Portrait of the artist as a… ehm… a young man.

That’s me, by a Sheridan College student last week. Standard four lights: key, fill, hair/edge, and background. All using speedlights with modifiers, namely umbrellas, snoot (for the hair light) and a grid (for the background light). Easy to set up, and easy to shoot.

Tomorrow, I will shoot a self portrait, and I recommend that you do, too, Self portraits are very good practice. They need you to have technical skills, as well as a feeling for personality and composition. Go wild!


Just a moment.

When I shoot events, of course I do many “smile at the camera” photos. People like those, and with good reason. They show you were there, having a good time. Photos like these:

It is easy to do them: use the right lens, make the background bright enough, use a high enough ISO, bounce the flash upward behind you, and ensure that both people are the same distance away from you. (move yourself, or move them, to achieve that). Most of my images that evening were made at 6400 or 3200 ISO, 1/30 sec, f/2, using a 35mm f/1.4 lens.

But I also like to shoot moments. People doing things. As my fellow photographer Story Wilkins put it to me a few years ago: “if it smiles, shoot it”.

Here are a few examples from my recent Halloween shoot:

Those give you a good idea of the event, n’est-ce-pas?

If you like those, try to do the same, next time you shoot a family get-together—or a commercial event.Reflect the fun. And have some fun yourself, too. Best way to get the mood down in photos.



Ever wonder why models never smile in advertising photography? Why they always look so serious… aggressive even, sometimes?

Because they want to look perfect, that’s why.

Smiles create smile lines… but unlike you and I, photo editors, Cosmo readers, and models who want perfection call these lines “wrinkles”. And they dislike them, and the shadows they create. Like so:

The aforementioned (and, truth be told, most women) usually prefer this, a very “no-shadow” neutral look where skin is perfect:

If you are shooting traditional model shots, like for a portfolio, that’s what you do.

  1. Puff out some air, like when you voice the letter “P”.
  2. Let face come to a rest; this takes 1-2 seconds.
  3. Leave mouth ever so slightly open.
  4. Ensure that all facial muscles are 100% relaxed.

Result: skin is flawless. No shadows, no unevenness, no wrinkles. No personality is shown. Just beauty.

But wait. The look you want depends on what you are shooting. When you want to depict personality, you can have a person looking angry, surprised, sad… even happy. Like this:

So relax and shoot what you want. Do not shout “smile!” for every shot; but do not avoid all smiles either. If only because your model will feel better. But also because you may indeed want to show different sides of a person’s personality.


A difficult shoot

A shoot Saturday. A club, with no good ceiling or wall to bounce from. And no light to focus. And an audience that did not stand still for a moment, meaning focus was even more difficult. Those were the three main problems.

And yet:

Wow, eh. 325 photos like that.

So what’s the secret?

Boiled down to a few bullets, it is:

  • Expose for a “–2 stops” background, as you know from my Flash courses.
  • Feel free to use high, or very high, ISO values. Use noise reduction in post-processing (e.g. in Lightroom).
  • Use prime lenses, or at least have them available.
  • Shoot a lot: as much as twice as much as you need.
  • Be within about two stops of perfect, and shoot RAW.
  • Take any portraits at least twice, in case focus is off, etc.
  • Look for “moments“, not just steady “grip and grin” images.
  • (Hence): do not be afraid to throw out half your pictures.
  • Be willing to do post work on many pictures.

In Saturday’s shoot I had over 700 pictures, and that boiled down to about 600 usable ones, of which I used 325 (Why? Well, if you have five pictures of a specific moment, you may want to use just one).

I shot the majority of my images at 6400 ISO, 1/25 sec, f/2, using a 35mm f/1,4 lens). And even then I had to push many of the images. 

But with a modern camera, it is doable, and even an impossible venue like Saturday’s can lead to a great shoot.