Quick Reference: Photographing Men


Portrait Photography Bootcamp


Lesson Info

Quick Reference: Photographing Men

This is your go-to guide for taking portraits of men. In fact, CreativeLive actually has a full two day class on photographing men, but this is your quick reference guide. We're going to talk about poses. We're going to talk about lighting. We're also going to talk about your top five checklist, things that you need to be thinking about as you're photographing men. Let's get started with that checklist. These are considerations for each portrait, things to run through your mind. Let's start with number one. The way that you pose shoulders controls broadness. If you have a man posed completely to the side, it minimizes him. He disappears. If you want him to look wider, broader, more dominant in the frame, you turn him slowly more back towards camera. But, of course, straight on towards camera is going to be widest. There isn't a correct angle but know that shoulders are going to control the broadness of your subject. For number two, the number two consideration is keep in mind the Three...

C's of posing men. You want them to look cool, you want them to look confident but you also want them to look comfortable. Because if a guy isn't comfortable, he's going to show it in his face. He's going to show it in his body language and it's going to be hard for him to look cool and look confident if he isn't comfortable. And so the pose should exude that confidence, it should exude that strength, so you always want good posture, often leaning a bit towards camera. But confidence doesn't always mean dominance. It could even just be confidence in the eyes. A little bit of a squint. A little bit of a smile. Just a little bit of a lean. So cool, confident but also comfortable at the same time. Alright, here's our tip number three which is make sure you direct the hands. Let the guys know what to do with their hands because when you're photographing men, I have found that often if you don't tell them where to put their hands they go deep in their pockets and their shoulders raise up and then it makes a really static pose. Or, when I photographed weddings, guys kinda just hold their hands in front of them and it doesn't really lend itself to a dynamic or interesting pose. So maybe it's playing with a jacket or maybe it's up near the face or holding glasses or it's fixing a collar. It could be any of those things or even just thumb in the pockets. But try to do something. Think about the hands, don't leave it up to chance and make sure as you're looking at that pose, are the hands adding to the confidence and overall composition of this pose. Alright now let's go on number four. When you're posing guys, think of structured poses. Now with women you typically want curve, you want shape in that way. But with guys it's a little different. You want structure to their pose. You want triangles. You want lines. You want negative space. And so as you're looking at the pose, if it kind of is just falling together, is there a way you can improve posture, pop out an elbow, pop out a knee, make triangles in that pose. As I pose these are things I'm thinking about and you're going to be able to see that. So structured poses. Then lastly, for guys that are not comfortable in front of the camera, it does seem a little bit strange just stand there and pose. So if you can find things for them to interact with, it makes them feel significantly more at ease. Maybe that's leaning up against a wall. Maybe that's posing with a car or on stairs or something so that they're not just standing there. I find that often my subjects, men and women, but specifically men, feel much cooler and more confident, some of the goals that we have when shooting men, as soon as they have some type of environment to interact with. So this is the list that I run through. Shoulders are controlling broadness. Keep them cool, confident and comfortable. Give the hands a pose to occupy them, make sure that you are thinking about the hands. You want structured poses, not curves but instead you want negative space and triangles. And then lastly, some sort of environment to interact with, even if that's just a chair or a wall to lean against. So these are the top five things that I am thinking about. But let's jump on this next thing of lens choice. Okay, there's not really a right lens choice to photographing men. It kinda depends, are you shooting close-up, full length, head shots. Are you shooting on location? So typically when I'm shooting on location photographing men I like to use fast fixed lenses so I can have narrow depth of field. So I might shoot a 50 1.4 or a 50 1.2, an 85, or when I'm in the studio I like to use zoom lenses because I'm not shooting wide open. So my kit would be a 24-70 or a 70-200. There's not really a right answer. These are just some of the most commonly used lenses for photographing the average portrait. Next down our line, let's talk about our three poses. The first pose is The Walk Forward. It's really