Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment

The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

There’s a lot of studio equipment to get familiar with and with it, a lot of terms to learn.

If you’re new to studio lighting, it is easy to get intimidated by the amount of stuff you have to learn. The jargon alone is enough to make your head spin. Fortunately, none of the things you need to be successful in the studio are particularly complicated, there is just a lot of it. The purpose of this article is to serve as a primer to introduce you to some of the most basic studio lighting equipment, and terms you will need to navigate a photography studio.

This is not a comprehensive list, and with new tools and techniques being invented all the time, it could never be.

A little warning: Some of these terms are used differently by different photographers. Others get interchanged with one another. While it can be confusing at times, it’s not necessarily wrong. However, it is useful to know about when you hear someone refer to a flag as a gobo or refer to ambient light as continuous light.

Types of light

Strobe – A studio strobe is a dedicated flash unit. They can sometimes be referred to as a monobloc or monolight. Usually mains powered, more battery-powered offerings are being brought onto the market all the time. Power output between models can vary greatly, with cheaper strobes offering as much power as a cheap third-party flashgun.

Strobes are powerful flash units that pretty much dominate studio photography.

Continuous light/HotlightContinuous lights serve the same lighting functions as strobes, but they don’t flash. Instead, they are high-powered lamps that can usually be fitted with modifiers in the same way as strobes. While mostly associated with video, continuous lights still have their place in stills photography. There are a lot of LED lights coming onto the market at the moment, and many of them are viable options.

The hotlight moniker comes from the fact that they tend to get very hot. Be careful with modifiers that sit close to the bulb as they present a fire hazard. This does not apply to LED lights.

Flashgun/speedlightFlashguns are any small light with a hot shoe mount for placing on top of your camera. They are highly portable, and some come with reasonably high power outputs. Although their versatility is ultimately limited to their size and power output, they are still an extremely useful tool for any photographer interested in off-camera lighting.

Flashguns are small but competent light sources that are invaluable for portable studios.

Light functions

Key light – Your key light is the main light with which you are shaping your subject. This will usually be the brightest and most prominent light in your scene.

Fill Light – A fill light reduces the intensity of shadows created by your key light, thereby decreasing the overall contrast in your scene.

Rim light/backlightRim lights light your subject from behind to help separate them from the background. Often, rim lights are positioned so that only a sliver of light is visible on the sides of your subject.

Background light – As it says on the tin: background lights light the background.

Hair light – Hair lights are used to add emphasis to your subject’s hair. They can also be used to help bring up the exposure of your subject’s head if it is blending into the background.

Ambient light – This is any light that is present before the addition of any other lighting sources. This could be from lights in the room or daylight from a window or outside.

Modifiers

UmbrellasUmbrellas usually come in silver or white and can be attached to your strobe via a mount. By firing the strobe into the umbrella (which reflects the light back to your subject), you are creating a much larger light source which creates a softer light. Although mostly directional, umbrellas can have a lot of spill, and they aren’t the easiest modifier to control.

Umbrellas are your most basic modifier. They are good for soft, diffused light, but they are hard to control.

Translucent Umbrellas/Shoot-thru UmbrellasTranslucent umbrellas don’t reflect light, but are instead made of diffusion material which you aim the light through. This softens the light, much in the way of other modifiers, but without the benefit of directionality.

Translucent umbrellas also provide soft light, but they aren’t as directional as softboxes.

SoftboxesSoftboxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Once attached to your light, a softbox acts to shape and soften the light so that it is more flattering. Softboxes also tend to be quite directional, and they are easy to control and further modify.

Softboxes are the workhorse of the photographic studio, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

Strip boxesStrip boxes are softboxes, but they are long narrow rectangles that produce a much narrower beam of light. These are great for lighting a subject from behind for a rim lighting effect.

Striplights are a useful type of softbox that offer very directional light.

Octaboxes – Also a type of softbox, an octabox is octagonal in shape. The rounder light source is useful for shaping the light for portraits. Octaboxes also tend to be quite large, making them an ideal modifier for portraits.

Reflectors (the modifier kind) – The reflector is a modifier that goes directly on your strobe. They channel the light in a specific angle for very directional light. They are also a very hard light source. Most are designed to take a variety of grids.

Reflectors, like this 110-degree reflector, provide a very directional and very hard light source.

Snoots – Snoots are modifiers that are designed to focus your light in a very narrow beam. They are great for both hair lights and background lights.

Snoots direct your light into a very tight and controlled beam.

Barn doors – Barn doors are fitted with two to four flaps for you to manually adjust the aperture the light is let through. These flaps can help you narrow the focus of your light on a specific aspect of your subject (such as their hair), or they can be used to flag the light from hitting a spot that you don’t want it to.

Beauty dishBeauty dishes are directional modifiers that are somewhere in between soft and hard light. They are great for beauty photography (hence the name) as well as fashion and portraiture altogether. They often come with grids and diffusion socks to give you even more options in how to use them.

Beauty dishes offer a contrasty light somewhere between hard and soft.

Grids/HoneycombsGrids are modifiers for your modifiers. Placed on a reflector, or softbox, or beauty dish, they narrow the beam of light further and help to ensure that the light is only falling on your subject (or where you want it to).

Grids help you to further modify the directionality of your light.

Gobo – A gobo is placed in front of a light source to change the shape of the light. This can be as simple as narrowing the beam and be as complicated as creating complex patterns. The easiest way to explain this is to imagine a Venetian blind with light streaming through. Now imagine the pattern on the wall. The blind is acting as an effective gobo and shaping the light.

CTO Gels – Color correction gels are used when you need to correct the color temperature of a given light. For example, if you have a gridded beauty dish that is particularly warm (like mine), and you want to use another light as a hair light, that second light might be very cool compared to your key light. By placing an orange CTO gel on your hair light, you can match and balance the color output of both lights.

Color Gels – You can also use gels towards a creative end. You can gel your lights to produce just about any color that you want to.

Reflectors (the reflective kind) – Reflectors are an important part of any studio kit. These allow you to reflect light from your key light back onto your subject. They are a means of creating a fill light without using a second dedicated light source. Reflectors come in many shapes and sizes, from the ubiquitous 5-in-1 reflectors to fancy tri-flectors sometimes used in beauty portraits.

Reflectors and diffusers are two vital tools when it comes to shaping and controlling your light in the studio. Also shown here is a reflector stand.

Diffuser/Scrim – A diffuser is a piece of translucent material that you place in front of a light source to alter the shape of the light or to reduce the intensity of the light. Some diffusers do both.

FlagsFlags are used to block (or flag) light from falling in your scene where you don’t want it to. You can use them to stop excess light falling on your background, or you can use them to reduce the exposure on the parts of your subject that aren’t the focal point. For example, sometimes, I like to use flags to help underexpose everything from the neck down in close portraits. This helps to ensure that the face is the main focus of the image.

Studio accessories

Light stands – Simply a stand to hold your light source. Ensure you have one that can hold the weight of your light. A high-powered, dedicated strobe requires a lot more support than a speedlight.

This image shows a boom arm attached to a lighting stand on a dolly. It’s a fantastic and versatile bit of kit.

Dolly – A light stand with wheels. Most useful.

Boom arm – A boom arm is a light stand that you can position at any angle between completely vertical and completely horizontal. These are useful to get your lights high up and also to place your light at angles a traditional light stand wouldn’t be able to manage. You can mount different varieties of boom arms to other light stands as well as permanent fixtures like walls.

