Portraiture and the Photographer’s Use of Light

Monica aDemetra 3aMollyStephanie b6. BaileaStephanie a7. MonicaDemetraMonica  a

 

 

Photographer and author Frank Criccho states, “ 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.”

In an opposing remark during a recent conversation, a photographer told me that he didn’t have to worry about getting a flash for portrait photography and doubted he ever would, because he could just use a higher ISO, shoot multiple bursts, and fix everything in PhotoShop.

I don’t think that he is totally wrong, but his statement certainly demonstrates a lack of the basic understanding of how light impacts a subject’s face and how light can make the subject look younger, or older, or more glamorous, or down right unappealing.

I think in the race to purchase the latest hi-tech photographic marvel many photographers tend to forget about how lighting affects their subjects.

In my opinion, the goal for portrait photographers should always be to make the subject look his or her best, and provide an image that is flattering, and allows the person you are photographing to have a photo that impresses viewers.

One could say the responsibility lies with photographers, and not the subject, as to how good they look. Yes, I know in reality that isn’t the truth, but in my experience when one makes a bad photo of someone they will blame you, not themselves, if one makes a good photo they will thank you for capturing reality.

Many photographers just excitedly snap away without examining their subject, or posing them. Relying on luck and their subject’s talent to make that pleasing portrait, and pay little attention to how the light is making that person look.

Light and how a photographer uses it is very important. Too much contrast or side lighting shows lines and blemishes, whereas, on-camera flash, or bright, direct sunlight gives a flat, dimensionless, uninspired look.

To use the words of world-renowned photographer and writer, Joe Marvullo, “It is your ultimate decision, however, to determine what is “real” about that person and how to portray it in the photograph. You must successfully translate a distinct human personality in three-dimensional form into a two dimensional representation. This recorded image must come to life on it’s own. You, as an artist, must capture the “essence” of your subjects – their persona.”

Modern on-camera flashes are excellent if used correctly and creatively. Photographers can diffuse, bounce, and move the light off to the right or left, higher or lower, and modify that light using umbrellas, reflectors or softboxes to soften and control the direction and intensity.

I believe photography is all about the light. The lazy photographer just worries about exposure, where as the imaginative photographer pays attention, experiments, and practices creating portraits using light that are more than just documents of some person.  And as Marvullo suggests it is up to you, the artist, to capture the “essence” of your subject’s personality.

 

 

 

 

 

Photographer’s Lighting Workshop

    Sarah, Bart & Ronny

  Ronny & Candice

Sarah & Dave

Candice & Bailey

Bailey & Bart

I have just finished my first day of leading another Photographer’s Lighting Workshop. I will admit that a day spent guiding excited and, I must remark of this session, very talented photographers, does tire me out.

Participants that are willing to express opinions and aren’t shy about getting shoulder to shoulder in a process of experimenting, exploring, and learning are hard to keep up with, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I try to stand back and watch analytically, but every animated smile draws me in.  Multiply times seven each fired up photographer I was working with and there is quite an energy drain.

After over 40 years as a photographer I do have a pretty large chest of experiences in just about every aspect of this exciting medium and I was employed as a photography teacher for nearly half that time. I can easily sit a group of learners down and lecture about pretty much anything photographic and, particularly the lighting workshops that are currently all the rage for photography keeners.  My knowledge is on par with most experienced portrait professionals, and I teach so that beginners and intermediate learners can keep up with the jargon and the concepts.

I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when a student of photography makes the decision to participate. My job is to present information on the subject at hand and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on a stage, and rarely pick up a camera. That’s left to participants.

Sure, they tired me out, but in the recent daylong workshop on Lighting and Posing I was fortunate to be leading a group of surprisingly skilled and very energetic photographers, and I must add, two lovely and creative young models that in my opinion were willing to work hard in a demanding environment for modeling.

The workshop was held in a rural studio minutes outside of Kamloops, British Columbia. I like this studio because it owner, Dave Monsees, has filled it with quite an assortment of lighting gear. I think there are at least eight studio strobes to choose from, all setup for wireless connection with a drawer full of senders. There are soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusion screens, reflectors and a great selection of wall-mounted backdrops.