simple but it's a little bit more dynamic than a guy just crossing his arms. You're gonna have one hand in the pocket, and the subject take a little step and lean towards camera. But when you do this, make sure that you don't have the legs far apart, 'cause that looks a little less stable and your eyes are also drawn to the negative space. So you will see that as we photograph in this example. Pose number two is something that is Structured and Seated. Sitting the subject on the ground. Making sure that you have negative space between the knees, between the arm and the knee. You're looking for those triangles. You're looking for that structure. It could be on a stool, it could be on a chair, it could be on the floor. I will show you this in a demonstration. Then the third pose we're gonna talk about Fitness. What you're looking at for a fitness pose, and again you want to be posing in a way that is tightening the body, that's showing the form and also having negative space. So we'll take one look at that as well. Let's jump onto our three lighting setups for men. We've already covered head shot lighting, and a lot of the same head shot lighting could transition right over to men's portraits. But there are a couple other considerations when photographing full length. For one light, I would still probably use an octabox at loop or Rembrandt position. But for full length you wanna be careful because if your subject is standing, with an octabox it is quite possible that the bottom of their body falls to shadow. So you may need, instead of an octabox, a 3x4 foot softbox, and you can have that vertically. So you get a little bit more even illumination head to toe, and don't have to worry about the bottom of the body being too far in shadow. The second lighting setup is with two lights. We are going to take a beauty dish and take it off to the side to loop or Rembrandt position, a little bit more drama. A little bit more shadow. But then on the shadow side of the body we are going to pop the subject out of the background by adding a strip light as a rim light. This is going to light the side of the face and the jawline. If that side of the face becomes a little bit too dark, a little bit too shadowed, you don't want quite that dramatic of a portrait, you can always bring in a reflector or a fill card. And so you determine the more shadow you want, is the more drama. The less shadow is going to be a little bit more of an approachable portrait. And then our three light setup is going to be much more dramatic. We're going to take a beauty dish which gives me more contrast, a little bit darker shadows, and then also a grid so it focuses the light in, so the fall-off of light is very dramatic. But then I'll be adding two back rim lights for this three point light. A lot of times I might use barn doors for men so I can get a little bit more contrast, a little bit brighter and more contrast the highlights, a little bit more defined. In this instance we're going to use two back strip lights. This is going to be a setup that we will do for fitness. So I'll show you how we can use the height of the light and the angle in order to bring out muscle, bring out form, and then those two back rim lights to also draw attention to form and separate the subject out from the background. So we're going to have three poses, three lighting setups. So let's see how those work. Let's take a look at lighting setup number one and pose number one, and this is with a single light. We're using the octabox and I have it a little off-center so there's just a little bit of shape, a little bit of shadow to the image but not too much. This is just an average portrait shot where I want good quality of light, a little bit of sculpting, but not too much shadow, not too much drama. And so for our first pose, I want to go with our structured seated pose. I'm actually going to have him sit on the ground. You can just comfortably for me. I am going to structure his pose. I know that I want to have his legs at different levels. I know that I want to have negative space. I know that I want to have good posture. I want him to look cool. I want him to look confident. I want him to look comfortable. So I suggest that my subject take a seat and get comfortable first so I can make sure that I can build off of that pose. So right now, the legs aren't doing it for me. I need you to have a little more structure, so can you bend your back leg? Perfect. So I actually have structure just from what he's done. I have structure from the bent knee. I have structure from his other leg. Can you extend that foot out just a little bit more and bend that back knee up just a little bit? Perfect. So I've got some structure, some shape, some negative space. By putting his arm on his knee, which he already did himself because he was comfortable, that gives me negative space. But then I need to make sure that he's not sitting back too much, 'cause he's going to pull his chin in, he's going to have bad posture and also he's gonna lock out that back arm. That