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Tips for Planning and Capturing a Creative Portrait

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

There is saying, in the photography world, that an image can be taken in a hundred different ways. This is especially true, as you have probably already noticed when capturing portraits.

Portrait photography is probably the most popular genre, within the realm of the diverse world that is the art of photography. People take portraits so frequently, snapping selfies or photos of their loved ones, with mobile phones or cameras. In any case, this is pretty much what portrait photography is all about, capturing people’s faces.

However, as photographers, you will always be striving for higher excellence, whatever the style of your photography. It’s a natural cause, this is one of the reasons why photography is artistry. The drive for capturing better images, in the field of portrait photography, will eventually lead you to a higher dimension where you won’t be satisfied with just capturing a face, but rather the soul of your subject.

creative portrait of a woman

Lonely young and beautiful woman seating in a bar, next to a piano and a bottle of champagne, of 1920s time period. The woman is dressed in 1920s black evening dress and Gatsby-style diadem on her hair, there is a large old rusted window in the background where blue evening light invades the scene.

This dimension in photography is where creativity lay hidden. It waits to be unleashed by forces such as knowledge and the inspiration gathered along the way, as you were growing as a photographer. So let’s embark on a quest which will help you harvest the power of creativity in photographing portraits and escape the ordinary.

In the list below, you’ll learn the main ingredients that will help you harvest this creative force and take you to another level with your portrait photography.


Know the equipment you work with well. This is the baseline from where you need to start. Technical knowledge may not seem connected to art at first, but let’s examine the image below.

creative self portrait

Self-portrait with creative lighting involving a continuous light and a studio strobe.

This image was captured with a single exposure and there weren’t any alterations applied to it in Photoshop. A second curtain flash technique with slow shutter speed created the effect here. Camera White Balance was set to tungsten and the key light colored with CTO – to balance the colors with gels.

Self portrait lighting diagram

Surely you have noticed how technical knowledge and art correlate. Be it your camera settings, lens, or strobe lights, the more you know about your equipment the more options you’ll end up having to explore in bringing your artwork to realization.

Selecting the right faces, exploring your model’s hidden potential

Most photographers create their best work by working on personal projects. When working on a personal project, you’ll have the full control to choose the model sitting in front of your camera – you are the Art Director.

There are faces full of potential, although they are not faces of professional models (it could be people you see in the public transport or the streets), revealing great characters and features. You need to be able to see this potential and invite such people for a portrait photo session.

Keep in mind that although a person looks great, he or she may not feel comfortable sitting and posing for you at first. This will obviously affect the overall quality and purpose of the photo session.

Remember, as a photographer, it’s your job to bring a good vibe and mood to the set, in order to help your model relax and being able to explore his/her best features.

creative portrait of a man

Low key portrait of a black man wearing glasses and a black leather jacket, having his hands and fingers very close to his face.

In the first image above, is a man who booked a personal creative portrait session. It took four hours of working with him in order to reach a point where he was finally in the right part of his own creative universe, feeling free and exploring himself. He had never had such an experience before and was feeling quite nervous and shy at first.

The second image below is a good representation of working with a great character.

creative portrait of a man

Portrait capturing a model dressed in WWII pilot outfit holding Cuban cigar in his mouth. The creative look of this portrait has been achieved by the use of multiple strobe lights.


Light is the very reason why photography exists. Think about light, study light – how it spreads, how it bounces, how it is reflected, its specularity, etc. There is so much to light. Light is what will be rendering the reality in front of you, by reflecting and bouncing back into your camera lens.

Light has a quality which is defined by the source, intensity, size, and color temperature of the light. The best part is that you have full access to controlling any of this. Main sources of light for photographers are:

  • Ambient light
  • Strobe light
  • Continuous light

But as you move on to the next topic, you’ll see that there is much more to light than just being available in some form.

creative portrait setup

Photographic studio setup for a portrait session, the image features Bowens strobes, a white backdrop and light modifiers.

In the image, above, can be seeing a studio strobe lighting setup for a portrait session. Some characters may require really complex lighting in order to capture their personalities. Others just require one or two light sources – it will be up to you as an artist to determine this.

creative portrait of a man

Low key portrait of a man with a ginger beard and leather jacket, the scene features dramatic and creative strobe lighting.

The portrait above was photographed with only two strobe lights – portraying very well how the most appropriate lighting was selected to illuminate and capture the mood and personality of the person. While for the image below involved the use of six strobe lights.

creative portrait of a woman

Portrait of young woman on blue background wearing a purple dress – with a creative, multiple lighting setup and approach.

Shaping the light, light modifiers

All artists use different sort of tools that help them shape the fabric of their own inspirations and bring creative ideas to life. It is the same for us photographers too.

First, there’s the light, ambient or strobe, which is the raw material you work with. But this material needs to be softened or shaped, helping you in the process of reaching deeper dimensions of your subject’s features and character.

Light shaping tools will help you define your own creative realm – the realms of Game of Shadows, Game of Highlights and Game of Midtones, where you are the master controlling and balancing what sort of reality your light will render.

creative portrait of a woman and man

Tattooed rockabilly, demon, barber holding razor blade in his dark and demonic barber shop with pinup model as his evil assistant on the background next to a bottle of Jack Daniels.

For the creation of the image above, several light shaping tools were used and some of them were even further modified in order to produce the quality of light needed in this particular situation (the image was shot at 10 am in the morning but the idea was for dark – Sweeney Todd concept)

Studio, location, and features

Another very important ingredient to the process of building unique and creative portrait images is exploring what is around you. What is available or what you can build, light and create on location or in the studio?

Although portrait images are characterized by very tightly cropped frames, around the subject’s face – attention needs to be given even to the smallest details. Such details will greatly contribute to the overall contrast within the scene you are capturing.

An example of this is when you are shooting in a studio you can use a snoot, or another light modifier, and create a spot of light or perhaps colorize your background, by placing color gels. Do not limit yourself to only thinking of the face you intend to capture, but rather on the grand scene of everything that will be captured in your composition/frame.

Following the same flow of thoughts and principles – you can turn even a simple room into a professional studio like has been done on the image below – photographed in a bedroom.

creative portrait of a man

An image featuring the founder of Vialucci media, Theo X photographed on a white background.

Things even get more challenging and interesting when shooting environmental, wide-angle portraits. A location can reveal so much about the personality of your subject and also contribute greatly to the level of creative quality in your images. All you need to do when you’re at a great location is help stylize the scene, frame well (appealing creative composition), bring the strobes in and work out the best of your models.

Props, makeup, and hair

This is a very challenging step that eventually one day you’ll take, but it is also very rewarding. By reaching the point of employing props, makeup, and a hair stylist – it will be solid evidence that a line was crossed with no option of turning back. This is the stage where you’ll be seeing beyond the ordinary qualities of your subject and looking to reach a deeper dimension – a state of creative vision.

creative portrait of a woman

A conceptual scene of a four-handed Queen seating on a throne receiving scripts from her Demon servant, and pointing at a Victorian style globe. The scene is lit by several light sources with different colors, rendering the whole scene in a very creative and original light.

creative portrait of a man

Creative portrait composite representing WWII pilot in the cockpit of his aircraft engaged in an aerial battle, with the enemy aircraft in the background.

