I often, as you know, write about what I have been photographing recently, and that has been a number of sessions with a regular and excellent model, Kim – so I shall do one more post on this today.

When shooting a model, or fashion, or art portraits – anything creative –  it is important to try different poses all the time. A good model changes his or her pose every two or three seconds. It is the photographer’s duty to go with that; even to encourage that with less experienced models.

So in seconds you go from this – and all these are from yesterday, all shot within minutes:


To this:


To this:

Beads and girl (Photo: Michael Willems)

To this:

Kim Gorenko - (Photo: Michael Willems)

And so on… all in seconds. Try different poses, angles, look, zoom angles.

That is difficult sometimes, because in a shoot like that, you have to shoot quickly. No time to meter, to set up lights. So I:

  • Know my camera very well.
  • Use a zoom lens (24-70 in this case)
  • Use very simple lighting – two flashes, one on camera bounced, one off camera bounced or direct.
  • Set my flashes to TTL flash control
  • Vary looks, vary zooms, vary apertures, vary angles – sometimes you do not know what works until you see it.

By doing it this way, I can react quickly to the different areas and poses. And that, in this kind of shoot, is key

So when you shoot anything, think “what type of shoot is this”. In this type of shoot, quick reactions are key. In other types of shooting, I can spend ten minutes setting up lights for each shot – both are valid ways of shooting. Know which one you are doing and shoot accordingly.


I did a family shoot this weekend: what a wonderful family of engineers. Great people:

How do you do this?

  • Emptied the room.
  • Lit by three speedlights: one bounced, one umbrella’d, and one gelled and flagged, using Honl Photo modifiers.
  • Fired by Pocketwizards.
  • The families are sitting, standing, leaning.
  • Tallest people sit.
  • People angled.
  • Grouped in pyramids and triangles.
  • Settings match ambient light to flash: 1/60 sec at f / 5.6, ISO 250.

…and then you take 50 shots, since four boys are not always easy to shoot – it takes a little effort to get them all to look at the camera!


Look in my eyes

..or, do not!

What I mean is this: for a character portrait, you do not necessarily need eye contact.

In fact, often, there is more of a story – more intrigue, more for viewers to work out for themselves, i.e. a more successful picture – if there is no eye contact. Like here (still from that shoot a few days ago):

Kim and Mirror (Photo: Michael Willems)

Or, let’s go crazy and not even incorporate the face at all:

Kim's Back Scratch (Photo: Michael Willems)

Can you see that these are good people shots?

Now of course I am not saying “never show eyes looking into the camera” – of course not.  But do try to not just shoot people looking into your eyes.

If you want homework: do a portrait without eye contact – one that makes me work out the story.


Quick fixes are sometimes good

As I mentioned the other day, converting a portrait to black and white can be good if it is not optional in the first place. It is an “easy fix”. Not that my friend, model Kim, pictured below in a shoot Thursday night, needs these fixes much…  but of course she, like everyone, has normal human skin.

As I said the other day, I am not a fan of altering people. But removing temporary blemishes, and de-emphasizing permanent ones, is not different from applying make-up and is better for the skin.

Kim Gorenko (Photo: Michael Willems)

But it is more than that. As I have mentioned here before,

  • Colour can distract in portraits, while black and white removes those distractions.
  • Mixed light (eg tungsten and unmodified flash) is problematic, but in black and white, light is just light.
  • You can emphasize or de-emphasize various colours when converting colour to black and white. To make that yellow shirt darker, or to make that green wall lighter.
  • And yes, you can fix sin, or make it smoother, by converting to black and white and then increasing the brightness of red in the mix (equivalent to using a red filter on a film camera). A blue filter would do the opposite – make skin look really, really bad.

How to do black and white?

  • Shoot in colour, in RAW format.
  • Then convert later – in Lightroom using the B&W option, where you can vary all colours individually, thus creating any filter effect you want. Experiment by dragging the various channels up and down.
  • If (and only if) you are shooting in RAW, you can set your camera’s “picture style” to Black and White. That way by looking at the on-camera preview you get an idea of what the converted image may look like – but since RAW saves all the colours, you are still going to do the conversion later, on your computer.

For better skin, as said, drag the RED channel UP (+).  This makes blemishes brighter (i.e. they disappear). Dragging Orange up makes all of the skin brighter, which also of course makes it look better by reducing both blemishes and shadows.

OK, one more image.. here, the colours of the walls etc would definitely distract from the message of the photo:

Kim Gorenko (Photo: Michael Willems)



As you have seen in recent posts, I often do portraits in black and white. It’s just better that way in portraits: distractions (like colourful clothing) are removed.

But sometimes you have to recognize that colour is called for. Like in this shot of the same model:

Model Kim Gorenko (Photo: Michael Willems)

I mean, that screams colour, doesn’t it? When a shot has prominent colour like that, use that colour.

As does the following shot, because of the matching cool glasses and Ralph Lauren tie. If we did not use colour here, that match would be lost.

Model Kim Gorenko (Photo: Michael Willems)

That reminds me: Props are important.