Photographers – modify the light.

 

For some time I’ve been advising photographers to use a flash when they take pictures of people, whether indoors or out.

I understand that those with a few extra dollars in their pocket can purchase expensive cameras that can capture images in low light using a higher ISO, but using additional light is much more flattering for a human subject.

While sitting by the window in a coffee shop some time ago a friend casually snapped a picture of me using an ISO of 9000. I was impressed at the clarity and colour. Actually, it was a bit too clear and colourful for my old face.  Nevertheless, my comment was, “Nice picture, too bad you didn’t have a reflector”, which brings me to my topic this week – light modifiers.

Readers know what harsh sunlight looks like on our subject’s face in a photo, or have winced at the loss of detail caused by the direct light of a camera-mounted flash.  A flattering photograph isn’t just capturing or adding light, but modifying it’s path to the subject.

Modification might be as simple as bouncing the flash off the ceiling, or a wall. The pop-up flash might work at parties, but using a flash off-camera gives more control and pleasing results.

When outdoors without a flash a reflector is an easy to use light modifier. Place the subject out of the direct sun and direct the sun in a controlled way back to the subject using a reflector. Reflectors come in all sizes, shapes, colours and surfaces. Silver is gives cool cast, gold is warm, and white is neutral. I prefer the compact folding reflectors that fit in my camera bag. Reflectors are great outdoors, and are perfect with a bounce flash in that basement studio.

More and more photographers are using wireless flash. A small flash mounted on a stand can be aimed at the ceiling, a wall, or a reflector, for much nicer light than if pointed directly at the subject.  But the wall, ceiling, and reflector only give a broad indirect light. Yes, it is better than a bare flash, but not very controllable.

My choice is umbrellas, softboxes, and other devices that modify and control the light.  I like bouncing and reflecting light in some conditions. However, those I mentioned give more control as they reshape, restyle, alter, modify, and soften the light from a flash.

Umbrellas come in several types. Choose a shoot through or reflective, large or small. The reflective umbrellas are available with different surfaces – silver, gold, white – each has its own way of changing the light. For example, I like the soft broad light reflective umbrellas give when photographing several people or families.

Many portraitists seem to prefer softboxes. Whereas umbrellas give more control than a flat reflector, a softbox directs and defines light much better than an umbrella. Softboxes also come in many sizes and shapes depending on use – rectangle, square, octagon, etc.  When viewers see that soft shadowed “Rembrandt style” lighting in a portrait, they can safely assume the photographer used a softbox.

For photographers that want more luminosity than umbrellas and softboxes there is the beauty dish. A beauty dish provides a glowing kind of light, very directional, easy to control, and when used with diffuser it has an attractive smooth light.  There are, of course, many modifications to each of those I have mentioned. Again, it depends on how a photographer wants to apply light to a subject.

My set up much of the time is a simple flash above and behind me using either a softbox or an umbrella, with a sidelight bounced off a reflector, and backlight directed at the background with only a small dome diffuser covering it.  That’s one quick, effortless setup that I can easily carry in two small bags – one bag for light stands and light modifiers and one for my flash units, camera and lenses.

That gives me light that is more controllable and attractive than a pop-up or on-camera flash, the sun, or relying on a high ISO.

Photography Studio Workshop   

Studio 1a

Studio 3a

Studio 2a

Photographing Autumn 1a

My latest photography workshop, Posing and Lighting, occurred just outside Kamloops this past weekend at a local studio owned by Dave Monsees of Cherry Creek.

I will begin with a perfect quote I have used before by photographer and author Frank Criccho that goes with what I was wanted the participants to think about. Criccho stated, “The success of a photographic portrait depends as much on the photographer’s artistic and creative use of lighting techniques as it does on his or her skill with the camera.”

Much of the time photographers either prefer to photograph people in the daylight or, if forced to shoot indoors, just increase their camera’s ISO. And there are too many that when they do decide to employ On or Off-camera flash go for the easiest method of just filling the space with lots of light.

During these sessions I lead my goal is to get participants thinking about not only posing our model, but also about the using the flash light as more than just a device to brighten up the environment.

I want them to begin making decisions as to how to apply light on their subject in the same way they might decide to use a long focal length lens rather than a short focal length lens.

As always, when I lead a full day session like this one, I feel my task is to present information and keep things going. And I always leave plenty of time for the participants to engage with the model and experiment with techniques. Watching workshop participants grasp and learn photographic lighting is a fun and satisfying activity for me.

I began the workshop with a quick slide show. Hmm…I guess we don’t have slide shows any more and instead connect a computer to a digital projector to provide a PowerPoint presentation. In any event we started the day off with a presentation that showed how different modifiers affected the light on a subject. So when our model Autumn arrived it was, “lights, camera, action.”

We spent the majority of the day (barely breaking for lunch) using many different light modifiers, changing the angle of the lights, applying light in creative ways, employing different backdrops, and of course, studying posing.

I will say these kinds of workshops are really demanding on a very patient and hard working model as she constantly and quickly alters her outlook and holds any pose the excited photographers request; all the while giving each photographer time to apply what I was continually introducing.

I can’t really say much regarding those enthusiastic photographers, I expect they were filled with the energy most photographers get when they are learning and creating, but by 4pm Autumn and I were ready to wind down. A good day well done.

“A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound.” – Charles Baudelaire, Poet – 1859

 

 

 

 

 

Lighting The Portrait Workshop

Class Participants

Bart&Sarah&wind Machine

Sarah

French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire once said, “A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound?”