The images above illustrate very well, the level of creativity obtained by employing props, makeup and hair into the photoshoot.

Editing and retouching

Processing or editing images has always been an integral part of the whole creative process. Although having all the advantages and power of digital technology, you shouldn’t abandon the universal rules and laws of aesthetics.

Think of retouching and editing as a process that helps you enhance the high-quality photographs you already capture and bring your creative vision to final realization. This is achieved without overdoing and diminishing the quality of your photographs.

The two images below are good examples of a photograph captured with simple lighting setup and processed just enough to clear and strengthen the subject’s appearance.

Creative portrait photography before

Before processing.

Creative portrait photography after

After processing.


Capturing creative images involves innovative and creative thinking – seeing things differently, thinking differently. That is why you always need to be on your own small quest for creativity, not bound only by what was covered here or elsewhere.

Come up with your own new solutions – in the process of which you only will add and improve your portrait photography.

The post Tips for Planning and Capturing a Creative Portrait by Nikolay Mirchev appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

I love working with natural light, I always have. Even more so now that our digital cameras have sensors so incredibly capable of making images in extremely low light. Making portraits using natural light only is a good skill to learn so you can make photographs anywhere. Here are some tips to help you mast nature light portraiture.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Be aware of the quality of light

When you want to make a series of portraits using only natural light, you first need to be aware of what the light is like at your chosen location and the style of portrait you want to make. Is the quality of light hard or soft?

If it’s a bright sunny day and the light is harsh (hard), you will get portraits with a much different look and feel, than if the sky is cloudy and overcast. Morning and evening light will give your portraits a different quality (soft light) as will photographing your subject indoors and using light from a window.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Soft side light from a window.

Hard sunlight can be quite challenging to work with, but can produce some good results if you style you portrait well. If you’re working in open sun it can be helpful to have a reflector on hand and a friend to assist you so dark shadows can be reduced.

What kind of photo do you want?

Having a concept in mind for the type of photo you want will give you a better chance of success. If you’re heading out to make some portraits on a sunny day and have an idea of making some soft dreamy romantic photos, this will be difficult. But if you want to make some photos to illustrate the idea of a journey in a hot country the light will be your friend and support your idea.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Bight, harsh sun in the middle of the day.

Cloudy days provide a soft light that’s generally easier to get a more even exposure. The flat light tends to render a softer feeling to portraits.

So if you’re making portraits with natural light on a cloudy day, you will have more success if your concept is for a gentler look. Photos taken under a cloudy sky and later converted to black and white work well as the tone range will be more limited than on a sunny day.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Portraits on a cloudy day.

Use light to your advantage

If the sky is heavily overcast you will find it challenging as the light will be very dull. On days when there’s not such thick cloud you will notice the light is still soft, but brighter and more vibrant (less flat,) so nicer for making portraits. Be careful of your exposure settings if the clouds are moving and the light value is frequently changing.

Finding a shaded space and making use of naturally reflected light will help you achieve a different look on a bright sunny day. This is not the same as the light you have on a cloudy day. Light reflecting off a wall close by or light-toned pavement, (cement rather than asphalt or dark paving,) will fill in shadows on your subject’s face and produce a more even, lively result.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Light reflecting off a nearby white wall provided fill light for this portrait.

Placing your subject so they are slightly inside a shaded area, but close to the bright sun, can allow the reflection of the sunshine to have a very helpful effect in lighting your subject. So long as your subject is not too far away from the bright light you can make use of the reflection to add a more interesting dynamic to your portraits.

The Golden Hours

Of course, making portraits with the rich morning or evening sunshine (often called Golden Hours), or even subdued light can produce very pleasing portraits. Be careful though not to have your subject look directly ahead into the sun as they will typically make an unpleasant face. Backlighting or side lighting your subject at these times can be more effective and more comfortable for your subject. Diffused morning and evening light is lovely to work with as it is soft yet can still be quite rich and warm toned.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Diffused early evening light.

Try new things

I’ve loved making natural light portraits for many years, but I also enjoy developing my technique by trying new ways of working. If you enjoy a particular aspect of photography, stick with it, develop what you do. But don’t just do the same thing every time.

If you like making portraits in natural light on a cloudy day because you find it easier, sometimes try shooting on a sunny day. Stretch yourself to learn some new technique. You may discover something new, a new way ot working that you really enjoy.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

Portable natural light studio

I have a portable natural light studio I love to take into the mountain villages here in northern Thailand. We’ve even started including it in some of the workshops we run and our customers love the professional looking results they can achieve. My outdoor studio only requires that we have space to set it up, (just a few square meters is enough,) and a sunny day for the best light, but I do use it on cloudy days too.

The best thing about it is having control over how the sun lights my subjects. I set it up so the sun is behind the backdrop. Above the backdrop is a fine gray nylon screen to filter the sunlight. The light reflects off the ground which is a light colored earth and works well with Asian skin tones, or a large plastic sheet. I have more recently introduced a large reflector too and am achieving some very pleasing results.

How to Master Natural Light Portraiture

The light coming from behind the backdrop is providing great light on these subjects’ hair as a rim light, and on their faces via reflected light.

The portable studio behind the scenes.

Your turn to try it

Next time you head out to make some portraits try something different with the light. If you prefer sunshine, make some in the shade as well. If you prefer a cloudy day challenge yourself to go out in the middle of the day when the sun is shining and find a location where you have some good light. Remember, the only time you cannot make a photo is when there is no light at all.

The post How to Master Natural Light Portraiture by Kevin Landwer-Johan appeared first on Digital Photography School.


10 Tips for Photographing Moms and Their Kids

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

Creating gorgeous photographs of moms with their kids can be a daunting task. But with a little planning, responding well to the family dynamic, and paying attention to whether or not you’re selecting flattering angles you can create lovely portraits that they’ll treasure for years.

Women can be harsh critics of themselves, so it’s well worth spending some time thinking about how to make moms happy with their portraits. Both in terms of helping moms relax beforehand and on the day, and paying attention to choosing flattering angles as you photograph them. I’ve learned lots through my experience over the years – here are 10 tips to help you photograph moms.


Suggest avoiding sleeveless tops so underarms aren’t exposed, as well as avoiding graphics on clothing so that the focus is on faces and not on clothing. For new moms, a loose t-shirt or a shirt is more flattering than tightly fitted breastfeeding tops.

Clothing 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids


Here you can suggest using a face powder to minimize shine, an under eye concealer to minimize shadows, and a pale eye shadow to brighten the face.

Relaxing Mom

Spend some time chatting to Mom before you meet her, and before you start photographing. The more relaxed she feels, the better your photographs of her will be.