Reflector Stand – A dedicated stand designed to hold a reflector in place.

Background/backdrop – A backdrop is any surface that you place your subject in front of. These range from paper and vinyl rolls to bare or decorated walls to pieces of painted canvas.

This image shows a painted canvas background. At the top of the frame, you can just see grey and white vinyl rolls on a motorized support system.

Background stand/support – Any support system designed to hold a backdrop in place. These can be free standing or wall mounted.

Clamps – Clamps and other fastening devices come in all shapes. You can (and should) use these to hold all manner of things in place. Backgrounds, flags, reflectors, gels, and many, many other things need to be held in place. For example, bulldog clips are indispensable for holding canvas backdrops up, whilst double-headed clamps can affix to a table and hold a flag or reflector.

This image shows a selection of clamps and clips that will you always find a use for in the studio. The double-headed clamp is holding up a piece of black foam core for use as a flag.

Rails – In bigger studios, you might see lights fixed to fittings on the walls and ceiling. These rails allow you to move your light relatively freely around a space without the hassle of a light stand.

They also help to keep cords out of the way of you and your subjects.

Other

Quality of Light – Quality in this instance refers to the physical characteristics of light. These include shape, intensity, and color.

Lighting pattern – A lighting pattern is a specific technique in which a light is placed in a prescribed manner for predictable and established results. Examples of these include butterfly lighting, Rembrandt lighting, and split lighting.

PC Sync Socket/Cable – The PC sync is a means to connect your camera to a flash with a cable. You can use this option in lieu of triggers.

Triggers – Triggers are devices that allow a camera to communicate with your lights and ensure that your flashes fire while the shutter is open. These range from very basic models with just one function, to complex devices that allow for full control over the settings of multiple lights.

Triggers allow your camera to communicate with your flash so that they work in sync with one another.

Slave mode – In slave mode, a flash will detect the light from another flash via a sensor and fire. This is great in situations where you have multiple lights, but only one basic trigger.

Mount – A mount is the means in which a modifier is attached to a strobe. A lot of lighting manufacturers have their own proprietary mounts associated with their systems (Bowens, Profoto, Elinchrom, etc.) So you will need to ensure that any modifier that you buy will fit the system that you own.

This is the shape of the commonplace Bowens S-mount.

Modeling light – Many strobes come fitted with two bulbs. One is a flashbulb, where your strobe light comes from, and the other is a modeling bulb that is on whenever the strobe is not flashing. This makes it easy for you to see what the light is doing to your subject. As a bonus, if you’ve cut out all ambient light (like you should in a studio environment), modeling lights give you the ability to see.

That’s a start

While this list is not, and can never be, a complete list of studio lighting equipment, it should serve as a decent primer to get you started in the world of studio photography. If you feel that I’ve missed something important, please add it in the comments below.

 

The post Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

How to Use a Photography Ring Light in Unconventional Ways

The post How to Use a Photography Ring Light in Unconventional Ways appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

With a ton of options on the market, adding a ring light to your kit has never been cheaper.

Continuous photography ring lights seem to be everywhere nowadays. There are dozens of offerings from dozens of companies that you can choose from, and they are popular with photographers, make-up artists, and videographers. The main use of a ring light is on-axis lighting for an even, somewhat flat exposure.

However, what do you do if you don’t like that effect or the distinctive ring-shaped catchlight for that matter? Because these lights are continuous, and because of their size, they have more uses than ring flashes of the past. If you don’t like the straight-on effect, you don’t have to use a ring light in that way.

In normal use, you would place the light directly in front of your subject and shoot through the aperture of the light.

This article demonstrates six uses of a continuous ring light that isn’t their intended use. It will also (hopefully) show you that these relatively cheap and effective lights are useful to have for any photographer in the studio.

Normal use

While not to the taste of many photographers, ring lights can be used to create bold and vibrant images.

If you’re unfamiliar, a ring light is a circular, ring-shaped light with a large aperture designed to be placed directly in front of a subject. You then take your images by positioning your camera through the aperture of the ring.

Traditional ring flashes had the light attached to the camera. This front (on-axis) lighting provides an evenly lit image. This is one of those things that you either love or hate, but photographers who love it tend to really love it.

Versatility

With the continuous versions of these lights, you have a wealth of options with how to use a ring light. Because the light is always on, you can position it anywhere you want. With a lot of the options on the market, this gives you a high-powered, lightweight and versatile continuous light for around $100.

Because of the brightness of a continuous ring light, your subject’s pupils will be constricted, allowing you to see more of the color in their eyes.

Here’s a bonus if you’ve never used continuous lights before. Because the output is constant, your portrait subject’s pupils get constricted. This means you will see more of the color of their eyes in your photos.

Options

Below are five examples of ways you can use a continuous ring light to great effect without ever using it as a ring light.

1. As a normal light

Placed at a 45-degree angle and angled downwards, these ring lights work well as normal light source.

Despite its circular shape, ring lights are great when used as a normal light. Raise the light and angle it towards your subject to distort the effect the shape of the light has, and you can use it as a small softbox. You’re not limited to how you can light your subject this way, but I’ve found that all of the basic lighting patterns work well.

You are not limited to the shape of the ring. Use flags to block off portions of the light to shape it however you want.

If you have more than one ring light, you can use them together to create just about any two-light setup that you can imagine. If the ones you have have an adjustable output, managing your key to fill ratios should be pretty easy.

2. As a prop

Having your subject pose with the light itself can create some interesting and fun portraits. It can also help to lighten the mood during a session.

If you have an LED ring light, they don’t get very hot. Feel free to have your subject pose with the light itself for some very different images. The results will vary with ring lights of different sizes, and you have to worry about the plug and the cables, but it’s still a fun technique. Though you probably won’t use it very often thanks to its tendency towards uplighting.

3. As ambient fill

Modern ring lights are getting quite powerful and it is more than possible to use them as fill lighting in conjunction with studio flash.

You can mix any continuous light with studio flashes for some interesting effects. By using a strobe as your key light, you can then bring a ring light in for some gentle fill.

A couple of things that you will want to keep in mind is that your strobes are probably way more powerful than your ring light, so set the power accordingly. Also, you will probably want to have a ring light with an adjustable color temperature if you are going to be mixing light sources.

You could also reverse this and use the ring light as key and flash as fill. As before, make sure the power on your strobes goes down that far before committing to this.

4. As a compositional device

Putting the light behind your subject creates an interesting tool for composition. Also, it may just be me, but I love that rim light that it is producing.

In its normal use, I am a fan of creating a composition with the actual ring light framing the subject. I just like it for whatever reason. However, you are not limited to that. You can place the ring light anywhere in your frame for some cool effects. Try placing one behind your subject for a halo effect, or placing one at an angle just inside your frame for a curved band of light running through the composition.

5. Dragging the shutter

When you’re mixing a ring light with studio flash, it opens the door to some interesting techniques like dragging the shutter. Here, flash is acting as fill and the shutter speed is set to 1/15th of a second.

This is similar to using the ring light as ambient fill, but if you use your strobe normally, you can expose for the high-powered strobe and the low-powered ring light by dragging the shutter.

This technique is not for everyone, but it can produce some interesting results.

A little warning: if you’re a technically-minded photographer, you’re probably going to hate this technique, as the results tend to be a little soft. However, it can be used for some striking results. If you do like it, you still have to be careful with controlling the movement of your camera.

