Give it a tilt! (Portrait photography composition)

composition in portrait photos

Portrait photography composition: Tilting

I’ve noticed two things when I give my clients photos from a portrait shoot.  First, they don’t really care about the technical photography junk.  All they care about is whether or not they look good…and their definition of looking good is usually very different than my assessment of whether or not they look good.

The second thing that clients always look for is uniqueness.  Everyone wants to be “different” and “memorable” in some way or another.  A few weeks ago, I saw a teenage girl walking in the mall with flaming pink hair, all black clothes, black fingernail polish, and she was wearing rain boots while carrying a lunch pail.   While most of my clients aren’t willing to go to such great lengths to look weird, we all want our photos to be somewhat unique.

I’d like to explain a cool way to achieve a unique composition for your portraits.  I often find that out of dozens of photos from a shoot, clients very often choose the composition that is intentionally tilted.  Tilting the frame of the photo gives the image a fun and unique look.  Clients often feel like no one else’s photo will look like theirs if it has a unique composition such as this.

What do you think?  Have you ever shot a tilted portrait?  If you have, put it in our brand spankin’ new flickr group!

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    Kinda hope you are lying… tilting just makes it feel like you are gonna fall out of the photo. None of the great portrait photographers of our time tilt photos. Look at Newsweek, Vogue, GQ and none of the photos are tilted. They are composed well and the photographer helps elicit an expression that portrays the person correctly. Tilting is not good compositional technique and it hurts your photos in the future.

  2. Steve says

    Not into 45 degree tilt personally but subtle tilting is handy sometimes as well as add that little relaxed feel. It makes the negative space look better when done right. It all depends on what the photo is for. Shoot both when in doubt :-)

  3. says

    But Simon, it’s always the case that much of the old, established generation sticks with the tried and true. Many of us experiment and try new things when we’re young and learning, but that changes slowly as we get older, and establish certain ways to solve specific problems. Why do you think there are so many articles in pro magazines or on pro-related sites that amount to, essentially, “get your butt out of that rut”?

    I just opened an issue of the PPA magazine to quickly flip through it looking for tilted horizons. After maybe 4 or 5 flips, I’d found 3 images, the editors having chosen two tilts out of four images to put on just one dbl page spread. And they were excellent uses of a tilted horizon–mostly having to do with wedding or engagement shoots.

    Tilting is just another technique to de-emphasize the background and put your attention on the subject. Just like using an out of focus background. Or shooting close with an ultra-wide lens to alter the convergence of straight lines in the background, making the image more dynamic.

    BTW,who was the numbskull that thought of intentionally putting part of a photograph OUT OF FOCUS, for heaven’s sake???!!!! Long lenses are meant for shooting close-ups of far-away subjects! (See what I mean?)

    Ron H

  4. Jennifer says

    I only halfway agree with this. There is a time and place for tilt, but be careful not to overdo it! I have a friend who cannot take a decent picture to save his life, so he tilts EVERY SINGLE THING he shoots to make it “look cool.”

  5. Sam Googlian says

    I think the commenters missed the point.
    The author is not saying this is the right way to go, or this is the type of pictures to send to x, y, or z magazine or publication.
    He is simply saying “I often find that out of dozens of photos from a shoot, clients very often choose the composition that is intentionally tilted.”.

    After all, most client do not care about the rules of photography, or about the technical aspects of it. They generally know nothing about that, not even what a soft box means.

    What really matters most is that the clients like their pictures. Then they will be happy to pay for them.

    The vast majority of them have never heard of Rembrandt or Ansel Adams, or …!
    If you mention these names to them, the’d think they were U.S. presidents from the 1800s!!!

    Lighten up folks, and take an extra “tilted” shot then see what the client thinks. Pressing the “Delete” button is simple!

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