Find flattering angles

If you’re providing any posing guidance, suggest Mom leans her weight on her back foot for the most flattering angle. Suggest she thinks about bringing her forehead in space to minimize any double chins – Peter Hurley has a great video demonstrating this technique (see below). The best place to hold a toddler is generally on Mom’s hip, rather than holding them squashed across or into her body.

Angles for new moms

Be careful that the weight of their baby isn’t creating bulges, as new moms are often sensitive about remaining baby weight and won’t want it emphasized. Holding the baby in the crook of their arm works well to minimize this. Or if Mom is very conscious of baby weight, have Dad hold the baby and encourage Mom to snuggle in from behind, bringing her arm round Dad’s so everyone’s involved.

Another good option is to have Mom lie on her side, near her baby. This brings her head nice and close to the baby for an intimate portrait, and is also a flattering angle for those conscious of baby weight.

New mums - 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids

Games and laughter

Find out which games the children are particularly enjoying at the Moment, and have Mom instigate those games. Peek-a-boo, spinning on the spot, aeroplanes, lifting babies up in the air (safely!) and tickles are surefire hits for some lovely giggles.

Games - 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids

Games air - 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids

Cuddles and kisses

This is one of the most highly prized photographs for moms, so encourage the children to give Mom a lovely cuddle. If they’re not feeling like dispensing kisses on demand, ask them if they know how to kiss Mom’s nose. Often the challenge of proving they can will get the kids to oblige!

With newborns, encourage Mom to place a gentle kiss on the newborn’s face – you may need to point to the spot that you’ll be able to see in shot.

Newborn kiss - 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids

On the move

moms will want to remember the feeling of holding a little hand in theirs. So remember to photograph moms walking with their children, hand in hand. Having Mom run towards the camera with her children can also be a great way of helping more camera shy mothers to relax and have fun.

On the move - 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids

Quiet moments

Keep an eye out for the tender moments between moms and their children – these are very emotive and can be very powerful photographs for mothers. Capturing the strength of that bond is such a privilege, and the gentle oments of calming a baby or young child can be a great opportunity to do just that.

Quiet moments - 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids

Shy moms

For shy moms, try to incorporate details such as their arms holding the baby – you don’t need a face-on portrait if it makes her feel uncomfortable. Having these kind of details will mean a lot to the baby when he/she is grown up, to see themselves lying in their mother’s arms.

And if their mom is camera shy, all the more reason to make sure the child gets some photographs with Mom in shot!

Arms - 10 Tips for Photographing moms and Their Kids


For one reason or another, it so often ends up being the mother who takes snaps at home and on holidays – with the unfortunate result that moms are often absent from most home photographs.

Making sure to incorporate beautiful photographs of Mom with her kids is a lovely gift to level the playing field here and make sure that Mom features in their photo albums too!

Do you have any other tips for photos of moms with their kids? Please share them and your images of moms and kids below.

The post 10 Tips for Photographing Moms and Their Kids by Louise Downham appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Take the Pain Out and Put Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

Assembly-line photos are a whirlwind of craziness and fun. These can include school dance photos, team sports, drill team, preschool, business headshots, and anything else that involves a whole lot of people that you have to photograph the same way in a short period of time.

These sessions can be a nightmare if you aren’t prepared, and can be boring if you aren’t creative. I’m going to share some of my secrets for making these sessions some of your favorites and delivering photos that will please moms, coaches, teachers, and kids alike.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

1. Make a List

Before the day of your big assembly-line session, write out a list of exactly what you need to capture that day. Do not deviate from this list, especially if you have a large group. If you are working with teens especially, you’ll get requests for “just one more” picture, or requests to see what they look like in their photo. You might get requests to take photos not on your list, like best friends, or for a clothing change. If you want to keep your sanity, you have to smile, express how sorry you are, but give them a firm, “No”.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

My lists might look something like the following. You can use this list as a starting point, and adapt it to your needs.


  • Close-up face, horizontal
  • Reading a book, vertical
  • Holding an apple, vertical
  • Entire class – with teachers and without


  • Close-up face, horizontal
  • Name o a chalkboard, vertical
  • Graduation gown, vertical
  • Entire class with teachers and without

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos


  • Individual couples; up close, full length, something fun (they choose)
  • Group photos; smiles, serious, silly
  • All girls together, all boys together

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos


  • An individual photo in team jacket on the “blocks”
  • Entire team smiling, hugging, serious, silly
  • Each class (seniors, juniors, etc.) smiling, silly
  • All girls together, all boys together
  • Coaches together and individually
  • Individual fun photo (off the diving board, in pool, they choose ONE)

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos


  • Individual horizontal, vertical, and something fun (they choose)
  • Shots of “big sister” and “little sister” together
  • Entire team smiling, hugging, “model pose” with coaches and without
  • Each class (seniors, juniors, etc.) smiling, one more their choice

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

2. Stay Professional and Organized

Let everyone know right at the beginning how things will go, and keep everyone moving through quickly. It’s always good to have an assistant helping you line everyone up, and get the next in line prepared before they get in front of your camera. I usually use one of the coaches or teachers to help guide their kids, but you could bring a friend along too.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

Things can become chaotic quickly, especially with kids and teens. Be firm, decisive, and even a little bit loud if necessary. Let everyone know what is coming up next, and have them line up and wait for their turn so you aren’t trying to gather people every time you need to do the next photo.

If there’s something they need to decide (like what their class “silly” pose will be) warn them ahead of time, so they have time to prepare and think of something before it’s their turn.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

3. Give them a Chance to Show their Personality

Whether I am photographing the entire class, a team, a group together, or photographing each individual, I like to give them a chance to show a little bit of who they are.

If it’s a younger group, like preschool, the teacher and I collaborate to have something fun for at least one of the photos. We’ve done holding apples, writing their name on a chalkboard, graduation caps and gowns, reading a cute children’s book, sitting on a stack of books, etc.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

For organized team photos, I let them know that after we do all of the basic photos, I will let them each do one fun photo. For example, for the swim team, I give them two location options, either jumping off the diving board or in the water at the end of the pool.

Everyone who wants the diving board option lines up there, and everyone who wants in the pool lines up at that location. I don’t let them do both because if you start that, they all want to do both, and there’s just no time for it. Once they are at their location I let them do whatever they’d like to do, but they only have one chance, and only a few seconds to set it up.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

When school dance couples start to arrive, I let them know that they will be doing one “fun” pose together, and to start thinking of what to do. Many of them are “regulars”, and know that’s what I’ll be doing, so they come ready with ideas. If they can’t think of something, I give them a few ideas. They might go back-to-back, or make serious faces. Maybe one wants to pick the other one up. They could dance together, or make silly faces.

When I do the group silly pose, I don’t give them time to plan. There are too many kids, and they’d be there all day trying to agree on something. Instead, I take the regular smiling photo first, then a serious face photo, then I say, okay, on the count of three, something crazy! Then, I count to three as they hurry and do their thing, and then I snap about 10 photos or so and choose the best one later.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

4. Relax and Have Fun

It’s easy to forget to breathe, let alone remember to have fun when you are photographing 60 kids at the same time. However, it’s important that you don’t get too robotic with your assembly-line photos. If you can have a little bit of fun interaction with each person, you’ll get much better photos.

