Not photographing the top of the head

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by isabella_southgate, Feb 11, 2010.

  1. I am new to photography, and in a lot of my shots I like focusing on the eyes and cut the top of the forehead off. However I've been criticized (mostly by family) for "ruining" a photograph by not taking a shot of the entire face. What do you think of this practice? Thanks for your insight.
  2. It can be a good look, or it can be a crutch. If what you are trying to emphasize the eyes it works, but if every shot is done like this then you might want to be a little more flexible. Generally some people will like the look and others will not.
    But your family might be looking for "snapshots". They want to see the person, not art.
  3. in my experience it can make some people say wow and some complain... usually, to be frank, older people hate it. I am not sure why.
    Keep doing it so that you can see when and where it doesnt work!
  4. The question has nothing to do with the style of your image. It is more about your concern with criticism. If you like to cut off the head then go ahead and do it and don't worry about what any one thinks. If you are asking if cutting off the head is a good style for you to pursue then you have to deal with your family and not us.
    The reason I cut off the head is because I want to get in close to focus on something else. Most people don't even noticed the head was cut off because the point of interest draw them away from the head.
    If you want to be a successful photographer/artist you have to know how to sort out your criticism.
  5. I do it all the time. When you have it right, it will be clear. Shoot for yourself and not your family or friends. Keep experimenting, look at the work of others for inspiration, have fun, shoot a lot! Best, D
  6. It's done more frequently in TV documentaries as the HD's 9:16 aspect ratio has been adopted more and more.
    For example, take this episode of PBS' Frontline:
    Most everyone in that episode, including the interviewer, has the top of his head falling out of frame.
    That series does a lot of sit-down interviews with people. Interspersed with stills and motion picture location fills.
    That same series, a few months ago, and for several years preceding, rarely cut off the top of someone's head in a sit-down interview. Take this episode, for example:
    Many people were interviewed for that episode; but, I don't recall anyone's head being out of frame. The entire head is shown in the video during the interviews.
    It's a matter of style. Some people want it to be closer, other's don't. Psychologically, people have a tendency to focus on the face so much that when they begin to draw pictures of people by hand, they often have a problem with foreshortening the skulls. The eyes actually sit halfway down the skull.
    An example of Vincent Van Gogh making that error is on page 196 of that book by Edwards.
  7. It is rather comon "cinematic" composition. Many photographers use it for still shots as well but it take more or less advanced viewer to see quolity in this kind. Probably because it is different, specific and more intence compared to how "normal" people perceive each other visualy.
  8. When your subject is the face rather than the head, it's commonplace to crop out the crown of the head, just as you might crop at the thighs in a 3/4 length portrait, or at the chest for a head-and-shoulders shot. Your preference for a closer perspective suggests an interest in more intimate views of your subject. It's not a matter of good or bad, but of the function you wish your picture to serve.
    You do have to be careful to crop in a way that preserves the implied continuity of your subject--bad idea to crop at ankles, knees, or elbows: too much like dismembering a chicken. In the same way you'd probably want to avoid cropping right at the hairline or the jaw. But then again, it might be your intention to show your subject as a dismembered chicken . . . ;-)
  9. Along with the other post above, all I can say is, it works when it works. If that composition brings the effect and emtion that you intend, then have at it. I think it can be a very powerful composition when the mood of the photo calls for it. I like it.
    My guess is, your family member expects all portraits to look like it came from the highschool year book, of an "Olan Mills" studio.
  10. Cutting part of the head in a portrait usually (but not always) leads to a more intimate feel and connection to the subject. For this reason, I find it important when doing this to make sure that the subject maintains eye contact with the camera/viewer to emphasize the feeling of intimacy/closeness. Also i find this technique really applies to faces only, if you have a head and shoulder portrait, and you cut off part of the head more often than not it will look like you didn't frame your subject properly.
    As others have said don't worry too much about what your friends and family say, however if they want to have their portraits taken in a more conventional way and show the entire head, give them what they want first. Then experiment for yourself on different crop and compositions.
  11. Your family (and, perhaps, others) sure wouldn´t go for this...
  12. Isabella why not post some of your portraits?.Its a common problem for all portait photographers,keeping the client happy.Shoot both ways,keep working on your vision.
  13. I am surprised to see so many categorical judgments on your question, without any specific example to chomp into. (That is not the way we usually work). Sure I get to have an opinion. I tend to think of a headshot to include the crown of the head. Personal taste, habit, or age, can't say. I am not all that analytical about it anymore.
    Jason Hall's "what works works" statement is kind of where I come down, if pressed to answer without a 'for instance'.
    Avant garde, or better I think, against expectations or norms, Isabella, is fine. All seem to agree with that as a starting principle. (As long as there is no client/photographer relationship to mess things up course.)
    I have this large book by an ultra sharp and ultra close portraitist named Nigel Parry which reveal that all human faces at a certain distance have pores, pimples and lots of surface blemishes. They are not pretty and not for a class reunion book. Perry's unconventional choice and style have an appeal which cannot be rejected out of hand even though they are not to most people's tastes . That too is a generalization of course that is hard to defend..
    Heavens. That leaves you still hanging out there still making your own crop choices . And justifying them ,or not ,as you prefer. Stay flexible, a good mental habit IMO. gs
  14. I looked to see if I could find a photo on my drive where I cropped or framed without the top of the head. Or one where I could do that now. The shot below is already a small segment of a head and shoulders one that was boring- to say the least- in the original.
    I just wanted to just see if I would now like it any closer, or whether the mood or focus of interest could be enhanced by further tighter crop .Tentative decision. I think not..but,on the other hand. still hard to say.
  15. If it strengthens the composition, go for it! My photography professor would extoll the virtues of tighter cropping of our images, frequently exclaiming - to the horror of some of my classmates - ""Off with their heads!", in some of our our early courses. Incidentally, he was in his early 60s at the time.
    Michael J Hoffman
  16. Like others, I thin k it works from some photos, but not all.
    If you go to MY WEBSITE and scroll down past a couple of images, you'll see what I mean. I think it works well on the "INNOCENCE" image, but it would NOT have worked on THE INNER LIGHT.
  17. dkm


    You need to ask yourself who the photos are for and why you're taking them.
    If they're for your family, then shoot the way they'd like. If they're for you alone, then shoot to please yourself. Likewise, if they're standard portraits, don't cut the foreheads off. The last shot of grandma before she dies isn't really an art opportunity. If they're "art", shoot pieces and parts.
    Nothing says you can't shoot the same subject more than once. Most photographers do work a scene and get more than one shot. For portraits, they'll start with one or two conventional portraits and move on from there. Since you're a new photographer, it's too early to lock yourself in to one style or mode - try them all, have fun, and your personal style will develop naturally.

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