back arm starts to look disproportionate. So he can put that arm on his thigh or just put it there, but let's have good posture. Pull up to the top of your head. Notice how that drastically improved the pose. But I just want you to relax your shoulders just a little. So good posture, but relaxed shoulders. So I've got a seated and confident pose. It looks comfortable and structured, and I just wanna make sure that the hand doesn't come towards the camera because that's foreshortening. So overall, looks great. Let's take a shot of that. (camera clicking) Good. Perfect. (camera clicking) Can you just pop out your shirt a little bit? I'm paying attention to clothes because that makes a difference to the look of the entire portrait. Great. (camera clicking) Nice, and he looks very comfortable. (camera clicking) Okay, that's with one light seating on the floor, but I can also have him on a stool, following the same rules. So let's make sure, same rules apply. Structured, cool, confident, negative space, all of the above, still with that one light. Okay, so let me turn you sideways, back leg up nice and high. I want you to lean out on that elbow, turn your arm in. I want more structure, more negative space. Perfect. So I could do something like this, negative space there, structure, relax your shoulders just a little, gives him a longer neck, and then pull your arm back even more. Good. Looks cool. Let's take a picture of that. Negative space on the left and right in between the elbows and the body. Structure with the legs. Good posture. Cool, confident, chin out and down. Great. (camera clicking) Good. (camera clicking) And now look to the light with your chin. Good. (camera clicking) Perfect. So with just one light I'm going to have my subject sitting and I'm focusing on the entire list of what I'm looking for. But this is the structured seated poses. Let's now add a second light and go a little bit more dramatic. Let's have you stand up real quick and I'll take the stool away for you. Great. We are going to switch our main light. We are going to switch our main light to a beauty dish because this softbox right here, this octabox, it gives me forgiving light on the face, but I'm going for something a little bit more dramatic. I want deeper darker shadows. So we're going to add a beauty dish. Let's do no grid to start, 'cause I'm gonna add it next time. Alright, now when I add a beauty dish, the shadows are going to have less of a subtle gradient, they'll be more defined. But the shadow side of his body opposite the light is going to fall to shadow. So I'm going to need to do something so he doesn't just blend in with the background. I have two options for what I could do. I can add a rim light to him. In this case it would be the strip light. Or I could find some light to point out the background. This is something that sometimes is referred to as checkerboard lighting. I could highlight the side of his face against the shadow of the background, and then I could have the shadow side of his body against the highlight on the background. So I could go that direction as well. Instead, for this one I'm going to try out that back rim light, so beauty dish will give me a little more drama. Cool Looks great. Let me check out my exposure here for just that beauty dish. (camera clicking) Great. And I'm gonna just feather it off the background a little more. And take one step forward. I am going to do the walking pose. This is the more simple of poses. What he's going to do is put at least one hand in his pocket, usually I just have them stick the thumb in, and then just take a little step towards camera. Just like that, gives a little motion. And a lot of times just having your subject bounce back and forth towards camera makes it just look a little bit cooler. You get a little bit more motion to the hand. It looks more realistic. Good. Perfect. So let me take a couple shots like this and see if I need to change anything. Good. (camera clicking) Let's see, I think I need that back rim light up a little, and this main light's probably a little hot. Okay. Now. Do it one more time. (camera clicking) Okay. Now, I'm gonna make one modification to this, because as I look at his body, as I move into the shot, there is separation on this side of his face. But because I'm using a beauty dish and this is a small set, all that light is kicking onto the background. And so the background looks a little hot and distracting. So I know a tool that I can use is I can add a grid to my beauty dish. That is going to cut out some of the light that actually reaches that background. So we're going to add a grid on, it'll focus the light and it means that the bottom part of his body is going to fall to shadow, but thankfully I have a rim light that will separate him out from the background just a little bit. So we'll add that grid. And you can see in the before and after pictures, the background is going to get significantly darker. Thank you guys. Your shirt is tucked into your pocket on that side. Perfect. And for