I just spoke as one of the keynote speakers at an Ajax Photography Club event called “Discovering Karsh”. All about Armenian Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, whom The Economist, after his death, described as “the best portrait photographer in the world for the past fifty years”.
Karsh can teach photographers today a thing or two, and that was the subject of my presentation. He was a master at light, mainly in moody low key portraits (think of the grumpy Churchill portrait, where Karsh had respectfully pulled the cigar from Churchill’s mouth), for one. Google it—for copyright reasons I cannot reproduce it here.
He was also a real people person, and that was his super power. He studied his subjects before a shoot. He talked to them. At length, often, if given the opportunity. Instead of taking 100 pictures and choosing one, he took one or two when the moment was right. He was a master at choosing the moment. And his subjects trusted him and his ability to make them look good.
Google “Karsh” and see the iconic portraits that defined the 20th century. Sure, Karsh is not everyone’s taste—his portraits are low-key and often moody—but they are certainly masterful. And they defined the people that he photographed as well as reflected them. As a portrait photographer, if you can do that, you have made it.
…was all about light.
Look how differences, some small, in light can make any picture very different from the others. Our lovely model Bryna, in a few snaps I snuck in while teaching:
And that’s why knowing flash is a skill that will serve you well. After all, with flash, you are in charge. Stand by for more, much more, in the way of workshops and other teaching and training.
You have heard me talk about the “Sunny Sixteen” rule before. This is a very useful rule of thumb that allows you to shoot without using your camera’s light meter. The rule is:
If your shutter speed is set to 1/ISO (e.g. 125 ISO at 1/125th sec, 200 ISO at 1/200 sec, or 400 ISO at 1/400 sec, etc), then on a fully sunny day at noon, f/16 will give you the right exposure.
Like this, at f/16:
And if it is not sunny?
||Soft around edges
This rule is a rule of thumb, so feel free to vary – I often expose two thirds of a stop higher – but since the sun is always the same brightness, it holds well. And it is nice to be able to expose without light meters, if only in order to be able to check your camera.
Bonus question: how do you expose the moon?
Answer: f/16. The moon at noon (there, so any time here, including night) is as bright as the earth at noon- they are the same distance from the sun!
It is minus 28 degrees Celsius. Yesterday, I taught a Creative Flash Photography workshop in Timmins, Ontario. Here’s a sample!
Some creative gel use:
A snapshot showing the setup for the next shot:
And here’s the shot!
…which also works in B/W:
A simple one flash grid portrait:
And two together:
Fun was had. Flying me out to anywhere for a workshop like this is worth your time: hands-on learning so beats only reading a book or watching a video!
A repeat post from 2015, showing that things do not change much…
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.
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.