You do have to manage any movement in your camera while using this technique. If in doubt, use a tripod.

Because the power output on your flash is not in any way controlled by shutter speed, you can set your shutter speed as slow as you need to make this work. However, you may want to use a tripod for really slow shutter speeds. This technique can provide some cool effects in its own right, but no two attempts are going to be the same.

That’s it

There you have it. That’s six ways that you can use a continuous ring light without ever having to use it as a ring light. Considering how cheap these things are, they are a very useful tool for any photographer who wants to get into off-camera lighting but for some reason is put off by flash.

Do you have other ways that you use a ring light? Please share with us in the comments below.

 

The post How to Use a Photography Ring Light in Unconventional Ways appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Tips to Take Better Photos in Direct Sunlight [video]

The post Tips to Take Better Photos in Direct Sunlight [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Sometimes, as photographers, we don’t always have the luxury of shooting in the lovely early morning/late afternoon light. We just have to shoot in the middle of the day where the harshest light of the direct sun exists.

In this video by Peter McKinnon, he shares his tricks on how to take better photos in direct sunlight so you don’t end up with a bunch of photos that are super-contrasty and leave your model with harsh shadows around their eyes etc.

Tips to Take Better Photos in Direct Sunlight

1. Bounce the light

You could use a reflector or bounce card. Consider using natural reflectors such as light-colored concrete. Concrete acts as a natural reflector for the sun.

2. Diffuse the light

Have someone hold a diffuser in the line of the light source coming from the sun. This will defuse the harshness of the direct sun and soften it on your subject’s face.

Find areas of shade and if

3. Use the shadows to your advantage

If you don’t have a diffuser or a friend to hold one for you and you just have to shoot in the direct sunlight, take advantage of the shadows.

Find great spots (like a staircase) that have interesting patterned shadows to create interesting effects on your subject.

4. Move your model around

Keep in mind the direction your model is facing. Have them move around, and watch how the sunlight hits their face. Have them move until you get the most flattering/even light.

 

You may also find the following helpful:

The post Tips to Take Better Photos in Direct Sunlight [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

How to Mix Lifestyle and Posed Photography Styles to Add Variety

The post How to Mix Lifestyle and Posed Photography Styles to Add Variety appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jackie Lamas.

As photographers, we take time to hone in our craft and practice many hours getting it right. When it comes to photographing people, there are two main approaches in directing clients to get the photos you want. I’ll explain the difference between both, and how to apply the two during the same session to get the most variety in the final gallery that your clients will absolutely love!

Mixing posed and lifestyle can add variety to your photos.

What is lifestyle photography?

Lifestyle photography is when you capture your clients a little more naturally than you would if you were posing them. It’s all about letting the session unfold naturally all while you photograph your couple, family, or individual being themselves.

Lifestyle can mean going for a walk through a botanical garden with your clients.

It’s also about showcasing the person in their daily life or routines too. For example, joining a family as they casually hang out at their home and bake together. Or joining a couple for coffee and a stroll through the park.

Going for coffee while you photograph your clients can also be considered lifestyle.

Lifestyle photography can be both natural or styled. Styled simply means curating the look so that even though the person is hanging out drinking coffee on their sofa, they are dressed and using items that make the photos have a cohesiveness.

Using a styled home can also offer a great location for lifestyle photos of a couple hanging out in the living room.

Much of what you see on Instagram can be considered lifestyle photography.

What is posed photography?

Posed photography is when you are directing your clients to sit, stand, and well, pose exactly how you would like them to. This gives you a more controlled and directive role in addition to being the photographer.

Directing people to pose a certain way is posed photography.

Posed photography can be really beautiful and usually lies in the editorial, fashion, or fine art styles of photography. However, posed photography can be used in every session where you want to control the final pose in your photo.

How to mix both styles to get variety

In a portrait session, it doesn’t matter if it’s family or just one person, mixing the two styles can really help add variety in the final images that you deliver to your client.

Mixing styles

When you’re starting the session, begin with posed photography because most clients are nervous at the beginning of a session. Getting them comfortable posing, and being more direct in how you want them to stand can help them to feel more comfortable in front of the camera.

The photo on the left was lifestyle, and the right is posed. Same family, same session, two different styles that add variety to the final images.

While you’re posing, show your client exactly how you want them to pose rather than merely instructing, which can get confusing.

For example, instead of saying “put your left hand on your right elbow,” you would instead go over to where they are standing and show them how you want them to put the left hand on their right elbow.

This is a quicker way to help your client visually see what you want them to do.

After you’ve posed your client enough, and they seem a little more comfortable in front of the camera, go for the lifestyle approach.

Tell your client to relax and walk around the area. If it’s a family, for example, ask them to walk and talk to each other while telling a funny joke. Make sure to keep your camera at the ready during these times. That way you can achieve photojournalistic style photos that make lifestyle so meaningful.

With children, you can capture them playing with their toys and also get posed photos during the same session.

As you go through the session, keep alternating between posed and lifestyle. You can also pose your clients, a couple, for example, so that they’re facing each other, take a few photos and then ask the couple to say one nice thing about the other.

This is a great way to transition from posed to lifestyle. You will get authentic expressions from the couple because you are putting them in a particular pose then giving them something to do that will seem natural. It’s a perfect mix of the two styles at the same time.

If you’re more comfortable with lifestyle and candid photography styles, don’t be afraid to stop your clients in mid-walk, hug, or whatever they are doing naturally to hold the pose. This is a transition from lifestyle to posed.

Mixing the two styles offers your clients more variety as well as an overall great experience. They will feel more comfortable being in front of the camera because they were allowed to be themselves while you also stopped to make sure to get posed photos as well.

Using both styles will give the session a more fluid flow and also allows your clients to have a good time during the session. This is especially important when photographing children. Letting them play and have a good time while mixing in posed photos will give them a fun experience.

In conclusion

lifestyle-and-posed-photography

Mixing the two styles, lifestyle and posed photography, will add variety to your client’s photos and will also ensure that they have a great experience without feeling stiff or uncomfortable in front of the camera.

 

The post How to Mix Lifestyle and Posed Photography Styles to Add Variety appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jackie Lamas.

Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography

The post Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

There are a lot of lighting patterns for you to use in your portrait photography. Some of these are covered quite well. Rembrandt and butterfly lighting are two that are both easy to set up and yield great results a lot of the time. Of course, you can use just one lighting pattern all of the time and build a fantastic portfolio; however, if you want to have a full skillset with a variety of techniques to use in your portraits at any time, you will want to learn and understand as many of these lighting patterns as possible.

Broad and short lighting are often clumped together because of the similarities in how they are implemented and described, but they couldn’t be more different in how they affect your images.

This article will introduce you to the broad and short lighting patterns and explain when and why you might want to use them and what you can expect to achieve while using them. These are two very easy lighting patterns that can seem confusing at first, but once you get your head around them, they give you powerful tools to help shape the light and your subjects in your photos.

What is a lighting pattern?

First, let’s start with the very basics. A lighting pattern is any named lighting setup that gives you specific results. There is a fair list of these established lighting patterns for you to learn outside of the broad and short patterns discussed here. These include Rembrandt, Butterfly, split, cross, clamshell and more. Learning and understanding these lighting patterns can act as a shortcut to helping you get great results in your portraits. These lighting patterns apply to both natural light and artificial light, so it does not matter which you prefer.

Broad and short

The names of the broad and short lighting patterns refer to which side of the subject’s face is being lit first.

