Light, Portrait, #1

A few words about lighting. Today, two lighting types for you:

Broad lighting—you are mainly lighting the half of the face that is largest to you )turned toward you).

Short lighting—you are mainly lighting the half of the face that is smallest to you (turned away from you).

There are many other types of lighting (Split, Rembrandt, Butterfly, Loop, etc), and they merge into each other rather than being cleanly split (e.g. you could make the case that the second picture is really more Rembrandt Lighting); but these two will do for now.

The effect: Broad Lighting makes a face look broader. Short (or narrow, as I like to think of it as) Lighting makes the face look narrower.

 

Headshot

A future new book will be about photographing people. One shot you need to learn is the standard headshot. And today, a tip for these headshots.

Look at this (unfinished) image of new lawyer Arvin (congratulations!), from a shoot last night:

And now look at the second (also unfinished) photo, taken a second later:

Both are fine –  but the second photo is very different, isn’t it?

I have lit it differently, to create some modelling. Modelling means “showing that it has three dimensions”. The first face looks flat; the second one looks like an actual, three-dimensional, face. Lighter on our left, darker on our right. The lighting in the first photo might be more suitable for a beauty shot of a woman, perhaps – but it shows little depth.

I also added the hair light in the second picture – the “shampooey goodness™”.

But there’s more. I have also asked the subject to

  1. drop his shoulder (the one on our right);
  2. aim his head toward me, i.e. stick it out like a giraffe. That feels weird, but it looks good in photos (provided I am shooting almost straight one);
  3. tilt the top of his head slightly to our left (opposite direction to the dropped shoulder).

This gives us a nice strong jaw line and a more personal look. Mission accomplished. Now I can go finish the pictures (crop, rotate, adjust exposure, fix small flaws, etc).

The moral of this post: both lighting and positioning (not “posing”) of your subject are of great importance when shooting a portrait. Learning portraits is this, as much as the technical bits.

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TIP: Do start with my books to learn the technical and lighting techniques: www.michaelwillems.ca/e-Books.html

 

 

 

Anatomy of a portrait

My younger son, who is a rapper, told me tonight, on his birthday, that he needed  a new portrait for publicity for his new album. So I obliged, before cooking dinner and while simultaneously doing laundry. Here he is:

That image took maybe twenty minutes, half an hour tops – but a lot of experience and thinking and equipment goes into a portrait like that.

First, what is required? We discussed, and he clearly wanted a serious, dramatic, look. In a grungy setting. The T-shirt text and the bling should be clearly legible and visible, respectively.  So OK – the briefing being clear, I used the basement studio, and freed just enough space to do a half body portrait.

Then the light. Speed was of the essence: I was about to make dinner. So I used speedlights. First, I set up a light stand with a 430EX flash set to manual, 1/4 power, and driven by a pocketwizard. I equipped it with a Honl photo 8″ softbox. I feathered the softbox to get the right amount of drama in the light, and to get Loop Lighting, almost Rembrandt Lighting, on his face.

The camera was a 1Dx with a 50mm f/1.2 lens, set to 1/125th sec, f/11, 100 ISO. I knew the 50 was perfect for a half body portrait in a small space.

I tried, and the photos were OK:

Not too bad, but we wanted a little more emphasis on the writing. And more texture of the shirt. And clearly visible bling. So I added a second speedlight, this time with a 1/8″ grid, for a tight line of light, and aimed that at the shirt. Also equipped with a pocketwizard, and set to lower power (1/16th). Not having had time to prepare, I took my time finding things like cables and a bracket that fit the flash – all part of the fun.

I set the lights to the camera’s desired settings of, if you recall, 1/125th sec, 100 ISO, f/11. I used a light meter to verify that.

And there you have it. A few pictures – I took a total of 30, and we chose his preferred one, the one at the top. I could have done the light thing, the vignetting, in post, but call me crazy: I call that cheating if I could have done it in camera.

As a result, almost nothing needed to be done in post, but that still takes time: selecting, removing the odd bit of dust, any perspective correction, and so on.

Total time taken, as said, less than half an hour including getting things ready, setting up lights, moving stuff, and the entire discussion and post work. But that’s only because I have done this before. Experience is important. The good news: you can gain experience too and it costs very little.

