“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.


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.



A “Simple is Good” studio setup

I trained a local photographer in the subject of studio photography yesterday, and we kept it simple. Because simple is good!

First, let me show you a resulting picture of her friend, the model for the day:

Good studio photo, right? Yup.

So how did we get to this?

First, set the camera to standard studio settings. Like 1/125th to 1/200th second, f/8, 100 ISO.  This is designed to make ambient light go away. The studio was a bright room – big windows with only light sheer curtains. And yet with those settings, it looked like this in photos:

Second, now add lights where you want them:

  • A camera with a pocketwizard transmitter on it.
  • A main light – a speedlight (Canon 430EX) fitted with a Honl Photo Traveller 8 softbox.
  • A Pocketwizard to fire this flash.
  • A Flashzebra cable from Pocketwizard to flash hotshoe.
  • A light stand with ball head for it to sit on.
  • A reflector to act as fill light.
  • A  430EX flash to act as hair light (Shampooey Goodness™).
  • A light trigger from Flashzebra to set off that flash.
  • A similar ball head and stand.
  • A Honl Photo 1/8″ grid to restrict the light’s path.

All this looks like this (remember, take a “pullback shot”):

Third, now set the power levels. With the camera at 100 ISO. 1/200th, f/8, a power level of about 1/2 on the main flash and 1/4 for the hair light did the trick.

All this takes minutes to set up. A pro studio shot can often be done with simple equipment like this. And note the appropriate backdrop. The blond hair means we wanted a darker background. For dark hair I might have wanted a lighter backdrop: in that case I can add another light to light the backdrop I have.

This image is good and needs no pst work other than cropping to taste. Note the correct catch lights in the eyes: 45 degrees off centre and crear (and round, here).

Now, another shoot, the day before: friend and ex colleague (and client) Keith, showing true character:

This was done with three lights: One with softbox where I am., and two feathered flashes, unmodified, on each side, lighting both backdrop and side of his face. Again, a simple setup, although it took a few minutes work to set up. Slifght clariti enhacement to give it more pop, and slight desaturate to meet the web spects that this image was taken for.

By the way, fun expressions are good. Can you see how in that picture, Keith’s nice guy nature really shines through, even that was not te point of the picture? try to capture your subjects’ personality in the images you make.


Studio setup

A few readers asked about the “background post” of the other day – how was it lit?

Here’s how:

Studio Light (Photo: Michael Willems)

Four lights:

  • A softbox strobe as main light.
  • An umbrella strobe (not pictured) as fill.
  • And two speedlights: one with a Honl Photo snoot as edge light, and one with Honl Photo gel as background light.
  • All manual
  • One strobe and both speedlights fired with Pocketwizards; the other strobe with its cell.

That’s a very standard setup for me, and yes, you can learn to do this too.


Background woes

Backgrounds. We like to have control over them in portrait shoots, don’t we?

One question I often get is “why can I not light up my background? Nothing I do works!”

This is quite simple. To light up a background, you need a colored light (a gelled flash?) shining onto a dark background.

So if the background is already light, you cannot easily colour it. As in this shot of a kind volunteer in my Sheridan College course the other night:

My main two lights are spilling onto the background, lighting it up.

So how do you get the background darker?

  • Use a darker backdrop
  • Move the subject farther away from the backdrop
  • Move the light closer to the subject, so the relative distance changes.

Any combination of those three gives you something more like this picture of another kind volunteer (in this case I moved the light closer to the subject, and then turned it down correspondingly):

And now I can add my background light, a gelled speedlight in this case, set to 1.4 power, which a nice bright gel – Honl Photo Egg Yolk Yellow:

Simple once you know, n’est-ce-pas?


Interested in lighting? Consider some private coaching, where I explain all, you get to practice and take actual shots, and all will become clear. The December/January special is still on: 10% off during those months.