Help them relax, and you’ll get some genuine smiles that will be much better than those old school photos we used to get, where half of the time you were mid-blink, looking away, or not smiling. Assembly-line photos are a great way to get to know a whole bunch of wonderful people at once. Smile at them, and forget about the cheese.

Taking the Pain Out and Putting the Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos

The post How to Take the Pain Out and Put Personality Into Assembly-Line Photos by Melinda Smith appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

Using a flash or speedlight on-camera can be daunting at first. This was certainly how I felt when I first purchased my Nikon speedlight. My biggest worry was calculating all the light ratios involved to get a proper exposure as you cannot take into account the actual flash output when metering in-camera. I was also nervous about using a light meter – all that trial and error and faffing, the thought of it all used to make me quake in my boots and swear I’d forever be a natural light photographer. But that was not to be, thankfully.

My main reservation about using flash is the harshness of the light. I hate the “flashed” look on people’s faces, the shadows under the jaws, the bright circular catchlights right in the middle of the iris. As well, the flatness of the face with the direct flash obliterating all possibility of sculpting shadows on the face.

But I live in London where it rains quite a bit, it’s hardly sunny at all, and half the year is cold. All these factors affect natural light and I felt I just had to put aside my reservations and take the leap. And I’m so glad I did.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill-Flash for Portraits

Let me share with you how I use flash to help me achieve the look I am after and without having to do the mental calculations of light ratios!

#1 Put a diffuser on the flash

It may only be a little plastic thing that goes on top the flash head but I find it makes a difference.  The light is less harsh – I know many will disagree about whether it softens the light or not as that is mainly due to the size of light and distance to subject  – but I notice a softness from a diffused flash head compared to a bare one.

Left: without a diffuser. Right: with a diffuser.

I only use a flash bare and pointed towards the camera when I am using it as a kicker light and want starburst effects coming from it.

#2 Control the flash manually

Set your flash to manual and choose the power. I’m usually at 1/32 or 1/16 and leave it there. Adjust the flash power only when absolutely necessary. Instead, make the frequent necessary adjustments to your camera settings.

Now I know there are many big fans of ETTL / TTL mode out there. I have tried it too. However, I have gone back to Manual as I find the TTL does not give me the look I want. Essentially, I only want my flash to be a fill light, not the main light and never too strong so that you can see a huge difference between the light coming from the flash and the ambient light. The ETTL / TTL mode is too smart for my needs and increases the output to a pretty high level if it senses that the ambient light is too weak, and vice versa. I felt I’d get an inconsistent output of light for the look I am after although that output may be “correct” in terms of the calculations.

For portraits, I find that the greater the contrast between the dark background and the illumination of the subject with a flash gun, the more I dislike the image. For dancing shots (like at a wedding), however, where I want to illuminate the subject well and freeze the action, I DO point my flash directly at the subject, stop down my aperture to between f/5.6 and f/8 and lower my shutter speed between 1/20th and 1/60th in order to capture ambient light and light trails or background blurring to give the effect of movement.

This image was created using a bare bulb flash (no diffuser) located behind and pointing directly at the couple (off-camera flash). I also had a second flash on-camera with a diffuser, and the flash aimed upward.

This image was created with a diffused flash pointed directly at the couple (camera in front of the couple, flash on-camera) while they were dancing. The motion blur was created by using a slow shutter speed and “dragging the shutter” after the flash has fired.

What I’m after is always a natural look, which, depending on where the main light is coming from, may not be achieved well without some kind of fill or reflected light to illuminate areas that are too dark for my intentions. This is the reason why I always bounce or angle my flash gun for most scenarios other than dancing as explained above.

#3 Bounce it

On some newer models, there is also a little white pull-out bounce card that is extremely useful if your ceilings are too high for the light to bounce off or you just want to point reflected light in a particular direction. When I shoot weddings where the rooms have very high ceilings or dark beams and ceilings. So I pull out the bounce card and use it to deflect the light coming from the flash. The handy swivel action helps me direct the reflected light wherever I want it to go.

My speedlight with the white bounce card extended.

As an aside, I use this setup for off-camera flash too. When I’m putting two speedlights opposite each other in a room to provide directional light during speeches, I point the flash heads upwards and pull out the diffuser so that all the reflected light is pointed inwards towards the center of the room.

#4 Angle it

The head of most speedlights can swivel right and left up to 90 degrees each way and forward and upward to 90 degrees in incremental angles. It is an awesome functionality that you should take advantage of especially for fill flash.

In the photos below, bright sunlight was coming from camera right at 45 degrees on a bright day. All I wanted was a bit of fill flash on their shadowed faces, just enough to lift the shadows a tad. What I really wanted to avoid was for the image to look like there was another light source other than that from the sun. To achieve this, I angled my speedlight upwards towards the back by one increment.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

Flash as a fill light

As you can see, these photos below have very strong sunlight coming directly at the subjects and towards the camera, a very strong backlit light. It is extremely difficult to overpower this type of light without using a strong flash.  What I did was angle myself slightly to one side and pointed my flash directly at the subjects’ faces to try and counteract the sunlight.

This is when I adjust my flash power and increase it accordingly. The result is not as clean and sharp as if I had a big softbox firing at 70% ratio to the sun’s power but it still shows the faces clearly enough with some diffused hazy light in the background, which was also my intention for these shots.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

Compare the two images below. The one on the left was taken in a big open space with a dense foliage background which blocked the light. There was enough light here to illuminate their faces that I could have done away with the flash altogether, but I pointed the flash backward to add just a tiny bit of light over my head. I don’t think it made a huge difference but it made me feel better and consistent!

The image on the right was taken in a shaded open area surrounded by tall trees which diffused the light coming from the background. Without the trees, it would have had the unfiltered effect as above, but despite the trees, this is still very much a backlit position as the background was very bright still. More fill light was needed there so I pointed the speedlight slightly upwards, with one increment down towards the subjects but not directly at their faces.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

You can see the same flash angle as above on these close-up portraits below.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

Make it moody

In the same spot as above, I wanted a look that was a little moodier than those close-ups so I pointed the speedlight directly upwards this time. So although their faces are still amply lit up, the image to feels like they are being enveloped by the diffused light behind them.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

Tricky situations

The couple wanted a shot showing the lake and the trees in the far distance. The distance was too great to get the couple and the background sharp enough without using a really small aperture and a lot of artificial light (flash). Note that we were also in the shaded part of the lake which made it more difficult. I decided therefore that I would take a cozy shot that focused mainly on the background. The couple looking towards the trees, although they are not the lit focal point, they are still clearly visible and sharp. I pointed the speedlight slightly forwards to give them just a hint of light and shot with a small aperture.