There was even a fully equipped kitchen at the back that we made good use of, with fresh brewed coffee, pastries, and a large pot of chili for lunch. It can’t get much better than good food, great people, and photography.

Monsees is regularly adding props and stools to sit and pose on, as well as a growing selection of light modifiers.

The large, well-equipped space is a great rental studio and a perfect environment for an instructional session like mine. We started the session with one light behind a reflective umbrella, and moved on from there adding a large softbox, a shoot through umbrella, and a rim light to give depth to our subject when we used a black background.  We changed backdrops and light positions regularly. And those creative photographers really kept our models active and, heck, made my day.

Regarding portrait photography, Famous portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh, once said, “I try to photograph people’s spirits and thoughts. As to the soul taking by the photographer, I don’t feel I take away, but rather that the sitter and I give to each other. It becomes an act of mutual participation.”

The first of our two-day workshop is over. I prefer two days because on the second we can review and reinforce what happened on the first. Now I am looking forward to spending another day and preparing to lead workshop participants into new territory.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Fifteen Photographers at Open House

fifteen photgraphers & a Model  Creek shooters  Modeling session  Lighting a portrait

Last weekend fifteen dedicated, and I think, pretty excited, photographers attended the Versatile Studio’s photography open house just outside of Kamloops, British Columbia. It is aptly named Versatile Studio because it provides multiple locations for portrait photography inside and out.

The day began with coffee and numerous discussions on portrait photography. At one point I got up to refill my coffee and then stood back, realizing this group of photographers, with their many different styles and approaches was going to make the day interesting, educational, and a lot of fun.

Of course, it immediately began with a hitch, as only one (thank you, Ali) of the four models that promised to appear showed up; nevertheless, these relentless photographers didn’t miss a beat, and decided to split into three informal groups using each other as subjects.

Those that wanted to work with lights in the large studio space chose two of their number with the most experience in studio strobe lighting to lead, and they took turns modeling, moving lights, backgrounds, etc, and making pictures that delved into some interesting experimentation.

Several others picked up reflectors and gathered at the stream with the one model, Ali. The light filtering through the trees was perfect for the large reflectors, and I think wading in the cool running water was also enticing on the hot August day.

A few decided to try out the light-diffusion panels I had set up in the meadow behind the studio, and later made portraits using the portable strobe I had placed in what was once a large farm equipment/hay storage shed.

Small groups interacted, gathering to discuss different techniques and to exchange thoughts on photography, and in my opinion, it was that exchange of personal experience between the photographers that made the day a success.

As I got the chance to peak at the LCD of several photographers’ cameras, I was intrigued at how differently each photographer captured the same subject. As I write I think of some famous quotes, the first by iconic photographer Ansel Adams, “Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.”   His words more than fit what I saw created by those assembled at Versatile Studio that day, and I also like this quote, by author Peter Bunnel, who in his book, “Creative Camera International” writes, “There is no single form or style of portraiture. Portraiture means individualism and as such means diversity, self-expression, private point of view. The most successful images seem to be those which exist on several planes at once and which reflect the fantasy and understanding of many.”

So of course, you can understand why I would include that quote because, indeed, I saw many styles of portraits being made on that day. That’s the interesting and enjoyable thing about getting together with other photographers, especially a collection of photographers as large and diverse in talent and experience as was there; everyone is an individual and creates from their own personal perspective.

Versatile Studio, situated in the small community about fifteen minutes from my shop in Kamloops, hosted this photographer’s event with the help of accomplished photographer, Gary Risdale and myself. Our roles weren’t that of instructors as much as we were there to introduce, demonstrate, and facilitate.

I was so involved with what others were doing that, other than the images I have posted, I didn’t get a chance for anything else.

The studio’s owner, Dave Monsees, commented to me that he liked being around fun people with a true passion for photography and said he enjoyed himself so much that he intends to try to have photographer and model get-togethers like this in his studio on an occasional basis, every month or so.

I enjoyed spending time with those photographers; some were long time friends, and some were new acquaintances; and, I must admit, some of my most favorite times of all, have been either doing photography, or being with people that are doing photography.

It is always great to have your comments, 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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