this beauty dish it's a 25 degree grid, that's what they make for the Profoto. It's a 20 inch white beauty dish. They do make silver beauty dishes, and this is going to give you even more contrast if you go with the silver. It'll give you brighter highlights and darker shadows. But for portraits, I usually kind of stay away from that because it's pretty harsh on the skin. I'm going to bring you a little further forward, bring this a little closer to you. Let me take a quick test there for my exposure. (camera clicking) Great. So you will see instantly a complete difference. Before, when you had the beauty dish it was spilling everywhere, all over the background. Now when I look at that shot once we've added the grid, it increases the fall-off of light. The light becomes darker more quickly. It just really hits him and that background is almost completely black. So it looks great. I can crop this full length or I can crop it 3/4. Let me just take a couple more photos and that back strip light makes sure he doesn't just completely blend into the background on the shadow side. Alright let's take a couple more of those. (camera clicking) Good. (camera clicking) Chin out and down, keep your chin down a little. Good. (camera clicking) Take a full length. One more of those. (camera clicking) Okay. One thing that you'll notice is as I backed up I got down lower. The reason that I'm doing this is if I get at a slightly lower angle, if I'm shooting full length, it makes him look taller and more dominant in the frame. I don't necessarily need to do that for 3/4, but for a full length shot, especially if I'm similar height to him, which I'm not, but if I were, I'd be shooting kind of at a downward angle, it would make him look shorter. I want him to look tall. I want him to look dominant in the frame. So, I backed up a little bit, got down low and zoomed it. It makes him look even taller. So these shots look great. They look dramatic. Got that strip light on the background. So far we had two lights but lets add a third in. And this is something that we could do for fitness. Three point light, pretty much you look up fitness, this is what you're going to see everywhere. Two back strip lights and one main dramatic light. So, would you remove your shirt for me and we'll do our fitness shot. Okay. Great. And I wanna make sure that this main light is not low, or centered. Low and centered is flat light, not sculpted, no shadows, and shadows are what make the form stand out, it's how you see muscles, that's how you see shape and tone. So I don't want my light to be centered and I don't want it to be flat or low. I need it further off to the side and I need it higher up. Otherwise, you won't really see the body. So I'm going to move the light off just a little bit further to the side, raise it up just a little bit more. Looks great. There. And then of course you would just blend into the background without rim lights, but these rim lights are doing something even more for me. They're both strip lights and I'm going to have them pretty crisp. I'm going to have them pretty bright. And what they're going to do is they're actually going to give highlights to the outside of his muscles, to the outside of his form. And so it defines the form again for fitness. This doesn't just have to be used for fitness. It's great for sports. It's great for dramatic portraits. It's three point lighting which is probably one of the most common forms for photographing a male portrait if you want a bit of drama. Can you tell me, is this pointed approximately at your face? Yeah. Good. Okay, cool. I wanna make sure the light's pointed at him. I going to just do a test before I pose. (camera clicking) A quick test. Alright. I know that I would like those back lights up just a little stronger. Is that okay guys? Both sides? Yes please. If you can approximately match them. Okay, so if he's straight on towards camera, the height of the light is carving out his form a bit, and it's showing his abs. But, I'm gonna turn him away from the light a little because then it's going to rake across his muscles even more. So I don't want the light to ever really be flat on. So I turn him away. That's going to carve out the form. And then I'm just gonna turn him back towards camera because, as I said, if you take a subject, you take their shoulders, and turn it away from camera it minimizes the subject. It makes them look small. So I still want his shoulders towards camera, but I don't want him flat on because that doesn't carve out the form. So it's a balance between those two things with fitness. I wanna make sure that the hands are firm. I could put them in the pockets, but if you look at fitness, they're usually in fists. They're usually making forms so that somebody can flex a little bit or define their muscles. Let me test this out real quick. (camera clicking) And that works pretty well. It's working pretty well, might lighten that up a little bit. But I also don't want his feet at the same level. I want something a little bit more