Sometimes, understanding what broad and short mean in terms of lighting can be confusing. To make it as simple as possible, imagine a face turned slightly away from you. That face now has two sides divided by the nose. The side of the face that is closest to you is the broad side because you see more of it than the other. The other side, the one that’s furthest from you, is the short side.

With broad lighting, your light is going to hit the broad side (or the side that’s closest to you) of the face first.

With short lighting, your light is going to hit the short side (or the side that’s furthest from you) of the face first.

Broad lighting

Broad lighting can be used to great effect to help widen faces or give you more contrast than some other lighting patterns.

When you choose to light the broad side of the face, it has several effects on your image. These include:

  • Broad lighting widens the face.
  • Broad lighting usually throws the short side of the face in shadow (dependent on light placement).
  • Broad lighting provides more contrast than some lighting patterns like butterfly lighting.

When you want to use it

Because broad lighting tends to broaden (go figure) the face, you’ll want to use broad lighting when you’re photographing subjects with a narrow face. Using it on subjects with a wider face can exaggerate that shape and you’ll want to avoid it there.

If there’s a feature on one side of your subjects face that you want to take the emphasis away from, you can pose your subject so that feature is on the short side of their face and use broad lighting to ensure that it’s in shadow, taking the emphasis away.

How to set it up

Setting up for broad lighting couldn’t be easier. Just have your subject turn away from the key light until you have the desired effect.

While there is no one way to set up broad lighting, here is a basic method to get you started.

As in the diagram above, place your light forty-five degrees from your subject. Ensure that you have your subject’s face posed away from the light source.

It really is as easy as that. Just remember that you can control the transition from highlight to shadow by changing the distance of the light from your subject and by using different modifiers.

Next steps

Adding fill to your broad lighting can help with extreme contrast while still retaining shadows for depth.

Lighting patterns are a starting point. This isn’t a zero-sum game. To take your broad lighting setups further, feel free to experiment with fill light. You can use reflectors or a second light to lift up the shadows and reduce the contrast in your images for more flattering portraits. Conversely, you can also choose to emphasize the shadows and the contrast for darker, bolder portraits. The best advice here is to know what result you are after before you start.

With a reflector as fill, you can now control the overall contrast in the image.

Short Lighting

Short lighting (depending on variables like your modifiers) tends to lend itself to dark, shadow-heavy imagery. This makes it the perfect lighting pattern when creating low-key images.

When you choose to light the short side of the face first, it also has several effects on your portraits:

  • Short lighting narrows the face.
  • Short lighting will throw the broad side of the face in shadow.
  • Short lighting provides heavy contrast and is ideal for low-key images. It is also useful when you are trying to create images with a lot of depth.
  • Short lighting can be used to hide imperfections.

How to set it up

Again, there is no one way to go about a short lighting setup.

Short lighting is trickier to set up than broad, but take your time and be deliberate in where the light is hitting your subject.

For this example, start with your light source forty-five degrees to your subject just like you did for the broad lighting setup. This time, have your subject face towards the light. If you have a modeling light, or you’re using natural light, watch the highlights on your subjects face carefully. Either move the light or your subject until the brightest part of your subject’s face is the short side.

Tip: If you’re having trouble seeing the contrast with your eyes, you can squint. I can’t even begin to tell you why this works, but it does. Squinting makes it far easier to see the contrast in a scene with your eyes.

That’s it. While short lighting is slightly trickier than broad lighting, it is still easy to accomplish. Once you have it figured out, it will become second nature.

Next steps

Because short lighting tends to be heavy on the shadows, you can use as much fill as you want to control them. Use a reflector for a gentle lift, or a second light to bring them close to the other tones in your images.

Since short lighting is so shadow-centric, you will almost certainly want to use fill light to control the contrast in normal situations. You can use a reflector, but if your shadows are quite deep, you may want to opt for fill light. Try exposing your fill light three stops less than your key (your main light) to retain your shadows while ensuring that all of the details are still there.

Using a reflector lifts the shadows in this example, but retains enough contrast for depth.

End matter

There you have it; two basic, but powerful lighting patterns that you can use to create bold dynamic portraits. I encourage you to go out and practice with each of these set-ups. Experiment liberally with your distances between your light and subject and try as many different fill lighting techniques that you can come up with. Once you have the basics down; if you want a real challenge: use the short lighting pattern to create a high key image.

 

The post Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

How to Build a Bench Prop for Great Portrait Photos

The post How to Build a Bench Prop for Great Portrait Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

When I got started with family and child photography, I thought I had all my bases covered. Between my cameras, lenses, locations, and shot lists, I figured I was all set to create some amazing portraits that families would treasure for generations. Then I ran head-first into a practical problem for which I didn’t really have a good solution; where do people sit? All the camera gear in the world won’t help on location with no place for parents, kids, or high school seniors to sit and pose for their pictures. I finally made my own solution, which has performed flawlessly, and it’s something you can make in an afternoon with a few tools you might already have in your garage.

Before I built benches like this, I tried to use things I had around, such as bar stools, folding chairs, and even our living room coffee table. None of these really worked well or looked very professional. Once I realized I could construct my own bench props, my portraits improved almost immediately.

This tutorial is going to cover a sturdy single-person bench 16 inches high, 16 inches deep, and 18 inches wide. This design is easy to customize if you want something wider, deeper or shorter, but it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for a simple one-person option.

This boy is on a wider version of the bench you’ll build in this tutorial.

Materials needed

The wood and hardware you need to construct a photo bench are pretty minimal:

  • Two 2×4’s, 8-feet long
  • 3/4-inch thick wood, 8-feet long and 11-inches wide. I like to use low-grade utility shelving but any similar wood will work just fine.
  • 1.5-inch Deck Screws
  • A saw to cut the wood

The boards on the right, plus some screws, are all you need to build the bench on the left. It’s an easy afternoon project and your clients will appreciate having this highly practical prop. I spent about $40 on the four pieces of wood at a local lumber yard.

The following tools will help you with the construction process, but your own situation might be different. These are what I used, but feel free to adapt as necessary. For instance, you could use a circular saw instead of a miter saw. This is a fun project to do with someone else, so if you don’t have any of these tools, you could ask a friend for help.

  • Miter saw
  • Table saw
  • Drill
  • Sandpaper or electric sander
  • Kreg Jig*
  • Kreg Jig screws 2.5-inches in length with coarse threads*
  • If you don’t use a Kreg Jig, you will need additional deck screws 2.5-inches in length.
  • Wood glue (optional)

A table saw is really useful for ripping the utility shelving to a uniform width of 3 inches.

*A Kreg Jig is a staple of a lot of DIY projects, but if you don’t have one already you probably don’t need to buy one just for this photo bench. Traditional wood screws will suffice just fine.

A view of the bench from below. You could probably construct it out of thinner, lighter materials but it would be far less durable.

Phase 1: Cut the wood

For this photo bench you will need to cut the following pieces of wood in the lengths listed below.

A miter saw makes this project a lot easier, but other cutting tools would suffice just fine too.

  • 2×4 boards, 7.5-inches long – 5 pieces
  • 2×4 boards, 15-inches long – 4 pieces
  • 2×4 boards, 15.5-inches long – 4 pieces
  • 3/4-inch thick boards, 3-inches wide and 16-inches long – 8 pieces
  • 3/4-inch thick boards, 3-inches wide and 18-inches long – 12 pieces

It’s a lot easier to cut everything first and then assemble the bench all at once.