Last weekend I led an interactive studio session with students that covered off-camera lighting for portrait photography. My goal was to leave participants with enough knowledge and skills, that with additional practice and experimentation, they would be able to produce pleasing and creative portraits of friends, family, and clients.

Learning to take better portraits, or as I emphasized in my workshop, portraits that flatter the subject and which shouldn’t just be a flat documentary of a person, involves understanding lighting techniques and posing.

In this one-day course participants experienced several aspects of portraiture including directing both male and female subjects, as well as an introduction to light modifiers and their application.

My teaching experience has now expanded to over three decades. That experience has taught me (yep, I have learned lots too) that, rather than acting like a star or celebrity standing on a stage demonstrating what I know, I can be much more effective standing by their side leading photographers as a participant into new territory.

My job was to present information on the subject at hand and keeping things going. I’ll admit that wasn’t hard with last Sunday’s group. I stood back and could see what progressed from a spark to a wildfire as each photographer started getting the concepts and began excitedly making the kind of portraits future clients would definitely pay for.

Building bridges between what those photographers already knew and what had eluded them regarding portrait lighting was fun for them and, of course, for me and I enjoyed their enlivened interaction and creativity.

As with most of my current workshops this was held in a well-equipped studio filled with an assortment of lighting gear, complete with a drawer full of wireless senders for participants to use. There are soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusion screens, reflectors and a great selection of wall-mounted backdrops.

All equipment and setups I employed for this workshop could easily be added to any photographer’s kit without a large outlay of cash and could be used in a basement studio.

As the day progressed I included an assignment for participants to make a “business” style portrait of each other. That added to the fun and gave our overworked model some respite. My intention was to get photographers thinking about being creative and complimentary in their directing, posing and lighting.

Our model came made-up and ready to be photographed, whereas the rest of us, well, we intended to be behind the camera, not in front of it. So this was a perfect way to get photographers thinking about how that not so willing portrait client might feel.

By now regular readers know that I really like quotes. So I’ll end with this one by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson that fits the mindset I hoped to impress on participants. He said, “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life offers itself to you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”

I always enjoy and respond to comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photographers – Don’t just add light, modify the light.

For some time I’ve been advising photographers to use a flash when they take pictures of people, whether indoors or out. Yes, I understand that those with a few extra dollars in their pocket can purchase expensive cameras that can capture images in low light using a higher ISO, but using additional light is much more flattering.

While sitting by the window in a coffee shop last week a friend casually snapped a picture of me using an ISO of 9000. I was impressed at the clarity and colour. Hmm… maybe a bit too clear and colourful for my old face.  Nevertheless, my comment was, “Nice picture, too bad you didn’t have a reflector”, which brings me to my topic this week – light modifiers.

Readers know what harsh sunlight looks like on our subject’s face in a photo, or winced at the loss of detail caused by the direct light of a camera-mounted flash.  A flattering photograph isn’t just capturing or adding light, but modifying its path to the subject. That might be as simple as bouncing the flash off the ceiling, or a wall. The pop-up flash might work at parties, but mounting a flash on the camera gives more power, control and pleasing results.

When outdoors without a flash a popular and easy to use light modifier is a reflector. Place the subject out of the direct sun and direct the sun in a controlled way back to the subject using a reflector. Reflectors come in all sizes, shapes, colours and surfaces. Silver is a cool, gold has a warm cast, and white is neutral. I prefer the compact folding reflectors that fit in my camera bag. Reflectors are great outdoors, and are perfect with a bounce flash for that multi-use basement studio.

More and more photographers are using wireless flash. A small hotshoe flash mounted on a stand can be aimed at the ceiling, a wall, or a reflector, for much nicer light than if pointed directly at the subject.  But the wall, ceiling, and reflector only give a broad indirect light. Yes, it is better than a bare flash, but not very controllable.

Enter umbrellas, softboxes, beauty dishes, and all sorts of contraptions that modify and control the light.  I like bouncing and reflecting light in some conditions, and these give photographers more control as they reshape, restyle, alter, modify, direct, and soften the light from our little flashes.

Umbrellas come in several types. Choose a shoot through or reflective, large or small. The reflective umbrellas are available with different surfaces – silver, gold, white – each has its own way of changing the light. For example, I like the soft broad light reflective umbrellas give when photographing several people or families.

Many portraitists seem to prefer softboxes. Whereas umbrellas give more control than a flat reflector, a softbox directs and controls light much better than an umbrella. Softboxes also come in many sizes and shapes depending on use – rectangle, square, octagon, etc.  When viewers see that soft shadowed “Rembrandt style” lighting in a portrait, they can safely assume the photographer used a softbox.

For photographers that want more luminosity than umbrellas and softboxes there is the beauty dish. A beauty dish provides a glowing kind of light, very directional, easy to control, and when used with diffuser it has an attractive smooth light.  There are, of course, many modifications to each of those I have mentioned. Again, it depends on how a photographer wants to apply light to a subject.

My set up isn’t always the same. For example, the flash above and behind me might be either in a softbox or a reflector umbrella, the sidelight could be a small shoot-through umbrella or bounced off a reflector, and backlight directed at the background with only a small dome diffuser covering it.  That’s one quick, effortless setup that I can easily carry in two small bags – one bag for light stands and light modifiers and one for the flash units and my camera. The point is that the light I use is more controllable and attractive than a pop up flash, the sun, or relying on a high ISO.

www.enmanscamera.com

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