Elements of a picture

This, another photo from last Saturday’s Mono workshop, prompts me to write today’s post:

Tara Elizabeth

Tara Elizabeth in Mono, 20 November 2010

It prompts me to talk about how to make a photo like this. You see, a photo is not just one thing. It is a culmination of things all coming together.

First you need a subject. Yes, the subject is important. When all else is equal, your subject makes the image. After all, it is an image of something. Photographers are often enough all technique, to the extent that they forget about the subject. In this image, model Tara is looking great; her clothing is avant garde, her make-up, by Make-Up Artist Tea, is superb. Tara’s expression is just right.

Composition is also important, even in a simple portrait. Uncle Fred puts the subject (Tara’s eyes) in the middle. I use the rule of thirds; off-centre composition. Balance the image.

Next, you need technique and technology. I used a Canon 1Ds with a 50mm prime f/1.2 lens set to f/8 at 100 ISO and 1/125th second – pretty standard “studio” settings.  Pocket wizards were used to fire the flashes. A digital Rebel with a 50mm f/1.8 would have done the same here.

That brings me to the next factor: you need light. We used three speedlights. Two on the sides, with grids: edge lighting is always good. And one behind us, on our left, the fil-from-the-front light, down two stops, and fitted with a Honl Traveller 8 softbox. See that wonderful round catch light in her eyes? (yes, that is important.) The edge light also separates Tara’s arm, on our right, from the background.

Finally you need to simplify. A good photo is a simple photo. We used a simple white wall. I zoomed in enough to have nothing else in the picture. I used no background light or gels. Sometimes simple is better.

And there you have it, a photo worth using!

I encourage you to do the same kind of analysis on your own images. Always good to see what you are doing – it may remind you to think carefully about the image. And that will make it better. Promise.

1 thought on “Elements of a picture

  1. Michael,
    I have a few questions about this Photograph.
    The side lights, where do you have them position? are they just behind the model because the light catches the hair quiet nice on the models left side, the models right knee is also is lit but the front of the knee has a shadow. That makes me believe that the side lights are slightly behind her.
    That brings me to my next question, I seem to get two catch lights in each eyes. How do you overcome two catch light?
    You say keep it simple the background looks gray. I would say the colours are; red foreground and gray background.

    Thank You

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