dynamic. That's something we've talked about, to have dynamic poses. So I'm not including his feet. So I'm gonna give him an Apple Box and he can raise that leg up. So this is going to give me a little bit bigger lines. Actually I just want a small one. You don't need that much, so, there you go. Perfect. I'm gonna turn up this rim light just a little brighter. Move it back just a little more. Alright. So let's give that a try. Perfect. So what I'm looking for is I see, pop this elbow out a little bit, so I see a highlight on the side of his body caused by that rim light. So I don't want the body to be blended into the background, so that's perfect. I see a highlight on the side of his biceps and his arms here. That's perfect. On this side, this highlight is actually raking across his abs, so that is carving out his body. The light above, because it's so high, it's casting shadows downward, gives me a little bit more drama. I'm probably just gonna take you one more scoot up, just like a couple inches. Good. Great. So I'm gonna take a couple shots here. (camera clicking) Perfect. Great. (camera clicking) And lean forward towards me just a little bit more. Wonderful. (camera clicking) And I'm watching, using my modeling lights to make sure that the rim lights are carving the subject out the way I intended. So I'm gonna watch this arm, pop it out a little bit. It blocked the back highlight. It's no longer on his stomach. So I'm gonna move it back a little bit. Now it is on his stomach. So I'm using the modeling light so I can see how it carves out this shot for fitness. (camera clicking) Looks great. (camera clicking) Perfect. Great, and lean towards me just one more time. Great. (camera clicking) So here we have three point light using a beauty dish which has more contrast, a grid which focuses the light in, makes the background fall to black. It also just lights more of his torso in midsection. But then I have two back rim lights, in this case the 1x4 foot strip lights to carve out his muscles, to carve out his forearm and I'm carefully placing them in order to flatter both his pose and his body. So there are three lighting setups with one, two and three lights. We have kind of a portrait seated pose that's structured. I also have more of a basic portrait walking pose and then looking to pose for fitness. Now we're taking our portraits of men outside. There really aren't necessarily specific considerations for how to photograph men as far as lighting. Sure, I can use all natural light. I can use soft light. But sometimes for a guy you want a little bit more carved light. You want a little bit more drama. And in this instance, this light is kinda flat. I don't like the highlight on his nose. I'm probably going to change my angle just a little bit. But let's take a look at the flat light. I'm not using any speed lights yet. I wanna show you what it looks like. Okay. Right, that's great. Can you turn your body a little bit further to the side? Perfect. And let's do wide open. Alright let's try that. Lean towards me a little. (camera clicking) Perfect. Good. And one more. And smile. Good. (camera clicking) Alright, so looking at this shot, it's an okay head shot for a guy. But I don't want it okay. I want something a little more dramatic, and this is why it's great to have a full arsenal of tools available to you from natural light to speed lights. That's actually what I'm going to add. I would like to have more shadow and more sculpting to his face. Want a little bit more drama, so I'm gonna add my speed light in and what I'm using right now are Phottix Mitros+, and I've got the rapid box duo. This would be fine, it has two speed lights in it but I could also just use the rapid box for the single speed light. Notice the placement of the light. I have it further off to the side. This is going to allow me to cast shadows on the far side of his face. The more drama I want, I can keep moving my speed light further and further and further to the side. So maybe I'll have you go one more step over. Alright. So let's give this a try. I'm going to darken down the ambient light. I want a little bit more drama. And I'm going to darken down and add a little bit more shape to the face here. So look right at me, and take the whole pose and rotate it over, yeah. Good. (camera clicking) Great. I'm gonna close down a little bit. The light was a little bright, so I'm just gonna turn down the power a tiny bit. Good. (camera clicking) Alright, perfect. So I'm starting to see a lot more drama. (camera clicking) But let's see how far I can push that. Alright, so more drama. Let's pull the light further to the side. Keep going, thank you. Alright, great. I'd like your chin that way just a little more. Perfect, and chin down. (camera clicking) And give me serious. (camera clicking) Good. Perfect, chin that way. Just look your eyes over here. Wonderful. (camera clicking) Great. So I'm just going to show you, I'm gonna have him stay right there, the before and after of adding a speed light. So that was the after