Phase 2: Build the frame

If you have a Kreg Jig, you can use it here to construct the frame of the bench. But if not, you can just use traditional screws. If you want to have an extra-secure hold, you could use wood glue at the joints as well, but it’s not necessary. I would recommend against using nails though, as they’re going to wiggle loose over time and you want this bench to be as sturdy as possible.

A Kreg Jig is really useful but not necessary.

If you’re going with this method you’ll need to use your Kreg Jig to drill two pocket holes in each end of the 15-inch, 2×4 boards.

15-inch boards with two pocket holes in each end.

When you’re done putting pocket holes in the 15-inch boards you’ll repeat the process with the 7-inch boards.

7-inch boards with two pocket holes in each end.

Once your pocket holes are ready you can start assembling the frame of the bench. Secure a 15.5-inch board to each end of one of the 15-inch boards to make a U-shape.

This shape will form one side of the bench.

Repeat the process with the other two 15.5-inch board and another 15-inch board. When you’re done you will have two identical U-shapes.

Both sides of the bench, not yet attached to each other.

If you don’t have a Kreg Jig, or don’t want to go to the trouble of using pocket holes, you can use regular screws to attach the 15.5-inch boards to the 15-inch board. As long as you end up with two U-shaped pieces as shown above, you’ll be just fine.

After you get the U-shapes constructed, attach the other 15-inch board on the open end, but rotate it 90-degrees as shown below.

Attach the second 15-inch board to the open side of each U-shape.

Repeat this step with the other U-shape, which will give you two of these square pieces as you can see in the following image.

These form the sides of the bench, and you’ll need to attach them by first securing all the 7-inch boards to one side.

I find it easiest to attach all five of the 7-inch boards to one side, and then attach that entire assembly to the other side.

Again, I like to use a Kreg Jig and pocket holes, but you can just as easily use regular deck screws to do this. Don’t worry too much about appearances either, as if you use deck screws you won’t really see them in the finished product. They will be covered up with the slats you will attach in Phase 3.

The finished frame, upside down on my table saw which doubles as a small workbench.

If you do end up using pocket holes, you might find yourself working in some really cramped conditions when you insert the screws. A right-angle attachment for your drill can be a huge lifesaver in this step! Once you’re all done, flip the contraption over, and you’re all set for attaching the slats to the sides.

The brace in the middle gives the bench an extra measure of support. Kids can jump on this thing all day long and it won’t be harmed.

It’s important to know that this bench is designed to be sturdy as well as aesthetically pleasing, as you can see in the photo above. You might be able to find something similar at a store but it probably won’t be built this solidly. Also, it won’t stand up to years of use and abuse.

Note also the extra 7-inch board on top, which you can see in the above photo. This helps give even more structural support to the bench so it won’t buckle under the weight of people using it over the years.

Phase 3: Attach the slats

Once you have the basic frame built, you can get a little creative in how you want to finish everything off. I like to attach the boards about 1/2-inch apart, but you can space yours closer or farther. I wouldn’t go too far though, especially on the top where people will be sitting.

Attaching the boards is pretty simple: just place them where you want them to go and attach with deck screws. Other types of screws would work too, but I like deck screws because they are self-tapping and hold very firmly. Nails might work for this step, but I prefer deck screws because of their firmer hold.

I like to use four slats on each side as well as the top and space them about a 1/2-inch apart. But, this is also up to you. You might use fewer boards and make them wider. Or you may use several thin boards, or one giant board covering the entire surface. It’s up to you, and don’t be afraid to get a little creative. In this example, the 18-inch boards get attached to the front, top, and rear while the 16-inch boards go on the sides.

Drilling pilot holes will extend the work time required for this step, but it helps ensure the wood doesn’t crack and split when you insert the screws. When finished, all the basic work is done.

In the background, you can see a bench with some holes I cut out to make it easier to carry.

I recommend sanding the entire bench to smooth out any rough edges. If you have a jig saw you can cut holes for carrying as you can see in the photo above.

Phase 4: Finishing

Now that you’ve constructed the basic bench, the sky is your only limit in terms of how you want the final product to look. I like to use tea-staining, which is inexpensive, non-toxic, and gives a lovely aged look to the wood. The results are inconsistent though, so you might prefer actual wood stain or even paint.

This is your chance to customize the look of your bench, so have fun and get creative!

Your clients will appreciate having a nice place to sit, stand, or otherwise pose when you are taking their pictures. And as a bonus, they’ll be doubly impressed when you tell them you made the bench all by yourself!

We’d love to see some pictures of your bench once you build it. Please share with us in the comments below.

 

The post How to Build a Bench Prop for Great Portrait Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Simon Ringsmuth.

Your Guide to Posing Bands in Photography

The post Your Guide to Posing Bands in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Getting your favorite band into your photo studio might sound like a dream come true – but could quickly turn into a disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing! Not all bands know how to pose or position themselves for photographs, and it’s your job as a photographer to direct them. So before you find yourself having a crisis – unsure of how to properly get bands set up for their epic promotional shoot – check out your guide to posing bands in photography!

How is band photography different from other group photography?

I hear this question a lot in my line of work. How does band photography differ from, say, a group portrait at a sports game or a family reunion? Well, the short answer is – the intent is different. Though all types of photographs tell a story, band photography has to sell both the image and idea of the band. The poses, styling, arrangement, lighting, and everything in between is akin to the marketing of the music group itself. To make this even more complex, the audience members have to develop the right preconceived idea of what the music will sound like based on the picture! This is the same principle that is applied to album artwork.

Aimee Saturne

As well as this, the connection between all of the members in the band is different than that of family members or a sports team. Bands can be a complex series of relationships, some akin to kinship, others to sibling rivalry, and some can even be likened to business partners. Whichever is true for the band you are photographing, that unique relationship will come out in the photographs.

Does the genre of music affect the pose?

DIM7

In short, yes and no. The genre of music can impact every facet of the image, but not necessarily. Doubling back to the idea that a photograph of a band needs to sell their music, the genre portrayal can be a fundamental part of that goal. For example, metal music has a much darker, harder, and tougher edge to it than, say, a girl pop band.

Much of how I figure out how to pose bands has to do with three key factors:

  1. What is the stereotypical image for that genre? (This being said, the image does not have to be stereotypical – but there are some specific poses to include if you want to really push on the fact that the band plays a specific type of music).
  2. What image does the music evoke? (I find that closing my eyes and listening to some of the key songs pointed out by the band can provide a lot of inspiration. Music and imagery tie together, and whatever image is evoked by the sound is one that you should likely follow).
  3. What is the story the band wants to convey with their presence?

Aimee Saturne

Here is an example of how these three questions can drive a photo shoot.

Say that a five-piece, all-female symphonic metal band approaches you, with a melancholy and dark sound, whose story revolves around pagan rituals. With this in mind, the posing will likely be more rigid with the band members standing in a crescent formation due to the ritualistic nature. Their chins will likely be a bit lower down with a very slight hunch and legs tightly placed together, and eyes are looking directly towards the camera (whilst the face is slightly lower down).

Likewise, say an all-male pop duo approaches you with a very light-hearted, summer, beach feel to their music, with a tagline revolving around living every day in the moment. The posing will be very loose, fun, and expressive – likely a popular choice would be to place the two lads back to back with them looking over their shoulders at one another laughing and the arms placed in very relaxed positions.

