my hips. Because that's going to make me look a little bit wider. Or, in the same composition, maybe just above my knee. Because I look like I narrowed out there. What cropping at narrowing points do is it tricks the eye into thinking your subject is curvier or more slender than they actually are. Or just shows them as they are. So again, if I'm doing a pose like this, if you crop me just at my shoulders I'm going to look wider side to side, than if you crop me at my waist. Where I narrowed in a bit. If you crop me right here on my hips I'll look a little bit wider. But if you crop me just above my knees I got narrow again. And so, it'll give your eye curves to follow. Or it'll make the subject look just a little bit more slender. Related to that, if somebody's standing with their legs apart, their legs wide, and you crop just above the knees, that wasn't even a narrowing point anymore 'cause I'm still wider. So it's, you actually have to look at your photograph and see where you subject looks a little bit narrower. So you do want to crop at narrowing points. You don't want to crop where your subject is going to be their widest. So that is my tip, or my do and don't, number one. Number two. Is you do want to crop mid-limb. Or include the whole limb. But not crop in at joints. So you do, it would be fine to crop in you know, if I'm turning to the side, it'd be fine to crop in at my arm here. But not right in the middle of my elbow. Or, for that pose before, it would be fine to crop above my knee. But not right through the middle of it. Or not right at my ankles. You want to make sure that those joints aren't broken up. Because it makes you photograph look disjointed. And you also don't want to crop off appendages. Like if I'm holding my hands out to the side and you just barely crop of the tips of my fingers. It looks weird. Or if you have a full-length shot and all you missed was one toe, it looks like an accident. So you either want to include it or solidly crop in without cropping at a joint. So that is my next do. Do include the whole limb or crop in the middle. But not at a joint. My next do is crop above the head or into the forehead. And so this goes back to some of what we were talking about before. If you are going to crop in, if you're going to crop the head at all, make sure you either crop into the top a little bit or a little solidly into the forehead. But not too close to the eyebrow line or anything like that. And definitely not just at the hairline. 'Cause it makes the forehead look quite large. So I'm going to show you a couple of these illustrations. Of cropping at a narrowing point for example. In these next photos none of these crops are necessarily wrong. But if you look at the first photo compared to the second, I think she looks much wider in the first photo than she would in the second. Because in the second, by cropping at her waist, that is a narrower point. And so it'll give the illusion that she's more slender. Whereas in the first one I cropped at her bust and so she is going to look wider because that is a wider area of her frame. Or over on the right hand side, neither of those crops are necessarily wrong, but she looks a little bit more slender all the way on the far right because I cropped at a narrower point of her body. And let's look at our example of avoiding cropping at joints or the ends of appendages. The only crop here that's really wrong is the second one. Because her legs look like little stubs. It basically got just cut off above the ankle. So you follow compositionally. Her eyes. Down to her arms. Her hips. And then it gets cut off at the bottom. And so it breaks up the flow. And it just looks awkward. If you're going to crop, crop just above the knees. Or include the entire foot. The entire leg. Not cropping off at her wrists or at her ankles or anything like this. And so here is an example of cropping off appendages. In the same pose with her hand out just cropping off the finger tips or at the wrist, it looks like a mistake. It doesn't look like it was done on purpose. So if were going to do this, I'd either include the whole thing or I would crop in even more on the right hand side so that it's more of a head shot. It looks not on purpose on that far right image. So I did a series of shots of my assistant Raquel, just to show you how these crops change how she looks. So I took these pictures the other day. And so here's a photo of Raquel. There isn't any negative space under her arms. And I cropped her at her widest. In this crop, you see both arms. And her bust from side to side. She looks wider. And it doesn't, doesn't really work for me. And these poses in the next one, these crops in the next shot, don't exactly work either for a couple reasons. So see if you can figure out where they're falling short. Based on the list I gave you, how are these crops incorrect and how would you fix them? So the next slide I'm going to highlight the problem areas. And so in the first shot, I cropped off her fingers. I'm not supposed to crop off fingers. Either include them or not. And then next shot over, it's like, oh man, I almost included her feet. But somehow I missed them. And then in the far right, I cropped below her knees but it's just a really awkward position. I just see the bottom of her feet. The far right, or the bottom of her knees. The far right isn't totally wrong. But it could be better. I instead would have cropped just above the knee. So let's look at what that looks like. So these are improvements on the previous poses. So I'm gonna switch before and after again. Here were the problem poses. They're not terrible. But here's my fixes. I would crop in closer. In the next one I'd include the feet. Or I would crop above the knees. So the crop isn't distracting from anything. So to kind of summarize all of this. To take a look. If I look at this photo, here are the do's and don'ts of where I would crop. I would crop into the top of the head. But I wouldn't, I would try not to crop just into the neck. Unless it's a super tight shot. I would be okay with cropping including the shoulders. But if I crop at the widest point, just know that it's going to make my subject look their widest. So instead I probably would prefer to crop at the waist or at the knees. But above the knees. Not directly at them. Now the red lines are showing you all the places that I don't want to crop. I don't want to crop into wrists. I don't want to crop into ankles. I don't want to crop out fingers and appendages. Now this is a guy kind of just standing there stoically. But all of these poses, or all of these rules would apply no matter what pose someone is in. So if you had someone posing with their hands above their head, and they had their hand wrapped around like this. And you cropped off just the fingertips, these rules would still apply. And one other thing to be wary of is if it's a really close head shot, and someone has bigger ears, just cropping off a part of the ear, like just the tip of it, draws attention to the fast that it's larger. Like, you couldn't quite fit it in the frame. So you had to crop off just a bit of it. So usually if I crop, I make sure it's a crop. If I'm going to crop into the arm, or crop into the fingers, it's not just the tips of the fingers. It's all the way into the arms. If it's going to be a close up shot where I don't include the entire ear I'm gonna try to crop them out or get even closer. So think of it that way. And use these as a guideline. So as we go forward in all of these lessons I want you to think back to that first slide, that very first checklist. Our checklist is, first of all, is my head space working in this photo? Is there enough space above their head? Or too much? Does it look like it's weighing down on them? How about the crop if it's a head shot below the chin? Do they look too squished? Do they look like a floating head? Or do they have a base for their head to be sitting upon? How about their eye line? Is their eye line, on a head shot, on a third? Or is it in a place that makes sense? Or is it a wrong place? Like a bottom third or a lower part of the photo which minimizes them? That makes them look small. And do they have some place to look into? Do I have them looking off of the frame and making them feel crowded? Or look lost? Or do I have some sense of hope? They're looking into the frame? I have some bit of leading line in that direction. So once I've got that head space. And I have their eye line in the right place. And they have some place to look. How about the background? Looking at that background, is it distracting or is it adding to my photo? If it's not adding to my photo, what can I cut out? If it is adding to the photo do I have a good balance of my subject in the frame as well as the background? And so once I have all of those elements working together, my head space, is my subject placed in a good place in the frame? Is it in a third? Is it leading to a strong composition? Is it in the center of the frame, but that makes for a nice symmetrical image? And so the last part of all of that, once I go through that whole checklist, is how about my cropping? Is my cropping flattering my subject? Am I cropping them where they look their widest? Which is not going to be flattering. Or am I cropping at a point where the pose looks a little bit more narrow so they look a little bit more slender? Am I cropping off the fingers? Or the edge of the frame? Or am I cropping at a joint? Or can I find a better place to crop which is going to be more flattering to them? So when you think about crop, when you think about composition, the two of them are heavily intertwined. So as you watch all of these additional segments. As you look at the photos that I'm taking, you'll understand that checklist that I just ran through in my mind. And eventually for you, it's going to be second nature. Every photo you take, you'll run though those things eventually without even thinking about it.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lighting on Location
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews


