Biggest isn't always best

Aside from choosing a portrait that you totally and utterly fall in love with, the most important thing to consider is the actual size of the portrait.

Herry Lawford    via Flickr

Herry Lawford via Flickr

Historically portraits were presented life size - so a full length portrait would be the actual height of the person being painted, or if it were a head and shoulder, the same size as their head and so forth. Great when you have a stately home to display the portrait in, not so good for most modern homes!

Your portrait will be displayed in your home for years to come, so it’s crucial we find the most appropriate size to show off that portrait to best effect. Bigger is not always best.

If you have a portrait where the people are full length, then having that portrait printed at say 20 inches will make the faces far too small to enjoy. The opposite would be true on a really strong tight crop on someones face. That type of portrait at 50 inches would be very ‘in your face’ (unless you had a giant room to place it in), or you wanted to make a real statement.

As a general rule, the larger the room, the more appropriate a larger portrait. The smaller the room, a smaller portrait would be appropriate. Most modern living rooms are suited to 30in and 40in portraits. I find this is a good balance between having a portrait with impact where you can enjoy the image from across the room, but not so large as to dominate everything else.


Here at the studio I use a very clever piece of software that allows you to see your portraits in actual size. This means you can take all the guesswork out of deciding which size works best for your portrait and where it’s going to be displayed. You can also see how it will look with the various frame options available. Simple, easy and ensuring your portrait will look stunning displayed in your home.

Usually it’s best if you can display your portrait without any other pictures around it. Galleries are an exception to this, but even they will make sure that exceptional works of art are placed where they can be best enjoyed without other pictures intruding into their space.

Remember, we’re looking for an appropriate size for your portrait, not big or small, but appropriate.

No crackers with your cheese


Coat hanger smiles are my enemy.

You know the one, that cheesy smile that makes it look like someone was eating a coat hanger for breakfast.
Since, well for as long as I can remember, I’ve heard people say ‘smile for the camera’, or even worse, parents saying ‘smile or we won’t go and have McDonalds later on’.

That makes me all sad panda - I want people to feel relaxed, comfortable and most importantly, themselves when I’m photographing them. So you won’t hear me say ‘smile for birdie!’ or any of that nonsense.

A portrait, a true portrait isn’t all about showing as many teeth as possible in a weird grin. It’s about letting the eyes speak. They really are the windows to the soul you know.
When I get a chance to connect with the person in front of me, that makes the portrait I will create far more special and meaningful. If they want to smile, I let them smile. If they want to be enigmatic, then enigmatic it is.


I find this especially powerful when photographing kids. So often they come in and default to school photo mode. However after 5 -10 minutes chatting with me they open up and that light comes on behind their eyes.
It’s like a switch is thrown and all of sudden they look not at the camera, but through it with a depth and intensity that often has their parents in tears when they see the final portraits.

Sure there’s a place for warm natural smiles - grandparents LOVE portraits of their grandchildren with welcoming smiles after all. Step back though, take a chance and don’t expect your child to permanently have a super wide smile in all their portraits. I think you may be pleasantly surprised with the story you see in your child’s eyes.