shot. Let's just go to before and looking very good. (camera clicking) Perfect. (camera clicking) So one shot is softer, a little bit narrower depth of field, flatter light. The other is significantly more dramatic. So in other words, if you have a guy for a portrait that wants something that's a little more masculine, a little bit more dramatic, a little more carving light, you may want to understand how speed lights work in order to create that drama. So I'm gonna take a few shots of him full length just so you could see how this could play out and then we'll take a look at another pose. Perfect. I'm gonna have you put your hand in your pocket, take a step towards me. Great. Can you step back? I'm gonna step you into a pool of light behind you. Keep going a little more. Yeah, and take a step in that direction. I just want a little highlight on you. Great, alright. Perfect, let's take a test. (camera clicking) Great, again. (camera clicking) Perfect. Well done, gonna do more, go ahead. (camera clicking) Good. And gonna do one more of those 'cause I like it. Go ahead. (camera clicking) Alright, perfect. Let me just show without the speed light and we'll change up our pose. (camera clicking) Good. (camera clicking) Alright so let's try something a little bit different for a pose. I have said that guys tend to do better if they have something to interact with, a wall to lean on, a tree to lean on, stairs to go up. So he's gonna lean right here on this tree, he'll get a little bit more comfortable. Alright, so I've taken him over to the tree here and a lot of times if I tell a guy, okay, just lean on the wall or lean on the tree they actually get into a comfortable pose right off the bat and then I don't have to worry about them looking uncomfortable or over-posed. And so this is kind of the pose that he struck right away, so it looks great. But I know that I want that drama, so I've taken my speed light off to the right hand side to cast some shadow. If he looks straight at me it's going to be a little bit too much shadow. So I'm gonna have his chin towards the light to catch that light, shadow's on the left hand side. I've, on purpose, for more drama, underexposed the background. Great. (camera clicking) Yeah looks great and chin towards the light a little more. Just turn down the light there, good. In order to make him look taller in the frame, more dominant, I'm not standing up like I would with a girl, maybe on an Apple Box. What I am doing is I'm backing up a little bit, getting down a little bit lower. Chin out and down a little bit more. Good. (camera clicking) And now your eyes just look to the light. (camera clicking) Great. And, I just wanna wait for the people in the background to get out of my shot. Good. (camera clicking) Perfect. And actually what's really nice is there's a little bit of light hitting his face for a rim light on the side. It's kinda like in the studio, if I had a strip bank or barn doors. It separates him out from the background and then I'm still lighting his face with the main light of the octabox. So imagine indoors an octabox with a strip light, but I'm using the light that's here in order to create that strip. So last shot. Good. (camera clicking) And eyes right here. (camera clicking) Perfect, chin out. Good. (camera clicking) And lean towards me just a little. Good, and look your head to the light, all serious. Good. (camera clicking) Perfect. So it has a little bit of environment, a little bit of drama. And, as I said, is really important for posing, he looks cool, comfortable and confident.

Class Description

Humans are social creatures. We love to reflect on ourselves and the people we cherish, and we like to have that ability whenever we please. Portrait photography is an excellent skill to cultivate for anyone with a camera - whether you're simply taking better photos of your family or want to build out your business's portrait portfolio.

Lindsay will walk you through everything you need to know to take great portraits. You’ll learn about:

  • Camera selection, settings, and accessories
  • Lighting and lenses
  • Posing and directing men, women, full-figured subjects, and groups
Portrait Photography Bootcamp will start at the very beginning and help you establish a foundation for all styles of portrait photography. You’ll learn about the essential elements of a good portrait; lighting, posing and expression. Then you’ll learn how to work with what you've got, with instruction on shooting with window, natural, indoor, and studio lights.


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


Lindsay is a great teacher by nature...She is a very talented, knowledgeable and experienced fashion/portrait photographer and I really like the way she shares her knowledge with us. She's got great vibes, lots of good energy and I could honestly watch her videos endlessly...I had already known a few things that this course covers, however Lindsay made it very exciting and I was happy to refresh my knowledge through her lessons. Thank you so much, Lindsay!