As a photographer, much of our jobs revolve around bringing a static visual image to an ever-moving description.

Chasing Desolation

To express why genre doesn’t necessarily have to affect the pose, not all bands fall perfectly within a box.

That’s a good thing. Art shouldn’t always be easily categorized.

As such, some acts defy traditional rules and do not follow convention. Their images won’t follow convention either, and the posing may change drastically from the usual.

Common posing qualms

Of course, posing groups of people isn’t without its troubles.

Here are some of the most common posing “uh-ohs” you might encounter (with solutions, of course):

Not all of the band members are a similar height – someone might be very short or extremely tall

This is a very common situation you’ll encounter. Luckily, there are some clever solutions!

Firstly, if your band promotional image doesn’t include full body shots, simply place the member(s) on boxes (often called ‘apples’ in studios) that even-out their height.

If the band does want full body shots, play with perspective. Place the taller members further in the back and the shorter members closer to the front. A reverse V or U shape is an excellent idea!

Thirdly, get creative with levels and props. My go-to – which tends to receive favorable reviews – is to place one member sitting on a chair and pose the rest of the band around the chair. The taller members can crouch on the ground at the corners of the chair while the shorter members can stand around the chair. The frontman or frontwoman sits in the chair.

You can achieve a similar effect by posing on stairs, walls, rocks, or anything that allows one person to sit while the rest are crouched or standing.

Killin’ Candace

Everyone is wearing the same color clothing

I photograph primarily heavy metal and rock music, so this is something I deal with daily. Everyone wants to wear black in a black studio, against a black wall. The result, when done right, is super cool. However, when done wrong, the image suffers from “floating head” syndrome.

The real key here is to ensure that every article of clothing is a different texture from one another. Everyone can wear the same color, but try to encourage the band to wear different textures.

For example, a shiny top with matte pants works great. If a band member has both a matte top and matte pants, throw in a textured scarf or a tie to break it up. Jewelry is also a great idea. The point is, the colors can all be the same, but the way the clothing photographs must be different from one another. This can affect pose positioning as well, as you don’t want the same texture to cross one another and look flat in an image.

You can also use lighting to help separate the subject from the background. For example, shoot your studio lighting behind the band so that it creates a rim light, which pushes them off of the studio wall.

Our Dying World

Someone is dressed elaborately and someone is not

Sometimes, a band member overdresses while others underdress. If you can’t swap out wardrobes or add accessories, then get extremely creative with posing.

When I was pursuing my visual communications degree, I had a wonderful professor drill into my head that the key to an effective image is having the viewer’s eye move around the entire frame rather than settle on one central point.

A great way to get the viewer to take in the entire image rather than settle on one point is to place the elaborately dressed band members around the less-elaborately dressed members on opposite ends.

Another solution is to use the flashy wardrobe to create lines that the viewer can follow throughout the image. A good way to create a line is to have the overdressed band member stretch an arm out to the other band members to encourage the eye to travel.

Bullet Height

You are shooting a large piece band in a small, constricted space

If you do backstage photography, you’ll run head-on into this issue (especially in Los Angeles. Unless the band is in a major theater like The Hollywood Bowl, your backstage experience will be cramped. Trust me on this one). The most efficient way to utilize small spaces is posing the band in levels. Have some crouching and some standing, some leaning on walls and some stretched on the floor! Think of keeping everyone in a square image ratio format. You’ll be able to pose even 11-piece bands in a small space (I’ve done it!).

Trash Deity

How does the lighting affect the pose?

The lighting you are using will make a difference in how you pose the band. If you’re shooting outdoors and are at the mercy of natural lighting (but don’t have a reflector), you will need to adjust head, hand, arm, and leg positions in order to make the best of the conditions you are working with.

For example, if you ended up shooting at high noon, keep chins up to avoid unflattering shadows on the neck. Likewise, make sure hands aren’t hidden in shadows so that they do not appear too dark.

Jyrki 69

If you are in the studio with more controlled light, this becomes a bit easier – assuming you have enough lights! Work with what you have, and find creative ways to pose the musicians in order to illuminate them in the most flattering way. If you don’t have enough lighting units to capture certain poses, avoid them altogether (unless you are a whiz at post-processing!).

Karim Ortega

(Pssst: reflectors are your best friend! Both indoors and outdoors. In outdoor situations, these help control the light. In indoor situations, if you don’t have enough budget for additional studio lights, you can use reflectors to bounce light and help it stretch further. Reflectors are budget-friendly solutions, and can even be made at home if you are DIY-savvy).

Is hierarchy in a band a real thing?  

Athanasia

With some bands, it definitely is! Generally, you want the frontman or frontwoman as the center of attention with the rest of the band members posed around. Some bands have more than one vocalist, and often the vocalists tend to be the central figures (not to be confused with importance. All members are important. A band does not function without all of its contributing talents). Guitarists and bassists tend to find themselves beside the singers naturally, and other instruments such as percussion and keys even further off to the sides.

Bullet Height

Most of the bands that step into the studio are live performers; that is, they have experience playing on a stage together. As such, the first thing I do is have them stand in my studio the way that they would arrange themselves on stage. I use that as the basis of where I pose everyone in the lineup. Many bands organically step into the spots that they are meant to stand in.

Posing a solo musician

Brandon Rage

Posing a solo musician opens up a door of massive possibility. Very little is out of your control here. However, remember, because you are photographing only one person, try to give the image as much interest and life as possible. Images are static; we have to make them move. The more dynamic the pose, the better, and the benefit of music photography is that you can get super-quirky with it!

Grant Webb

Remember that traditional posing rules also apply here. Flattering angles and flattering poses. Try to avoid harsh shadows on parts of the face or body that may make someone appear different than they are.

Aimee Saturne

Mess around with props as well. Props are great ways to give a client something to do with their hands or legs. They can also make an uncomfortable or nervous client much more comfortable as they have something to which to focus. Don’t assume that because a client is a musician that they love getting photographed – not everyone does. It’s your job to give them the best experience possible and make them love being in front of the camera with you.

Aaron Lee

My technique is to shoot with a high shutter speed and have the musician constantly move and change poses, encouraging even the weirdest of ideas to come through. More often than not, the weirder it seems, the better it looks. Also, making the client move continuously keeps them from pausing and overthinking.

… with instruments

Alexx Calise

Including their instrument is a common request from musicians, especially solo artists. Band photography often steps into the realm of endorsement photography for the various instrument companies that may be sponsoring the project. With solo artists, it’s fairly easy to get them posed with their instruments as you don’t have to consider the spacing with other band members.

Alex Crescioni

The key with instruments, however, is to ensure that the instrument does not cover any important parts of the musician’s body such as their face! The instrument should fit in very organically and not feel forced or uncomfortable. It’s okay to have the band member pose with, say, a guitar hanging just a bit lower than they play it – as long as everything looks natural.

Ace Von Johnson

Commonly, I have the musician play the instrument to feel more comfortable with the lens being there. Often, those candid moments look amazing.

Arielle Silver

Posing an odd number of persons

Posing an odd number of people in a band is arguably the easiest (outside of a solo musician). This is because you can adhere to many of the traditional (and very effective) band poses, such as the “U” formation, the “V” formation, and anything else that pushes the lead member to the front. The lead member that stands in front of the rest is a great baseline to use to pose the remaining band members. Moreover, you tend to keep your composition more even on either side as a result.