Contrast the top image below to the photo directly underneath it where the depth of field has changed massively – the background now is blurry and the couple is in focus. This had the same angle of flash, slightly forwards, but of course, my camera settings changed to a wider aperture and lower ISO to balance the exposure. Now with the couple still in the same shaded spot, the angled flash was clearly essential here. Had I pointed the flash directly to their faces, it would have been too obvious and would kill the natural light ambiance that I was aiming for.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

For this ring shot below, we sat on a bench with the sunlight coming from camera left. I put the ring on my phone to get a dark background and a nice reflection. With ring shots, I always stop down to at least f/7 with a macro lens. Therefore I need to make sure there is plenty of light for the shot as macro lenses tend to suck light.

I also always use a speedlight pointed directly opposite the main light. So in this case where the light is at camera left at 8 o’clock (if you’re looking at a clock face with the diamond at 6 o’clock), I swiveled my flash head to the opposite at around 4 o’clock to give off a bit of reflected light on the right side of the ring.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

Likewise, on the photo below, you can clearly see where the sunlight is coming from so I pointed my speedlight slightly upwards to camera left, opposite the sunlight. This angle helped me achieve a gradual decrease of light from right to left as opposed to a dramatic one where you can see a clear cut-off from light to dark.

How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits

Your turn to try doing fill flash

If you haven’t tried using flash like this before, I encourage you to do so. Experiment and see how it could work for you. You don’t need to learn the lighting ratios and calculations off by heart to be able to get images you are after, although that could be handy.

Sometimes all you need is confidence, common sense, and a willingness to try. I hope you found this little tutorial useful. If you have more tips, share them in the comments below.

The post How to Use an On-Camera Speedlight as Fill Flash for Portraits by Lily Sawyer appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

I love travel portraits. Not only do they test your photography skills but also challenge you to interact with people in unfamiliar environments. The end result directly reflects your subject’s personality along with your ability to make them feel at ease, read the light, select optimal settings, and compose a great shot.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

A boy named Ashim and his father at Dasaswamedh Ghat – Varanasi, India.

Every photographer has a slightly different approach, which evolves with every new person you meet and country you visit. Join me as I walk you through an encounter from start to finish and share tips on how to shoot engaging travel portraits.

1 – Approach the person and get permission

As a photographer, it’s up to you to develop your own code of ethics. However, I implore you to seek permission and not just stick a camera in someone’s face. The initial approach can often be the hardest part; taking the shot is comparatively easy.

Aim for a consensual, mutually enjoyable exchange from which you can both walk away with a happy story to tell. Be open, smile, and pay people compliments.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

Boy monks at Rumtek Monastery – Sikkim, India. I kept my camera at my side, introduced myself, and asked their names. Their answers made me regret leaving my notebook in the car (Sikkimese names are notoriously long). They wanted to talk about soccer. When I asked for a photo, the boy on the right jumped and said “I know a good place. Follow me!” It was a fun encounter and their personalities shone through in the pictures because they’d had a chance to chat about their favorite topic.

If it’s a firm no, you can smile warmly, tell them it’s absolutely fine, and ask them if they would like to see photos you’ve taken of the local area. This way, you can both still walk away having had a pleasant experience, and sometimes, they even change their mind.

2 – Communicate for a meaningful experience

Your challenge now is to make your subject feel at ease. The best portraits come when people are relaxed and open to you. Most crucially, don’t rush the photo, say goodbye, and walk away. Show genuine interest in their lives.

Ask questions if you can speak a mutual language. If not, remember that much of your intentions and warmth can be communicated through body language, facial expressions, and gestures.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

Ba-An, an 81-year-old lady, in front of the Banaue rice terraces – Luzon, Philippines. I will remember Ba-An because I had the longest and most interesting conversation I’ve had with anyone before taking their portrait. “These? They’re chicken feathers,” she said when I asked about her headdress. “Sometimes I tell people it is tradition, but really, we just started doing it a few years ago!”

3 – Read the light and use it to your advantage

With permission granted and your subject warming to you, the next step is reading the light. Whether it’s day or night, look at the lighting conditions around you. Consider asking your subject to turn their body or move completely to seek the best light.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

While waiting for a Hindu ceremony to begin, this gentleman wobbled his head enthusiastically and motioned towards my camera – Varanasi, India. Sometimes, as in this situation, when people see you photographing others in a respectful manner, they may prompt you to take their portrait. I asked him to turn so that the light from a spotlight would be cast across his face at a less harsh angle.

4 – Select your settings

Ideally, you have a fixed focal length (prime) lens with a wide aperture attached to your camera body. However, if you’re traveling, you may have an all-purpose zoom lens attached. I like portraits that I’ve taken with both types.

With my fixed focal lens, I often shoot portraits at f/2.8 or slightly above. If you shoot any wider, the focal plane can be so thin that you risk your subject’s eyes being in focus but having their nose out of focus. For a zoom lens, I recommend selecting your widest aperture but standing further away from your subject. Zooming in on their face will accentuate the shallow depth of field effect that works so well for portraits.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A Muslim traveler at Haji Ali Dargah, an Islamic shrine off the coast of Mumbai – India. My settings and lens for this portrait were f/2.8 | 1/1600th | ISO 160 | Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens. The fast shutter speed allowed by using f/2.8 picked out fine details on the man’s face. Such a fast shutter wasn’t necessary for this level of sharpness but it was an extremely bright day in Mumbai.

For engaging portraits, the most important element requiring sharp focus is the eyes. I suggest setting your camera to spot focus on the center AF point. Next, aim the center point at one of your subject’s eyes. Use the focus and recompose method or even better – the back button focus method to lock in on the eyes. This will ensure they’re in sharp focus in the finished photo.

5 – Choose a strong composition

Numerous compositions can work for portraits. The rule of thirds can work incredibly well but try not to wear it out or all your travel portraits will look the same.

Another one to try is placing one of your subject’s eyes directly in the center of the frame; a study proved that portraits composed this way appeal to viewers on a subconscious level. I promise I’m not making that up. This can be applied in portrait or landscape orientation.

A general rule exists in travel portraiture that you shouldn’t place your subject directly in the center of the frame; however, rules are made to be broken sometimes.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

As I stood taking pictures of the Banaue rice terraces, I heard a frail voice saying “Photo? Who is taking a photo?” It belonged to a 96-year-old woman named Bah Gu-An. She was completely blind. I wasn’t sure how to communicate as I normally would for a portrait so took her hands in mine to let her know I was there. Her friends translated back and forth for us. I decided on a rule of thirds composition because I felt the blue umbrella added extra visual interest and balance to the frame.

6 – Come down to their eye level

Try not to stand above your subject if they are sitting. This is intimidating and works against your goal to relax them. Positive psychological things happen when you come down to someone’s eye level. Take a look at the example below.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A Hindu holy man on a tiny island in the Brahmaputra River – Assam, India. This is not a touristy location in India so he is the real deal. I sat down on the step to receive a blessing. Accompanied by mystical chanting, I drank some lukewarm tea of unknown provenance, had air blown all over my face, and ash spread across my forehead. We chatted after and I felt in no rush to suggest a portrait. It was a fascinating experience. What do you think when you look at his facial expression – Is the time spent together palpable?

