“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.


Ad lucem

…or “to the light”.

But contrary to that Latin phrase, a little tip today for when you don’t want light. Like when you want to hide something.

Hide something? Example, please?

OK. Say you have a roll of paper in your studio. and you want to shoot a full length portrait. Normally you would pull the roll all the way forward so the subject stands on it. No transition can be seen at their feet because there is no transition.

But if the roll is too short? Then you will see a clear (and ugly) transition from “floor” to “roll”:

But this is solvable. It is in fact simple: keep the transition in the dark. Then you will not see it. Like this:

To keep it in the dark, you must do two things:

  1. Set the camera so that ambient light plays no role (i.e. without flash, the picture is all dark), Standard settings like 1/125 sec, 100 ISO, f/8 will take care of that. This means all light in the photo will be from your flashes.
  2. Ensure your flash light does not reach the transition. By definition, that will result in the area being dark. So you need to point away from the area and have enoughdistance from the background.

That is it. So if I use two softboxes as above, and feather them away from the background, I will not throw any light on the background. That means it will be dark. And since the floor is light when you are, it will be a gradual darkening.

Simple. Two softboxes and a too-short-really paper roll, and that’s the result. Things do not always need to be complicated.


Rim lighting

Remember this shot from the other day?

To achieve that, I use two flashes behind the subject:

  • Each one is at 45 degrees behind the head (one left, one right).
  • Snooted or gridded, to avoid light “going everywhere”. You can also use Gobos but then you need two on each flash, or more light will fall on the background.
  • Aimed carefully to not hit too low. When using snoots, be very careful as a mere millimeter up or down will often be too much.
  • Metered normally, or brighter (I like +1 stop, to “just when the blinkies start to appear).

To make sure I get ot right, I start with just the rim lights.

Note that of course this can only work when there’s not too much hair covering the face. When the subject has hair going forward, you get something more like this:

Still nice but it is no longer rim lighting, and hair shadows will often get in the way.

Little hair works:

(You think I should shave before doing selfies?)


Studio Tip

Look at these photos from yesterday’s studio lighting workshop to see how light makes a picture different.

Here’s Roxy with one gridded flash on the left, giving us split lighting; and one gridded and rust-colour gelled flash aimed at the background. Both are speedlights driven by Pocketwizards and set to manual power. The image is a little desaturated; otherwise SOOC (“straight out of camera”).

Here. a softbox on our right (s small Honl photo softbox), and the same background light. Just two flashes!

Now let’s turn off the softbox flash:

Now kets’ light up the background more, to get wraparound lighting:

And back to normal, but now with an additional snooted flash for rim lighting on our left:

Here’s two of those flashes visible. Note also the reflection: a plexiglass sheet she is standing on. Note, I “Lightroomed” out the edges of that plexiglass, which took only seconds. Otherwise, like all, SOOC.

Can you see how each shot looks different depending just on light? It behooves you to learn about light, it really does, since with light you can translate a vision into reality. That’s what this is about!


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Light him up

That’s what cops say when they discuss stopping someone in traffic. But it is what I say when I am talking about studio lighting.

For a family, as in the course I taught Sunday for the Ajax camera club, I use simple lighting: two umbrellas (they throw great soft light everywhere), one on each side:

Not a lot of modelling (shaping with light), but very suitable for a group. Easy, foolproof, nice and crisp lighting.

Now, when I have one subject I can of course do the same:

And sure enough, that works. But can you see how much better it works when I turn one of those flashes up a stop, and the other down a stop? Here:

See that? We have now shaped (modelled) the face and made it into not a flat shape, but a round shape. That brings the person alive. There is a slight shadow behind him. That also brings depth into the image.

Altogether a better idea when you have one person – usually. In the next datys,more examples of studio lighting.

In these pictures, the camera was on manual, as were the flashes.  1/200th sec at f/8, 400 ISO.

Why those settings? I want to kill the bright studio ambient light (high f-number, low ISO, fast shutter). But I am also cognizant of the fact that I am using speedlights, which have limited power, especially once I fit them with modifiers (that means low f-number and high ISO). So I need to find a good middle point. And that was it, in this studio.

More on studio flash in the next days. Um, and if you enjoy these posts, don’t forget to tell all your friends to check speedlighter.ca daily.