Athanasia

However, don’t let this fact make you lazy. Just because you can do a traditional “crowding around the lead” shot, doesn’t mean you should make it boring! After all, you’re photographing bands – play with various facets of music photography and keep it interesting.

… with instruments

The addition of instruments might seem daunting, but this is a brilliant opportunity to use the lines of the instruments to have your viewer’s eyes move around the frame. As well as that, this allows you to use the instruments as a way to direct the attention to the lead of the band.

Posing an even number of persons

Zeistencroix

The most common even-number band is two. I love posing two-person bands. There is such a dynamic range of posing you can do. The connection between each member in a two-person band is also really cool and unique. There are lots to play off here. Honestly, get as quirky with this as possible!

Batfarm

An added benefit to two-people bands is that they don’t take up much space. Whether you’re in a studio or an outdoor location, two people take up less space than three or more. You can fit in a lot of wickedly cool shots in smaller spots.

Ascent

The main things to remember are that both members need an even amount of attention in the images. Don’t try to have one overpower the other. It doesn’t look right in an image.

Our Dying World

Now, the difficult even-number bands are those of four, six, or eight members. The primary difficulty is that you can no longer arrange them in “V” formations or have one member in front of the other because there isn’t an odd number! As such, try staircase poses or diagonal lines. You don’t want either side of the frame to feel too empty or too busy; you have to even it all out.

The addition of a prop is an excellent idea to even out the composition. I like to pose even-number bands in a more square-ratio (and this isn’t just because of the rise of Instagram). This gives you more options for dynamic posing and is a good baseline to help pose even-numbered bands.

… with instruments

Much like with just the band members themselves, use the addition of instruments to comply with a square posing ratio even further. If you pose everyone straight, make sure that you have enough room for the guitar and bass necks. You can play with levels here too, like in the example image below.

Our Dying World

Bonus tips:

  • Straight backs! Pay attention to your client’s back and shoulders. If they are arching, straighten them out unless you’re going way more vogue and odd. In that case, over-exaggerate the arch.

Alex Crescioni

  • Make sure there is nothing in anyone’s pockets. You will thank me for this one in the editing room.
  • Don’t allow someone’s pose to block out a key part of another person’s body.

Brandon Rage

  • For the “stretching arms towards camera” pose, have the band member cheat and keep the arm lower. It may feel counterintuitive, but if they stretch out towards you organically, their face will be blocked.
  • Pay attention to how poses cast shadows on oneself and the people around them.

Final takeaway

In conclusion, all great posing arrangements start with a deep understanding of what your client is wanting and needing. Don’t be afraid to have some fun with it, but keep everything cool, flattering, and most of all – epic. This is the music industry after all!

Do you have any other tips to add to this guide for posing bands in photography? If so, please share with us in the comments below (and your band photos)!

 

The post Your Guide to Posing Bands in Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

How to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow Photography [video]

The post How to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video by Shutterstock Tutorials, Robbie Janney shows you how to create dramatic portraits with shadow photography by using everyday objects to create those shadows.

Shadow portraits

If you are after something different to do with your portraits, using shadows can create dramatic effects and make your photos stand out.

Shadow photography is an interesting niche to explore. You can achieve it by doing the following:

What you need:

  • A hard key light
  • A backlight (like a Quasar or similar)
  • Backdrop
  • Some cool household items that light can pass through (colanders, wicker baskets, film strips etc.

When shooting through the objects, the light can become softer instead of the hard light you are trying to achieve. This problem can be attributed to the light source’s aperture. Similar to your camera, when you want an image with nice sharp edges, you close your aperture to one of its smallest settings.

It’s the same with your light source. Just in this instance, you’re limiting the amount of light being put out, not absorbed. This limits the amount of diffraction that your light projects creating a harsher shadow when passing through your opaque object.

Most lights won’t have an aperture setting, so to cut down the beam of light, cut a hole in a piece of black cardboard and put that close to your light source using a stand to narrow the light beam. You can even change the shape of the hole in your cardboard for different effects.

Once you have your studio setup, and light ready, get creative with your shots by changing up the angle of light, subject, or the type of object you are sending the light through.

Experiment to get your best shots.

Have fun and share your shots in the comments below.

 

You may also find the following helpful:

 

The post How to Create Dramatic Portraits with Shadow Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits

The post How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

I’ve grown to really love making portraits of people. My preferred way of working is on location with my natural light outdoor studio.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Two Karen Men

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

For many years I had a dedicated studio set up in my home. During this time I hosted many travelers who passed through Chiang Mai. I made photographs of them all and we had a lot of fun making them. However, I was never so comfortable using studio strobes inside as I am working with my outdoor studio.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Indoor Studio Portraits

Indoor studio portraits. © Kevin Landwer-Johan

Inspired by Vogue photographer, Irving Penn

Early on in my photography experience, I became aware of American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009). He’s celebrated as one of Vogue magazine’s top photographers. Penn produced more covers for them than any other photographer over the 60 years he worked with the magazine.

Fashion photography has never been much of an interest for me. What attracted me to Penn’s mastery was the portraits he made outside his magazine work. Often he would stay on in these exotic locations where his assignments took him, and he’d make portraits of the locals.

He outlines some of these experiences in his book ‘Worlds in a Small Room.’ In the book, he tells how he developed a portable daylight studio he could set up on location. This allowed him control of the background and lighting.

Living in northern Thailand, I have opportunities to visit mountain villages and photograph indigenous hill tribe peoples. So I decided to design and build my own portable daylight portrait studio.

Setting my studio up in villages allows me to make studio portraits of people as they remain in their own environments.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Three Karen Men

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

How I designed and built my outdoor studio

This was a completely DIY project, so you could easily copy the idea and make your own.

My studio has metamorphosed over the years. It now comprises of:

  • Three stainless steel tube uprights
  • One black and one white background
  • A shade cloth above the backgrounds
  • Reflectors
  • A bunch of clips, ropes, steel rods, and tent pegs
How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Outdoor Studio Materials

Everything for my outdoor studio.

Because I often work alone my studio needed to be easily portable, unlike Penn’s which was large, bulky and required several assistants to set it up. I had to sacrifice size to make it practical. You could design a larger, less-portable studio for use in your backyard.

Originally I made upright supports using fiberglass tent poles. These proved too flimsy, so I replaced them with more sturdy stainless steel. I have also enlarged the background area and included a white background. My initial design only had a short black background. Now I also use reflectors to enhance and balance the light.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Control natural light using an outdoor studio

I prefer to set the studio up in the morning or later in the afternoon. If the sun is too high overhead, the light is more difficult to work with.

Choosing a location where the sun will be behind the backdrop is important. This helps to provide a hair light. The piece of thin grey nylon fabric I set up above the backdrops softens this hair light.

If the ground where I’m setting up is bare earth, that is perfect. Light reflects off the light colored soil up into the faces of my subjects. This is good for Asian skin tones, but not so good for Caucasians as it has a slight yellow/orange tone.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Lahu Man Smoking

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

When I have to set up on a lawn, I lay down some white or light tan plastic sheeting to provide some uplighting. Without this, the grass would reflect an unpleasant green cast onto the people’s faces.

In the early days of using my studio, this was all I did to manipulate the light. Now I also use a large foldable reflector to bounce more light onto my subjects. This gives a little more control of the shadows.

