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.

 


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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:

Continue reading

A simple, but effective, trick

A simple trick, used by photographers the world over, is this. Can you see what we did in this shot from two days ago, a portrait of Liz Medori?

Yup, we used a fan. A simple cheap fan; I usually use an industrial fan from a home supplies store. That fan makes the hair do its wild sexiness thing, which you will see in many model photos.

And the good news: You need to know no technique for this. Even if you are a total beginner, nothing stops you from aiming a fan at your long-haired subject.

What else did I do in that photo? We had a make-up artist, Melissa T. We lit the model with one overhead softbox straight in front of her, plus one hair light aimed at us, for shampooey goodness™, plus one background light with a purplish gel aimed at the background. And I shot with a 70-200mm lens at the typical studio setting of 200 ISO, 1/125th second, f/8.

But even if you do not know what that means; go for it with the fan!

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Reflect on this

When you make a portrait using standard “studio settings” (i.e. you have the ambient light do nothing; and to achieve this you use f/8 at 1/125th sec at 100 ISO), and you use one flash, modified with an umbrella or softbox, you get a portrait, but it is very dramatic: only what you light is lit.

As in this portrait of Henrys’ Deanna Flinn (a fellow photographer and teacher) at yesterday’s excellent meeting of the Ajax Photography Club, where I held a Flash workshop:

Good exposure, and good catch lights at the 2 o’clock position. If that dramatic look is what you are aiming for, fine.

But usually, people look for a different, softer look. A standard portrait has a fill light on the opposite side of the main light. That fill light is two stops darker than the main light.

So, you need another flash. Yes, I suppose; but you can instead use a reflector. Cheaper and quicker! I asked one of the students to hold up a white sheet of paper to the left, and now we see this:

Nice, no?

Then if you have a second flash, you can put a snoot on it and use it as a hair light:

Even better! Yes, a good portrait really is that simple.

Of course you can now aim another flash at the background and light it up – or move it back and colour it with a gel. Or use a grid on a single flash and have fun:

Flash photography really is fun!

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The Pro Flash Manual explains these techniques and many, many more – a full, 123-page flash course e-book.. Available now. Just saying.