Shoot Portraits Pointing Upward

Images by Viktor Vauthier


Studying the work of master portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz lately and something finally caught my eye. Not about her pictures, which are consistently great for going on five decades now, but about her process. No, it’s not about how she typically uses a single light source balanced with the ambient light. And no, it’s not about how her crew works in the chorus to coordinate key light and fill with flags and generally freeing the master to worry solely about connecting with her subjects. In fact, the simple little thing that struck me—that motivated me to write this very piece—was something surprisingly small. In several behind-the-scenes videos and photos of Leibovitz at work, I’ve noticed that the photographer is often sitting on an apple box. No, my point is not that Leibovitz is sitting and relaxing during her shoots. Quite the contrary, actually. In fact, what struck me was that the photographer frequently chooses a low camera position in order to ensure she’s looking up at her subjects. This is the hero angle, and it’s a great way to literally make portrait subjects appear larger than life. A low camera angle is also a great way to simplify backgrounds too, by turning the sky into the backdrop and to make what amounts to a more interesting perspective on a picture. We walk around all day, every day viewing the world from somewhere between 5 and 7 feet off the ground, so getting a viewpoint that’s much lower, or much higher, has always been one of the best ways to make interesting pictures.

Sawalich, William “Look Up To Portrait Subjects” DigitalPhotoMag April 23, 2018

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