The background fabric is a very stretchy polyester. It does not wrinkle and can be pulled tight between the uprights, so it’s flat. Behind the black background, I add a sheet of thick black polythene sheeting. This completely blocks out the sun which would otherwise partially shine through the fabric.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Using the Outdoor Studio

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Balancing the light

Your exposure settings are critical. A lot of light shines through the white background, while none shines through the black. Including too much of either background in your exposure calculations will result in an underexposed or overexposed subject.

You need to take your exposure reading from your subject’s face only. Using manual mode, once you have it set correctly, you won’t need to change it unless the light changes. This will happen if the sun goes behind a cloud or you bounce more light onto your subject with the reflector.

You can use the same exposure settings for both backgrounds because the light on your subject’s face does not change.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Kayan Long Neck Woman on a White Background

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

If you take a light reading from the white background, you will see it is far brighter than your subject. Taking a reading from the black background will show there’s much less light reflecting off it than your subject. These contrasts help you achieve a pure white and pure black background.

The thin fabric above the background reduces the light and prohibits full sunshine from affecting your subject. You need to make sure your subject is not too far from the background; otherwise, the sunlight might hit their head directly.

How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits Two Kayan Long Neck Girls

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Make your own outdoor studio

Putting together your own outdoor studio is relatively easy and cheap. You can use it anywhere there’s sufficient space. You don’t need to buy expensive lighting equipment or have a large studio space. The materials are inexpensive, and it’s portable so that you can use it anywhere.

Working outside you are reliant on good weather. It’s best when the sun is shining, but you can still use it under an overcast sky.

Photographing with available light is so much fun, especially when you have a little control over how it affects your subjects.

We’s love to see photos of your outdoor studio in the comments below.

 

The post How To Use an Outdoor Studio for Natural Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

Makeup! Before I took photographs (and as a guy), I rarely used or had to use makeup, so I had very limited personal experience with it. That being said, I have taken portrait photographs of beautiful women that have been professionally made up, and I can honestly say it really makes a difference through the lens of a camera.

The best makeup is always barely noticeable – you only focus on the subject. It is truly a skill to do makeup well. Getting a good makeup artist to help with your portraits will always make the images better. However, in many cases, a makeup artist is not available, so the next best thing is to do it yourself to help deal with specific issues and get better results.

Made up Model

Best results

For the best portrait shooting results, you want subjects that are well rested and healthy. You also want interesting locations, great lighting, and skill behind the camera.

Although the last three are things you have control over, you generally have limited control over your subjects.

Other than suggesting your subjects be well hydrated and rested, there is little you can do to change your given subjects. Makeup can help improve the overall appearance of your subject by balancing skin tones, correcting most skin imperfections and even change the perceived shape of a subject’s face.

Well-applied makeup will also boost the effects of good lighting and minimize retouching.

Same model different makeup

Nothing new

Fashion and glamour photographers have long known the benefits of makeup and often employ a makeup artist on their sets. Most portrait photographers don’t have the budget or benefit of a makeup artist on location particularly if you are only doing one or two portraits.

Usually, the portrait photographer is working with the makeup that the subject shows up with (or lack thereof).

Any corrections are often done in post-production to deal with shine, blotchy skin, and uneven skin tones.

However, with a few makeup items supplied and a bit of practice, any photographer can develop enough skill to apply basic makeup and improve a portrait straight out of the camera (SOOC).

All subjects benefit from a little makeup (female, male and other), as long as they are human.

Even males benefit from a little makeup

Basic requirements

Let’s consider the basics of a useful makeup kit, simple application techniques, and hygiene requirements.  Makeup artists will spend lots of money on equipping their kits, but you only need a few items to apply simple makeup before a portrait session.

There are, however, two important things you need to consider before putting together your own makeup kit.

Makeup will make many women feel special

First, poor quality products generate poor results. You don’t need to purchase the very best products but getting cosmetics from a reputable makeup store, a cosmetics counter at a department store or a pharmacy with a larger cosmetics section will produce better results. You can purchase online, but it is best if you know what you are getting.

As a male photographer purchasing cosmetics, be prepared for comments from some stores about getting stuff for your wife or girlfriend mostly because men buying makeup is less common.

Men will often be unaccustomed with makeup

Secondly, people are becoming more considerate of products that have fewer animal byproducts and are free of animal testing. Most people do not want weird stuff on their faces, and you will want to be respectful of people’s wishes.

Brushes and applicators

Ideally, you should have three brushes – a face brush, blush or powder brush, and a concealer brush. Brushes need to be soft durable and able to be easily cleaned. Generally, it is a good practice to purchase good quality synthetic brushes. Always ensure that the larger brushes are very soft and pliable.

Brushes and Applicators

The face brush is the largest and fluffiest of all the makeup brushes. They are often about 2 inches wide with bristles curves into a rounded shape.  The blush or powder brush is a medium-sized soft brush that is about 1 inch wide with curved edges. The third brush is a concealer or lip brush which is small, about 0.25 to 0.5 inches wide with tapered ends.

In addition to brushes, wedge-shaped disposable sponges are handy for all sorts of things. Cotton swabs are indispensable but buy a brand name because inexpensive bands tend to cause more of a mess than they clean up. Disposable hand towels (thicker than paper towels) are useful for cleaning up. Finally, blotting film or facial blotting paper is the last disposable item you need for a brush/applicator.

The cosmetics

Although there is a lot of makeup out there, this kit is not intended to replace a makeup artist, it is just to help you, so you can get away with a surprisingly small collection of cosmetics to pull it together. There may be additional things but start with the basics.

Cosmetics

Translucent loose-setting powder will have a very light skin tone color in the jar but applies neutrally on almost all skin tones. These powders are often mineral based.

Concealer is an inexpensive staple for any makeup kit. You can get smaller collections, but often you can get a wheel or concealer palette that has multiple colors to adjust for skin tones.

Blush or bronzer is used to give the cheeks a little color and make you look a little suntanned as well.

Rice powder is a very fine, light, loose white or very pale powder use for absorbing excess oils and highlighting features. It should almost be invisible and is not expensive.

Lip gloss can be super simple and does not need to be a bold color. Just a simple stick of clear lip gloss or slightly tinted balms will do the job.

Great results straight out of the camera

Cleaning and sanitizing products

For non-makeup people, the importance of cleaning up hands, brushes, and cosmetics cannot be understated. You really need to keep everything clean, particularly if you intend to use the makeup for more than one person (but even then you need to clean up your brushes).

Key staples are hand sanitizer, a brush cleaner (baby shampoo will do), and a cosmetic sanitizer. Use unscented hand sanitizer to keep your hands clean before and after every makeup application.

The brush cleaner is essential to keep the brushes functional. Finally, the cosmetic sanitizer gets applied to the cosmetics after use. Isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle works but tends to discolor the makeup with repeated use. It is best to get a proper sanitizing mister made especially for cosmetic products.

Makeup as an art

Applying makeup takes skill. To become skilled, you need to practice. Before you start applying makeup to a paying subject, you need to practice on someone who doesn’t mind you practicing on them. There is a reason why makeup artists are paid well for their work. It is hard, and they make it look easy.

Couples will enjoy it too

Conclusion of Part I

With all this equipment you are ready to help your clients look better for their portraits. In part 2, we cover the techniques and basic skills to apply makeup to your clients. The intent is not to make you a makeup artist, but to help smooth features and improve the look of your portraits straight out of the camera. That way, you don’t have to spend a lot of time post-processing your images.

It doesn’t replace a true makeup artist’s work

 

The post Makeup Essentials for Photographers Part I – The Tools appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Mark C Hughes.

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