7 – Shoot different styles of portrait

Posed versus candid portraits

Posed refers to approaching a person and asking them to sit for a portrait, whereas candid portraits refer to catching a person in an unguarded moment. This doesn’t have to mean without permission.

For the image below, I’d already gained this lady’s trust and permission but waited until she’d forgotten that I was there to continue shooting. Later, I showed her all of the photos, which she seemed happy with.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A devotee watches the nightly Ganga Aarti ceremony – Varanasi, India. This image could be called a candid environmental portrait.

Headshot versus environmental portraits

A headshot refers to filling the frame with your subject’s face. The background is not important for setting the scene, although you might consider finding one of a complementary color to your subject’s clothing, skin tone, or eye color. Environmental portraits are zoomed out to allow your subject’s surroundings into the frame to add to their story.

8 – Shoot a series with the same subject

When you have someone’s permission and have bonded with them, consider staying with them a while and shooting a series of images. This is what I did when I met one man in the Philippines recently. I directed him gently for a series of shots after telling him how interested people would be to learn about his culture. He was happy to oblige.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

I would have kicked myself if I’d walked away without getting a side profile shot of this man and his headdress that featured the real heads of a long-dead bird and monkey.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

I decided to fill the frame here to draw attention to his excellent smile, patterned clothes, and monkey headdress.

9 – Always remember aftercare

Aftercare means bringing the encounter to a close in the best possible manner. I believe an extra layer exists as to why the verb is to “take” a portrait. You are taking something from them, but what are you giving in return?

Make sure you show the person their image on the back of your camera, pay them a compliment, and thank them sincerely. So much joy can come from this simple act.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A man named Ibrahim at the Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai. As we sat together cross-legged on the ground enthusiastically shaking hands at the side of a busy walkway, I could tell from his reaction and those of passersby that this wasn’t a common occurrence. The overall encounter lingered with me for the rest of the day, and I sincerely hope that Ibrahim remembers it fondly too.


I want to know your best advice for shooting travel portraits and see the images you’re most proud of. Be sure to share them in the comments section below.

The post How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish by Ben McKechnie appeared first on Digital Photography School.


3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents – How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive as a writer here at Digital Photography School is, “How do I take better pictures of my kids?”. There’s just something about becoming a parent that helps you understand exactly how fleeting childhood is, as well as how important it is to capture it. Whether you’re using a pro-level DSLR camera, a point-and-shoot, or your phone’s camera, here are a few quick and easy tips that will help you take your momtography or dadtography to the next level and take better pictures of your kids.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

1. Emotion Trumps Perfection

It’s never a bad idea to learn about the technical aspects of photography. But when it comes to photographing your own kids, the truth is that the photos you’ll treasure the most are the ones that capture genuine emotion. When you pull your camera out, don’t just look for the perfect smiles. Look for genuine expression and emotion, which tends to happen most often when your kids don’t realize you’re watching them.

Similarly, when you’re culling images, don’t automatically trash every image with soft focus or strange cropping. Sometimes, those technically imperfect photos may capture genuine emotion so perfectly that it would be a shame to delete them just because they’re not perfect. You may not want to blow those imperfect images up onto a giant canvas, but definitely keep them for your own records!

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Let go of perfection

Technically speaking, there are a few things about the above image that I don’t like. I wish I hadn’t cropped off some of one daughter’s fingers, and I wish the other daughter was in focus. I was super tempted to delete this photo right away because it’s not quite up to my standards. However, every time I look at this image it makes me smile to see the absolute joy on their faces. I remember their excitement at seeing the cherry blossoms covering the ground like snow, scooping them up by the handful, and throwing them up into the air while laughing and squealing with delight.

As family and friends flip through photo albums, they don’t comment on the other image I took that day of the girls standing perfectly still while looking at the camera and smiling, they comment on this photo. They mention how happy the girls look, and how much they love this photo. This image is beloved not because it’s technically sound, but because emotion always trumps perfection when it comes to photography.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

2. Find Beauty in the Ordinary

When it comes to photographing your kids, don’t wait for the moments when everyone is perfectly dressed in coordinating outfits at golden hour. Those moments are beautiful, but they’re few and far between. Instead, look for ways to capture the beauty in the ordinary everyday moments.

Snap a photo of your kids reading a bedtime story every once in awhile. Take a quick snapshot of their messy faces after spaghetti night. Capture the mismatched crazy outfits that they put together when they dress themselves. Quietly sneak out your camera as they’re practicing writing their name at the kitchen table.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Life isn’t always perfectly styled, it’s messy and full of mundane, repetitive moments. It’s really tempting to wait to pick up your camera until your house is cleaner, or the kids are dressed in something that isn’t stained, or until the flowers in the backyard have bloomed. Don’t wait.

Take the opportunity to photograph your kids just as they are right at this moment, and see if you can’t find some beauty in the ordinary.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

3. Capture What Your Kids Love

At any given point in time, your kids are likely to have at least one thing that they’re absolutely obsessed with. It may be a stuffed dinosaur, their favorite book, a hat that they want to wear every single day or a best friend.

Regardless of what their current favorite thing is, taking photos of your childen with the things that they absolutely love is a really sweet way to remember them at the different stages of their lives.

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Chances are that in a year or two, your child will move on to a new favorite thing. You’ll forget all about that stuffed dinosaur or favorite blanket much more quickly than you’d probably think. It’s fun for both you and them to be able to look back and say “Remember when you used to….”

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Bonus Tip: Get the Photos Off Your Computer!

How many of us are guilty of taking hundreds of photos of our kids, maybe uploading a few to social media, and then letting them hang out on our hard drives in perpetuity? In all honesty, one of the most important parts of photographing your kids is to actually print the photos you take of your kids.

There are so many great resources out there now, whether you want to send prints off to a professional lab or print a photo book right from your Instagram feed, there truly is something for everyone. You don’t have to do it all, but just pick something, and get those images off your computer and into your lives!

3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents - How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids

Do you have any non-technical tips that you’d share with moms and dads just trying to take great photos of their kids? If so, please chime in below in the comments.

The post 3 Simple Photography Tips for Parents – How to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

When I’m on a photo shoot, I always carry two flash guns with me. However, when it’s a family outing or holiday, the flash guns are left behind in favor of kiddie stuff I need to lug around and I shoot using purely natural light, without even a reflector to help. It does help that I carry a prime lens that opens up to f/1.4 should I need or want to shoot indoors.

Here are my tips for making portraits using purely natural light.

On a sunny day, there is so much light that it makes it quite hard to take portraits, contrary to what many would think. I generally don’t like taking portraits with the sun directly hitting the face of my subject, so that makes the job even harder on such a bright day.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

The first thing to be mindful of is the direction of light – is it coming from overhead, at an angle of 45 degrees or higher or lower? As you cannot physically move the sun, you are going to have to move your subject instead. Think of positioning your subject as leveraging natural light to make a pleasing portrait.


Here are some outdoor scenarios where you can position your subject and avoid direct bright sunlight.

