Week 1 Taking Better Pictures – Portrait Composition

I have so many gorgeous friends out there who would like to know more about photography and how to take better pics that I thought we could share some of our pics once a week this month in a little ‘smirkshop’ – something to make you smile and work at the same time.

I thought a great place to start was on portrait composition and in the next three weeks I would like to give tips on light, emotion and shooting movement.

Many newbies think that it is best to place your subject in the middle of the photo. I also thought that in the early days but I was quickly rapped over the knuckles by my photography teacher who instilled the 2/3rds rule of art in all of us.

Photographic composition and proportions came directly from the art world at photographys birth in the 1800’s. A nicely  balanced image has the same proportions as in art today. It’s called the 2/3rds rule. If you can imagine laying a grid over your images like I have above and breaking it up into 3rds horizontally and vertically. A  great place to position your portraiture subject is where the lines meet.

This  allows for ‘negative space’ in the image and for an interesting composition.

This principle works for horizontal and vertical images and can also be applied to landscape, fashion, still life composition.

When can we break this rule? All rules are made to be broken this is only a guideline and there are times when this isn’t the best option.

All photos copyright Carla Coulson Chasing a Dream

As in the above photo I have placed the subject smack bang in the middle of the image because I loved him framed by the beautiful architecture. Placing someone in the middle of the shot also works when you have a totally symmetrical image, someone in the middle of a street, row of trees etc. The photo can be stronger placing them in the middle on purpose.

Be Creative


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Jeanne @ Collage of LIfe

I opened my emails this morning to find yet another inspirational post title. My first thought was how generous and kind you are to share your photo tips. They are always so clear and easy to understand and to remember, the most important detail of all when it comes to photography. I scrolled along, loving the way you explained the 2/3 rule. You clever girl you…keeping it simple works every time. The last shot…I can feel it, smell it, taste it..magic when that happens in a photo.
But then…I kept on scrolling, happy to see more blog suggestions.. we can never have enough when looking for inspiration and there I was, in the midst of it all…big smile! You are a star Carla..there is no questions about it. Thank you for the mention…with
four weeks to go and nerves settling in, I managed a big sigh…of excitement. I needed that!

You know where to find me if you ever feel a photo exploration of Vietnam is needed. 🙂

Jeanne xx

This is Belgium
9 years ago

Carla, you already know how curious I am about photography and how happy I am to learn.
Delighted w your lecture..
I have checked out Dash and Julliete Charvet and am grateful for your introducing them to your audience !


As an avid but amateur photographer, I am thrilled to see this .. thank you, besos, C
Now I have to go out in the rain and find some subjects that look as good as yours 🙂

9 years ago

Ah the wonderful rule of the ‘Golden Mean’
I used to have a little trasparent plastic frame thing I would hold up before the subject matter before painting.
Now it’s embedded in my brain

French Girl in Seattle

Talented, generous Carla. Thank you for sharing these composition tips with us. Not only are you willing to give away some of your [extented] knowledge, you are also a wonderful instructor (and as an educator, I can assure you many “specialists” just can’t teach…) I am so happy I took my first composition class recently, but there was so much to learn and, as a newbie, I felt overwhelmed at times. I will look forward to reading more of “Carla’s tips.” 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend.

9 years ago

Great lesson! Beautiful portraits…

mary jo
9 years ago

Carla, I was just telling my mom about you and Vicki yesterday at lunch-she wants to read Vicki’s books. Anyway, thank you so much for mentioning me on your beautiful blog–I’m very honored! Hoping that you have a lovely weekend!

9 years ago

Carla, smirkshop, what a fabulous idea, your easy to follow instruction and advice are so helpful and will be sure to stick in the mind next time I wield the camera. As always you are a huge inspiration.

And thank you so much for including my post in your Friday links, I feel very honoured.

Christopher Frost
9 years ago

Thanks for the first lesson. I have been following your blog for sometime now & always enjoy reading your entries, either through emails or your Facebook page. I have now added you as a friend on Facebook, so if you accept, you’ll get to see my blog feed

Jessica Flett
9 years ago

Hi Carla, this is fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to write these wonderful tips. I love the idea of Smirkshop and would love to participate. In order to tag you I think we need to friend each other?
Jess xx

Nella Miller
9 years ago

Hi Carla, found you through lovely Vicki , how very generous and kind to share your knowledge and insights about photography…I am a newbie to both blogging and photography, and am willing to learn everything about either! Your photos are very beautiful and your subjects interesting, to say the least, I shall be eagerly following along, N.xo

lisa chiodo | renovating italy

Carla I was just reading through “Chasing a Dream” yesterday and was struck by the portrait of the friend of yours with the sad eyes and the story behind the image. Voila here he is again, hope all is well for him x

t. becque
9 years ago

Love this idea! I’m not much of a Facebook person, but I’ll see if I can get better so I can participate.

Karin A
9 years ago

Great tips Carla! I’m looking forward to reading your posts about portrait photography. xo

9 years ago

Great tips, Carla, keep them coming! Loving your blog recommendation, but wonder when you have time to keep up with all of them! There isn’t enough time in a day it seems.