One of my favorite courses thus far on Creative Live, and definitely well worth the purchase price. Lindsay effectively demystifies many of the critical stumbling blocks to achieving a practical understanding of many critical elements of portrait photography. I would rate this course as being perfect for the advanced photographer - a couple of the concepts might be beyond that of a casual/intermediate photographer, but even they would probably gain a great deal from this course. Her discussion on equipment, in particular was superbly done, and allows one to move forward in beginning to make the right choices to achieve whatever effect one is after in terms of capturing the subject. Finally, the great thing about this course, and the thing which makes it such a great value, is the overall scope of what is being taught. Lindsay covers almost everything imaginable, and does it all in a manner which is enjoyable, and makes the time fly by. There were many, many times during the various days of this course during which Lindsay would share some particularly great tip or technique, and I would think "Insert bookmark here." I don't dole out praise easily (actually left a fairly scathing review on another course here recently) but this course has won me over. Highly, HIGHLY recommended. I'm definitely going to check out her other courses as well.

a Creativelive Student

This is Lindsay's best course to date and believe me, she has given us some good ones already on Creative Live. She hit this one out of the park! She was very well prepared and organized. I could tell that Lindsay put a lot of work into preparation for the class because she just kept giving us great information non stop. There was no down time or wasted moments. All future instructors on Creative Live should be encouraged to watch this course just to see what good instruction looks like. Lindsay has evolved over the past few years and just keeps getting better as time passes. Thank you Lindsay and thank you Creative Live for a job well done! Craig Banton


This class is one of the best investments I have made in my photography business. Lindsay is an excellent teacher. She is a seasoned, yet humble, professional. Unlike some other instructors I have seen on creative live, there isn’t a lot of fluff in her teaching. She sticks to the topics, gets all the information in, but still manages to engage and relate to the audience with real life examples of her own experiences in photography. I have been a professional photographer for several years, but have mostly stuck to natural light. This course gave me the confidence to tackle more advanced lighting setups and expand my capabilities as a photographer. I really appreciate that she doesn’t bash flat lighting, like other lighting videos I have tried to watch. Most portrait clients do not want photographs with dramatic lighting, they want to look their best, and I’m glad that she acknowledges this. This class gives you the information you need to create whatever photos you want to create.

Student Work