In the shade

My go-to (and easiest) spot is a shaded or sheltered area. Ideally, find a large enough shaded area so that your entire subject is covered in shade. You don’t want dappled light or parts of the body overexposed by being in the sun while the rest of the person is in the shade.

Areas of shade could be under a tree or in the shadow of a tall structure such as the wall of a building as in the photo on the left below. This gives you even lighting over a large area and even exposure too with no hard shadows.

Compare the left photo to the right one where the subject is wearing a hat. I metered on her face and because she was furthered shadowed by the hat, the exposure increased a tad and the rest of the image then got brighter. This can be evened out quite easily in post-production by adding a soft vignette.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

With a very bright backlight

Sometimes you find yourself at a location that doesn’t offer enough shade or there is a lack of large structures to provide shelter. You would end up shooting in a bright wide-open space and your only option is to shoot backlit or at least provide shade to your subject’s face.

The difficulty with shooting backlit is that you would need to have ample fill light to compensate for the very strong backlight. You can either use your camera’s built-in flash or use some kind of reflector. That could be a light-colored piece of cardboard or a natural reflector in the vicinity, such as a bright path or wall that reflects strong sunlight back onto your subject’s face.

Shooting in an open or semi-open space, like the black and white photo above, where the backlight is a lot stronger than the light illuminating the subject it gets complicated. Unless you are using a flash to counteract the backlight, the background will be blown out. Even if you shoot with a small aperture, the difference in the amount of light between the subject and the background will be too great to get an even exposure without using a fill flash.

Natural reflectors

In the photo below, this was not taken in a fully open space but the shade there was weaker. The hat provided more shade to her face and you can see the left side is a little darker than the right. That makes for a nice gradation of light and shadow as opposed to a flatly-lit portrait.

I leveraged a natural reflector here which was just to camera right – a light colored parasol which reflected the sun onto the girl’s face. You can also see that the background was a lot brighter and more washed out compared to the first photo above left. But it is showing some foliage compared to the photo above right, hence there is more detail rather than just a white blown out sky.

When I find myself in situations like these, I make sure my main focus is the subject’s face and I don’t mind the background being blown or washed out. After all, I am after a portrait of the subject.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Light from above

Compare the two photos below. The left photo is shot with fairly flat lighting on the face. I made sure the subject was in full shade and the light coming from both the right and left sides was even.

The photo on the right is different in that I asked her to look up a little, thus using the light coming from above and creating a slight gradation of shadow on the right side of her face. Simple positioning of the face in relation to the light source makes a big difference in how your photos look.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Indoor lighting

In comparison to outdoors, there is usually only a fraction of the amount of light indoors, even with a window present. However, this works to your advantage. The light source is usually one-directional unless you have many windows, and therefore you can use this it to sculpt your subject’s face as it were, choosing where the shadows will fall and creating a moody portrait.

The light in the photo below left was coming from a big window, high up at about 30 – 45 degrees to the subject. You can see the shadow falling on the opposite side of her nose and cheeks creating a darker, moodier feel to the image compared to the photo on the right shot outdoors. Even with just a single light source indoors, you have enough light to play with and create the ambiance you want to portray.

Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light

Over to you

Whether indoors or outdoors, it is always important to be mindful of where the light is coming from, how much light there is, and if there is any contrast of light and shade in the space. Knowing how to leverage the natural light allows you to create the type of mood you are after in your portrait.

Understanding this and practicing how to use available light will make you a better photographer.

The post Simple Tips for Positioning Your Portrait Subject to Leverage Natural Light by Lily Sawyer appeared first on Digital Photography School.


5 Lighting Setups You Can Do Using an Octabox

Filed Under Cameras and Equipment, Digital Photography School, Portrait Photography

Choosing a lighting modifier is always tough because it’s inherently limiting. Do you go for a large soft source or something with a little more contrast? Or something that plays well with the modifiers you already own? One modifier that appears limiting is the Octabox, because generally, they’re a pretty large source.

You could literally point them anywhere in the region of your subject and get an acceptable photo. I’ve even heard them referred to as “idiot lighting” because they work so well, you don’t have to be clever to use them. It’s not really an insult, it’s more of a reflection of how easy they are to use.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use them more subtly though. That’s what we’re going to look at in this article. Your first setup will be the default one most beginners use with lighting. This is a good thing. It gives you a good handle on what the light looks like. But before you begin, let’s talk about the quality of light.

Quality of Light

Generally, when you refer to the quality of light, you’re referring to how hard or soft is the light source.

There are two parts to it though. First, there’s the actual size of the light. A large source is softer, like your typical 4-5 foot Octabox, while a small source, like a 7″ reflector is quite hard.

Soft light

Second, you have the distance to the source. An Octabox placed far from your subject will appear as a smaller source, and become quite hard looking. It’ll also need more power to reach the subject because the light will fall off. This brings us to the concept the f relative size of the light source.

Relative Size of a Light Source

The larger the source of light is in relation to your subject (you may be lighting a still life), the softer your light will appear. A medium source close to your subject will appear softer than a large one further away. So how do you make a larger source softer? Easy, bring it as close to your subject as you can without it appearing in the frame.

Which Octabox?

I currently own three Octaboxes. An Elinchrom 135cm (53″), a Godox 120cm (47″) and an Elinchrom Deep Octa 70cm. For this article, I’m using the more expensive, but really versatile 135cm. You could use the much cheaper Godox. It’s not as soft, but still more than useable.

Setup #1: Light Position to the Front and Side

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

The Octabox lights both the face and the background in this position.

This is the basic one-light setup. It’s the typical light at 45º to your subject arrangement. Put the light in front of your subject and off to the side (either side, though I opted for the right side for my example).

Your subject can be straight on, or face either direction and still be lit acceptably. You could use a meter aimed towards the light to determine your aperture, but as it’s one light, you could just look at the back of the camera to determine your preferred exposure.

Depending on your preference, anywhere from f/4 to f/11 will work fine, just set the light power to match what you want. The larger aperture of f/4 will give you a softer look overall, while f/11 will have much more in focus.

It should go without saying, but you should always focus on the eye that’s nearest the camera for the most pleasing look.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

A behind the scenes image, shot from the side.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Setup #2: Light Position to the Back and Side

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

With the octabox moved around, the light on the subject is more dramatic. Because it’s no longer aimed at the background, the background goes dark.

For this setup, you just move the light 90º towards the background. This time you have to be more careful about your subject position. They’ll need to be turned towards the light more.

This gives us a short lighting pattern, which is more dramatic. You’ve seen this look before if you’ve read my article about lighting positions. It’s a really slimming look that adds more drama to a portrait.

You’ll also notice that compared to the previous setup, the background is much darker. Because the light is now angled away from the back wall, less of it is lit by your light, rendering it much darker. In the case of these two shots, the subject hasn’t moved, just the light.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Setup #3: Lighting From Behind (Backlight)

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox
This a little more exotic, as you’re letting the light wrap around the subject. Your subject will need to be right against the Octabox for this. Allow the light to wrap around and expose for the subject’s face.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Behind the scenes shot.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Bonus Tip:

You can also add a second light to create a high-key portrait here. Technically high-key has all tones above middle grey, so really, you’re just using the Octabox to create a white background.

