Foundations: Traditional Head Positions

Looking towards the camera, or looking away? These five head positions offer a little more nuance to your portrait photography.

As with the traditional lighting patterns, these head positions hark back to a time when meeting specific technical expectations was considered more important than capturing atmosphere and emotion.

Nevertheless, they are useful to consider in your photography as they make you think about the nuances of positioning your subject. Feel free to come up with some more inventive names for them, too…


I asked my model, Saskia, to face 90 degrees away from the camera. If she looked straight ahead, the visible part of her eye was mostly white eyeball. Instead, I asked her to move just her eyes towards me a little, so that we can see her iris in the portrait, which looks more appealing.


Starting from a profile head position, I asked Saskia to turn her head slowly towards me and the camera. I asked her to stop moving as soon as the tip of her nose was tucked within the curve of her cheek. Allowing the nose to break through the cheekbone makes it appear bigger, which looks unflattering.


Starting from a profile position, I asked Saskia to turn her heads towards me until it was two thirds of the way towards being straight-on to the camera.


Can you guess this one? Yup, you got it right. You achieve this head position when your subject’s face is turned seven eighths of the way towards being straight-on to the camera. If he or she is starting face-on to the camera, simply ask them to turn an inch to the left or right.

Face forward

Saskia’s face is angled directly towards the camera for this, perhaps the easiest of them all.

Camera Settings (all images)

  • Focal length: Various
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Shutter speed: 1/180 sec
  • ISO: 50