 

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If you want to learn, and you live near Oakville, Ontario: evening Flash course on 3 Oct, and 5-evening course with a weekly evening lesson starting  2 Oct. – both these small courses have open places still.

 

Families, and what precedes them (weddings)

Why do I love to shoot weddings and families?

Because we live to love. We live a short time (although my son Daniel, when he was perhaps nine years old and I said “life’s very short!” instantly responded “No it isn’t: it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do.”)

In any case, capturing personality and life events is one way we can be immortal. Look at this kid at a portrait shoot I did yesterday: four different looks in a few minutes. Happy and open; death stare; typical teen Facebook pose; and cool. If you were the parents, would you not love immortalizing your daughter this way?

And just think at the excellent pictures mom and dad will be able to project onto the wall at the time of her wedding (or more likely by then, holographically project in front of each guest).

Talking of weddings… I just got back from Jamaica, and my mission there was to tell a story. Not just to get the standard wedding shots – the ones you might get when you hire a local resort pro – yes, those too, but so much more: the story of the entire trip. Smiles. Moments. Love. Beach. Fun. Friends. Outings. Jamaica. Airports. Buses. The entire trip. One of the bride’s best friends (and bridesmaids) just responded to teh slideshow I put together:

What an amazingly great job on the video Michael! I LOVE the pictures!!! I laughed and I cried! I flashed back to the great times we had on the trip…and it made me wish I was closer to my friends! THANK YOU so much!! Amazing, amazing, amazing job!!! :)

And THAT is why I shoot destination weddings: I met great people and I made a difference to them by enabling them to remember and relive this life event forever.

And that of course must include a “b-roll” of pictures that include:

  • fun.
  • events (like “the plane ride”)
  • background, to show the environment.

Like these:

Most of these were taken at 5:30AM on the day of departure. All of these are extra to a “normal” wedding. No local wedding pro will every get you anything close to that. So if you want a wedding trip to remember, bring your own photographer.

So when you make a trip:

  1. Tell a story! And to do this:
  2. Look for markers – moments in time that mark a transition, like airport arrival; climbing up the waterfall; leaving; entering the bus; that sort of thing. Every time a new phase starts.
  3. “If it smiles, shoot it”.
  4. Look for anything funny and capture it, too.
  5. Carry the camera when you think you will NOT need it. Some of the best pictures arrive without warning.
  6. Look for background, the “B-roll”, to remind people “what it was like”. Signs are good. So are views. The food. The detail; the little things you notice when you arrive. Shoot them; later, sort out of you want to use or not.
  7. Sort into the right order later.
  8. Make a slide show – or make multiples, maybe 5 minutes each. Background and “Ken Burns effect” are good.

That’s what I do when I shoot a destination wedding.

 

Sam The Studio Man

When I prepare a tricky shot, I tend to use  stand-in model while I work on light, so the model does not need to stand there for half an hour while I adjust and move lights.

But these stand-in shots are often good, which is why I use them. While preparing to shoot model Danielle, I shot Sam Taylor, who runs the studio I teach in (see www.cameratraining.ca and click on “Schedule”).

I set my exposure for the window: 1/60th sec, f/5.6, 400 ISO. Then I added a strobe with a softbox, and I moved Sam far enough from the window so the strobe would light him up (from 45 degrees above), but would not light up the reflective inside of the window too much. And then I set flash power according to my camera settings. Finally, I did a little desaturating in Lightroom. Result:

Short lighting, great grunge, serious expression, rule of thirds, good balance of background and foreground. A tricky shot, and one I am delighted with.

One of my students remarked on how refreshing it was to see the problem solving process, and to realize that photography is in fact problem solving, yes it is. When I set up a shot, I do not have all the answers, but I see what I want, and I know how to solve problems “step by step” until I get that result.

And sometimes you change your mind. In the final model shot, I could not move the model away from the window, as she sat on the sill. Hence I could not get rid of a shadow cast by the snooted speedlight I ended up using. So then the shot changes entirely: if you cannot beat the shadow, embrace it! To spare those of you who are sensitive, I shall not show you that shot here (it’s a nude),  but if you are interested, click here to go to my tumblr feed.

(By the way: have you considered being photographed this way? if not: consider it. Some beautiful shots of yourself like this are worth making. If you don’t, you may well regret it later in life).