Move the subject away from the Octabox a little bit. Make sure that the light from the back isn’t flaring over the shoulders to lose definition. If you use a light meter, make sure the aperture reading aimed at the Octabox is the same or lower than the one aimed at your front light.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Adding a second light will create the white background look that’s currently popular. Technically with high-key, all the elements are above zero, so the black in the dress means this isn’t actually a high key shot, though this lighting can provide that look.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Two lights and one reflector used here.

Setup #4: The Tabletop

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

This is a very popular look with fashion and editorial portraits. The front of the Octabox should be parallel to the floor above your subject.

The subject should be placed at the edge of the octa, even back from it slightly. This allows the light to wrap down and around the body. A reflector should be used to aim light back into the face as well to fill in shadows.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Setup #5: Lighting From the Front with No Diffuser

For a much edgier look, pull off the front diffusion panel. As I’m using an Elinchrom, I’ve swapped my inner diffusion panel for the white deflector that comes with the 135cm. You can just use the inner diffusion panel. With the Godox, just remove the diffusion panel.

How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Stand in front of the Octabox and make sure your body or head is blocking the center of the light to minimize any hotspots from the light. Because you’ve allowed the silver part of the Octa to be visible, you get way more contrast in the light.

It’s still a large light source, but you get more highlights on the skin from this look. It also acts like a huge ring light, so you get diffuse shadows all around the subject, for a very cool look.


How to do 5 Lighting Setups Using an Octabox

Get Shooting

Even if you’re just running with a speedlight and a Godox, you’ll still be able to get more options from your light using these five setups.

Remember to keep the center of your light above the subject’s face where possible. Have fun and feel free to post your octabox shots in the comments below!

An Octabox can be used on location as well.

The post 5 Lighting Setups You Can Do Using an Octabox by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.


How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

When it comes to people photography, one of the most common pieces of advice is to “fill the frame” with your subject. In general, this is a good rule of thumb that can dramatically improve your photography right away. However, sometimes rules are meant to be broken, and learning how to use negative space in people photography can also be valuable in delivering a varied and useful gallery of images.

People Photography Negative Space

What is Negative Space?

When you’re photographing people, the subject of your image is always the person (or people) in your frame. Similarly, the negative space of an image is anything other than the subject. It’s the foreground, the background, and the visual “breathing room” all around your subject.

Although it can be counterintuitive, allowing a bit of space around your subject helps draw the viewer’s eye directly to the person you’re photographing. This, in turn, emphasizes their importance in the final image.

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

How Do You Do Negative Space Well?

So, how do you make sure that your negative space looks intentional and not accidental when you’re photographing people? Here are a few tips that will help get you started combining negative space images and people photography.

Think in Thirds

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

When creating a negative space image in people photography, aim for your subject to take up one-third of the image, and the negative space to take up roughly two-thirds of the image. Following guideline ensures that your subject is large enough to be seen while also creating a ratio that’s visually pleasing to the eye. You’ll also notice that using this ratio as a general framework for your images allows you to implement the rule of thirds in your negative space images, which further helps to ensure that your images are composed well and are aesthetically pleasing.

Face the Space

Rule of Thirds Photography - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

If you elect to follow the rule of thirds and compose your subject off center, spend some time experimenting with the direction your subject is facing. Is the image stronger when your subject is facing the negative space or facing away from the negative space? As a general rule, try to pose your subject so they’re looking towards the negative space. This is particularly important if the person you’re photographing is walking, running, or playing sports.

By doing so, our brains are able to imagine the subject traveling through the negative space, which creates a more compelling and believable image. In addition, directing the person you’re photographing to look towards the negative space creates an image that looks more candid, which is a great way of adding diversity to some of your posed session images.

Bring it to the Center

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

Keep in mind that not all negative space images have to be offset! Try bringing your subject to the center of the frame while simultaneously allowing plenty of “headspace” around them in your image. This technique is similar to the idea of white space in graphic design, rests in musical composition, and high-end clothing stores that leave plenty of space between the clothing on the racks.

By limiting the proportion of the image that causes our mind to “think”, we’re emphasizing the importance of the objects that do exist in the frame, thus increasing their perceived value in our brain.

It’s Not All About Neutrals

White Space in Photography - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

Negative space images don’t have to be all about neutral backgrounds and bokeh that obscures the background beyond recognition. Whether you’re at a favorite lake or their family’s historic farmhouse, negative space images can be a great way to subtly reference location without making it the star of the show!

Look for backdrops that are relatively uniform in color and/or pattern, which will invoke the same visual feeling of breathing room and rest around your subject, while simultaneously visually cueing your location.

Why Does Negative Space Matter?

Now that you know how to create images of people that utilize negative space, it’s also helpful to understand why negative space images are important and why you should consider incorporating at least a few into every photo session.

Emphasizing Scale

Newborn Photography Scale - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

Using negative space when you’re photographing people can help to emphasize the size of the person you’re photographing. For example, if you’re photographing a newborn and fill the frame in every image you take, you may have missed the ability to convey just how small newborn babies are relative to their surroundings.

By including varying degrees of negative space in your images, you will be better equipped to emphasize the scale of a newborn. Similarly, you could also consider using negative space images to convey how small a bride and groom are compared to the vast beach they were married on.

Give Your Clients Options

Headspace in Portraits - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

If any part of your business plan includes offering digital images to your clients, keep in mind that many of your clients will want to post the images you’ve taken on social media. Many of the popular social media platforms are not very conducive to typical “fill the frame” portraits, forcing your client to either cut off the top of their head or cut off their shoulders (leaving them looking rather like a floating head as above).

Similarly, if a client requests a certain image printed on a canvas, images with negative space allow you to accommodate that request without worrying about part of the image getting cut off by the gallery wrap. By including negative space in a few images, you’ll be giving your clients more options and less frustration!

Give Yourself Options

Original shot with negative space on the left.

Not only do images with negative space give your clients flexibility, they give you additional flexibility as the photographer as well!

Want to submit your image for the cover of a local magazine? Many editors want images with plenty of negative space to accommodate headline text. Want to start offering a Christmas Card design to your clients? Negative space images help make that easier. Want to advertise mini sessions on Facebook? Try placing the text in the negative space of one of your favorite images.

Using Negative Space in Photos - How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

The negative space in this image allows room to add a text overlay.

Making an effort to utilize negative space every time you photograph people will give you more ways to use your images.

Wrapping it Up

How to Use Negative Space in People Photography

In a nutshell, using negative space when you’re photographing people can help bring attention to your subject. It can also showcase locations in an unobtrusive way. Negative space also helps emphasize movement and scale, add variety to your images, and offers more flexibility to both you and your client. It’s a great technique you can implement right away and it costs nothing!

The post How to Use Negative Space in People Photography by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.