How to Shoot a Great Portrait and the Application of The Rule of Thirds

Today I talked to Carlos in the Apple Store near me, and he gave me several great ideas of how to shoot a proper portrait.

So I’ve been quite bad with portrait, I don’t know how to selfie myself correctly, and I don’t know how to take people’s photos, because usually I just take scenery pictures or building pictures, lines and whatnots.

Carlos taught me some good principles of shooting a portrait.

For him, taking a good photo takes 3 major considerations:

  1. Lighting
  2. Angle
  3. The message you want to convey in the picture

So first, taking a good picture has a structural template–The Rule of Thirds.

Imagine any picture, having a grid, with an evenly 3×3 partition.

The Rule of Thirds would be applying to the intersections of:

Image result for rule of thirds

The middle 4 intersections of the grid. These 4 intersections can be the focal point of your picture, where you want to put your main subject there, let it be a flower, a tower, a person’s body, someone’s face etc.

I learned this method from my first session with Apple back in Vancouver. Firstly I had no idea how to apply such a technique onto my photos so generally my photos sucked pretty much. Can’t say they don’t suck now.

But applying The Rule of Thirds with photos do give your photos a nice touch, an even feeling.

However, a caveat is that, although The Rule of Thirds generally applies, sometimes you need to break it in order for more artistic approach. It’s a form of expression, the point is to express what you want to express in an image.

Back to portrait. I do appreciate the efforts with which Carlos taught me, he taught me something not entirely stated for the session. There were lots of great sayings from his mouth and those words were truly inspiring.

To do a portrait, the point is to capture the moment. A person’s moment.

And I think this can be applied to many parts of a human body. Usually, for portrait it’s your face.

However, The Rule of Thirds wants to apply to the elements on your face: your eyes, your nose, your moth, your brows, your ears etc.

Make the intersections align with these elements, and you get a clear image with clear message.

By Carlos, a portrait doesn’t necessarily need an identity. When we try to shoot somebody’s face, such face definitely is experiencing a moment. So what would the moment be? Is this person sad? Happy? Angry? Or surprised? There are so many emotions on a person’s face, sometimes facial expressions can be very complicated, and we want to capture that moment.

This picture greatly captures the moment of how a group of people engaging with each other happily.
This picture captures the moment when the two young ladies are greatly attracted by this handsome young man.
movie dialogue scene
For example, this scene here applies the rule of thirds and the speaker is looking straight into another person’s face, the overall structure of the scene looks clear.
Movie dialogue scene
Or the person is sad.
movie angle scene
Or something like this whilst the angle is just right, looking up, gives you an “almighty” feeling.

Assert good lighting and great angle, plus a message you want to convey inside the picture, then you get a good photo with meaning, and artsy feeling.

Carlos also said, take many photos. And this is also quite prevalent for every photographer, all of them take a ton of photos and ditch most of them, only leave out a few that are up the par.

Sometimes, a portrait could also have an identity, a strong one.

clint eastwood portrait
Clint Eastwood, the undying cowboy.
Image result for clint eastwood portrait
It resembles with this classic portrait of a lone cowboy.


For selfies, lighting and a good angle are also required to shoot something good. Apply The Rule of Thirds into selfies,

 selfies rule of thirds
Perspective, a lot of content on the left side of the image.

And he also mentioned, vertical angle should be around 30 degree or something. And yeah maybe, because usually when I take 45 degree overshot selfie, it intends to look “cute”. Because most of your facial elements have been squeezed into one single point.

However, intersections here can be applied to your eyes, your mouth, your teeth etc.

Sometimes, a portrait can be a right portrait, that a face is all up and properly within the whole grid.


With a bit of angle and lighting.
Or the “patronizing” look. The sightline gives you a feeling of grace and elegance.

And frankly, depth of field definitely helps in conveying a clearer message. Any DSLR camera equips the ability to shoot a picture with depth of field asserted, it emphasizes more on the focal point, and loosens the background.

And when The Rule of Thirds applies to buildings and structures, they look great  😉

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