“My first… etc”

I very often hear people who are a little ahead of themselves. They do paid portrait shoots before learning how to focus, that sort of thing. They do not want to learn formally, for instance from a course, or books, or seminars; and yet they expect the knowledge to come to them for free, somehow.

Wishful thinking, and you know it. So let me grab a few of these things by the horns. Starting with portraits. You are doing a studio portrait; you have a backdrop; but the rest is mystery. So your images end up:

  • Badly lit.
  • Under- or overexposed.
  • With a background that is sharp instead of blurred.
  • With the subject not separated from that background.
  • Out of focus.
  • With the background white, not coloured even though you use gels.

That is because you never learned the basics. But there is good news: studio portraits are simple. All you need to learn is:

  • Lighting. A main light, 45 degrees away from subject. A fill light, same on other side. Hair light, opposite main light. See diagram, from my new book:

  • Exposure. Set your camera to manual mode, 1/125 sec, f/8, 100 ISO.
  • Turn the flashes to half way (obviously  the flashes are on MANUAL too).
  • Now meter the main flash. Adjust main light until it reads f/8.
  • Same for hair light.
  • Fill light: meter this to f/4 (i.e. adjust this light until meter reads f/4 when it flashes).
  • Background light: same as main light, again.
  • White balance to “Flash”.
  • Focus using one focus spot. Focus on the eye using that one spot.
  • Use a lens longer than 50mm. I prefer my 70-200 or my 85mm prime.
  • Move subject from background as much as you can. Then you can gel the background light. If, whoever, much of the normal light falls on the background, you cannot gel. Test this by turning OFF the background light: the background should be dark.
  • Turn subject toward main light, then head slightly to you.

Like this:

That really is all. Click., You have a competent portrait.

What you must not do is pretend that no learning is necessary. Go find a course, go buy my e-books; read this free resource www.speedlighter.ca; take private training; sign up at Sheridan College; : whatever you can do, do it now.

It really is simple. But not as simple as “I just bought a camera and next week I am shooting a wedding”—and believe me, I have heard that very statement more than once.

 

Big News!

OAKVILLE, 24 November 2014—After many months of preparation, Michael Willems has tonight released his sixth and latest e-book, “Powerful Portrait Photography: Making Portraits That Tell 1001 Words”.

This book is available for immediate download now from http://learning.photography.

If you, like most of us, are attached to people, you will find enormous satisfaction in shooting their portraits. But only if you do it well. This all-new e-book takes you through the jungle of terms, shooting techniques, lighting schematics, posing techniques, and types of portrait and for each one, outlines in a logical fashion what it is you need to do to perfect your technique. From equipment to psychology, award-winning photographer and educator Michael Willems leads you through it one step at a time.

This extensive and richly illustrated e-book is $19.95 plus applicable taxes: it comes as a PDF file conveniently optimized for freely viewing on your iPad or other tablets, computer, small cell phones and similar platforms.

The Table of Contents shows that the subjects will teach you everything from technical needs and lighting schematics to psychology and special tools and techniques:

The book is available for immediate order and download.

But Wait! There’s More! The set of all six of Michael’s books is now also available at $79.95, a $40 discount over the regular price of $120. What better Christmas present for yourself or a loved one? Or even better: get them now so you can shoot great portraits during the upcoming festive season.  Head to http://learning.photography/ now to order your downloads or DVDs.

 

A small, important detail

The catch light in someone’s eyes are essential: no catch lights, no portrait. And that catch light needs to be not in the centre, as when you use a pop-up flash (can you spell “deer in the headlights”?), but in the upper left corner, or the upper right corner, of the eye (in the “10 o’clock position” or in the “2 o’clock position”). Like here:

If you do not have a catch light showing in at least one eye, the subject lacks that little “sparkle of life”, and looks strangely lifeless.

Your catch light usually comes from your main light source, whatever it is. And “whatever it is” is important, because it affects the picture.

Take, for instance, a beauty dish, which like an umbrella gives you a circular catch light (albeit with a slight dot in the middle):

A reflected umbrella would be a white circle with a big black blob in the centre (the flash). That looks odd, which is why I prefer to shoot through an umbrella.Whatevery you do, make sure

Or take a softbox, which, like a window when you use available light, results in a square catch light:

The moral is: in portraits, ensure that there is a catch light, that it looks good, and that it is somewhere in the upper half of the eye. Preferably, if you can., in both eyes.

Portraits are fun, and yes, there is a lot to be learned.

 


TIP: Have you thought of a training gift certificate for a private custom lesson with me as a gift for this coming season? A gift which is not only fun, but leads to your loved one making better family photos. And you’re done with shopping immediately. So everyone’s a winner. Go to http://learning.photography to order your gift certificate now.

 

Gelling!

In yesterday’s shoot with Vanessa Scott in Timmins, Ontario, I used gels to recreate the sunlight that was fast fading below the hills. All shot with Canon’s amazing 85mm f/1.2 len.

(1/200th, f/4, ISO100)

Vanessa looks like she is in that light, because I put a CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gel by Honlphoto on the main flash, like so:

You will see also that I am using a second flash, fitted with a grid, for the hair light. Two flashes driven by Pocketwizards—that’s all.

One more from this amazingly versatile young woman:

1/60, f/5, ISO100 — I had to adjust for fading light


Again, the flash allows me to offset the subject against the background, which I keep dark. Without the flash, I would lose the nice colour and I would have to make everything, including that background, very bright.

And that’s how the cookie crumbles.

 

Fit for purpose

Portraits need to be fit for purpose.

Take this picture. A résumé picture:

I have shot this model clothed, nude, in studios, outdoors, traveling: every picture is different.

A resume picture needs to be professional (the jacket, the hairdo); show beauty in the case of a woman (the overall make-up, the low cut, the eye shadow), but not excessively so; be perhaps a little sexy (the white top) but not overly so (the necklace, the businesslike jacket again). The expression should be friendly but neutral. Yes, some thinking goes into this.

As it should go into every portrait you make. Always ask:

  • What is the photo for.
  • Whom is it for?
  • What are they expecting?
  • What is the person being pictured expecting?
  • What are you expecting?
  • What demands does this put on the photo?
  • What problems need to be solved? What needs to be de-emphasized?
  • What do you want to emphasize?

If you ask yourself these questions, you will come up with answers all by yourself. Answers about clothing, setting, light, expression, and so on.

But if you do not ask, you will not come up with answers; or worse, you will come up with the wrong answers.

For those of you who are interested, after the “more” break, two civilized nudes from the very same shoot as the photo above:

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