Portrait photography, especially, cannot just be studied in books. The best way to learn it is to practice it, because lighting setups, poses, angles, and exposures must be mastered rather than parroted from examples, internalized rather than memorized. This is so that we can respond to the differences and nuances in every subject who sits before our camera, and not merely apply a one-size-fits-all solution.
Which brings us to our topic-Individual/unusual differences among subjects and how to deal with them. Take a client with big ears, for example, or ears that stand out prominently. We can’t shoot him or her out of our studio because we want to photograph only perfect subjects, or because the techniques we have learned don’t include one for shooting funny ears. If we actually understand the techniques rather than simply repeat them by rote, we will know what remedies to apply to deal with big ears. You could also read something similar at the Canon T6i bundle guide which aptly explains this topic.
If you’re all ears now, we can start.
The obvious and easy way is, of course, to hide your subject’s ears-not snip them off. You can do this by using your model’s hair to cover a part or all of the ear. You can also use props like scarves, hats, or outfits with a high collar to hide the ears. In addition, you can have your subject use her hands to cover the problem area, using a natural looking pose. For example, ask her to act like she’s tucking her hair behind her ear. Use these techniques when your client is in a hurry and you’re pressed for time.
As a side note, when you are directing your subject to pose a hand or prop over her head this way or that, just do it without calling attention to her ears. Remember, imperfections in a person’s appearance are often a matter of embarrassment or awkwardness, so tread carefully. You will have your work cut out for you if a client herself specifically points out the facial imperfection and asks you to do something about it.
Even then, using props or your subject’s hand as a concealing aid can sometimes be awkward -not just for your client, but also for yourself because you may come to a point where you will need to point out the one imperfection she is self-conscious about.
In such cases, you can use these techniques instead:
Use Light As Remedy
Keep in mind that when looking at pictures, your eyes are drawn to the bright areas.
Therefore, to draw attention away from your subject’s ears, put them in the shadow area. One way you can do this is by angling your subject’s face. Another way is by using a gobo to shield the ear from being of lit.
The objective here is not to darken this part of her face completely. We are not hiding a flaw but making it unobtrusive, drawing attention away from it.
Position The Head
Obviously, shooting your subject looking straight at the camera emphasizes the subject’s ears. What you can do is have her angle her face, so that one ear is hidden from the camera. The other ear that’s showing in the camera actually becomes less prominent because it becomes a little flatter, no longer protruding from the head.
Speaking of protruding ears, you will find that some ears that really jut out, like jug handles, can’t be hidden just by positioning your subject’s face at a slight angle. In some cases, you may want to consider doing a profile shot. Of course, your subject has to have a good, if not perfect, profile; not every face is a candidate for a profile shot. A three-quarters profile may be all you can accomplish.
Remember also that there are ears that jut out and others that are just plain big (but don’t protrude like jug handles). For these cases, try the quick and easy approach described above: Use props, outfits, etc., or the subject’s hand. If you simply angle the subjects head this way or that, there is the possibility that the ear facing the camera will end up drawing more attention because of its size. The solution is to combine the two techniques of head angling and lighting, by also putting the ear in shadow.
Lighting is a difficult technique to master, especially if used to correct or hide a flaw. Practice it now, so that when the situation presents itself, where you need to remedy a facial imperfection you can proceed effortlessly, like a true professional.
Jane Castro is a journalist and media enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Bacolod in the Philippines. She loves skating, scuba diving, and archery on her free time.