With photographic composition I often hear people talk about 'leaving enough headroom' for portrait photographs.

  1. What is headroom?
  2. How can I properly apply it to my photographs?
  3. What are the psychological and art history underpinnings of this 'rule?'
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "for mattdm". Though it should probably get edited out. \$\endgroup\$ May 4, 2011 at 18:23
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I hereby dub @JayLancePhotography as "Alex Trebek". \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    May 4, 2011 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a bonus question: When is it desirable to not leave headroom? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sean
    May 5, 2011 at 0:59

2 Answers 2


'Leaving headroom' means leaving a space between the top of the subject's head and the top edge of the frame, usually when taking shots head-on. It is related to the Rule of Thirds; the idea is that your subject's eyes should lie on the upper third-line of the frame. Like the Rule of Thirds, it's roots lie in painting.

The concept is related to 'looking room': if you have a subject looking to the right, you should leave some space on the right hand side of the frame for the subject to 'look into'.

As ever, these are rules of thumb, not absolute laws.


Wikipedia has a full article on this subject with examples and the definition. Basically, position your subjects eyes 1/3 of the way down in the frame and you are set.


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