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Jun
21

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

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

If you limit your portrait photography to daylight, you’re missing out on a chance to get some really cool people photos. Whether you just want something better from your camera automatically, or you want complete control of the light in the scene, there’s something in this article for you. Read on to get some tips to help you create and shoot night portraits.

Get off Automatic Mode

If you’re using your camera in Automatic mode, you’ll find one of two things will happen. With the flash off, you get a really blurry photo because the camera needs a longer exposure time at night. Or with the flash turned on, the camera restricts the shutter speed and while your subject is well lit by the flash (but is flatly lit), the background has gone black. It’s a lose-lose situation, especially if you want to mix a photo of your subject with a cool background.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits - automatic mode

With Auto Flash, the background gets rendered quite dark, and even fully black later in the night.

Night Scene Mode

Fortunately, most cameras have a set of helpful scene modes. On the command dial, there are modes like M for Manual and P for Program (or professional as some of my buddies like to joke). But you’ll also find a series of picture icons, like a mountain or a sprinter. The one you want here is the Night Scene mode (you may have to go into your menu to find it). It usually has the moon or a star with a person. This mode allows for a longer exposure, but your flash fires as well.

Night scene mode.

Set the mode and remember that because you’ll have a longer exposure, you need to hold the camera steady. Your flash will freeze the subject, but they need to stay still for the shot as well, to avoid going transparent. You’re not shooting ghosts here! Sometimes this mode will be called Slow Synchro instead of Night Scene Mode.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits - slow synchro or night scene mode

Slow Synchro/Night Scene mode exposes for both the flash and the background, although it can result in image blur from camera shake.

Moving to Manual

When I shoot nightclub portraits, I’m emulating this mode, but I have the camera set for Manual control. I use an aperture and shutter speed on the camera so the background scene looks good, maybe a little under exposed, then I use an automatic flash on-camera to capture my portrait.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

A nightclub shot taken with the camera set to Manual mode, with exposure set to expose for the background. A mix of high ISO and a large aperture helped prevent camera shake. The flash was in TTL mode, setting flash exposure was set automatically.

Let’s look at how you can take even more control now. As you probably tell from how Night Scene mode works, you’re effectively taking two shots in one picture. The first is of your subject, the second is of the background.

Lighting the Subject

For complete control of light on your subject, you need to use a light that’s off-camera. This doesn’t have to be a flash. In fact, it can even be a street light, something we can touch on later in the article. It can also be a continuous light that you’ve brought with you, like an LED or video light. But before this, we’ll look at using flash.

To get your flash off-camera, you need a trigger to fire it. If you have a flash like the Godox V850II, it has a receiver built-in, so you just need a trigger like the XT-16 or the X1. The same applies to the Cactus RF60X flash paired with the V6II trigger. You’ll also need a light stand or someone to hold the flash and aim it for you. To get an idea of where you can point the flash to achieve great lighting, check out my article on lighting positions. If you want to control the look of the light, have a look at this article 4 Value Speedlight Modifiers that Won’t Break the Bank.

The Background

The background just needs a longer exposure to render on the sensor. If you want to avoid blurring your background, use a tripod. Even with a tripod, you can opt to use a higher ISO to make the shutter speed shorter.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

This shot was in Manual mode, and the exposure was set for the background. The off-camera flash was set to manual and was dialed up or down as needed to suit the exposure for the background.

Getting the shot

The first step you need to make is how much of the shot you want in focus. A wide aperture like f2/.8 means the background will go out of focus, but you can use a shorter shutter speed to expose the background. When using flash, the shutter speed isn’t important for the subject, so you should get the subject flash exposure right first.

Set your aperture and your ISO first, 400-800 should be fine. If you’ve got a prime lens, you can even try wider aperture’s which will give a creamy out of focus background. The shutter speed can be anything below 1/200th (or your camera’s sync speed, which will be in your camera manual). Tip: If you can’t focus properly, use your phone flashlight to illuminate the face enough to focus, then switch the lens to manual focus.

Aim your flash at the subject at a low power like 1/32 or 1/16. Take a shot and check it. Firstly, if the subject is too bright, turn the flash power down. Alternatively, if they’re too dark, turn it up. Finally, if it’s still too bright at the lowest flash setting, move the flash further away from the subject.

This image was shot at 1/250th, which is the sync speed of the camera. Flash power is tied to the aperture below the sync speed of the camera, so you can safely open up the shutter speed to add more light in the background. 

With that working, you probably have a black background, like the image above. Have no fear, you’re only halfway there. Next, bring your shutter speed down. If you’ve got live view on your camera, use it. Make sure it’s set to Exposure Simulation or Preview Mode On. As you lower the shutter speed (make it slower), you’ll see more and more of the background. When you’re happy with how the background looks, you’re ready to shoot.

This lighter image was shot at 1/30th. Notice that the flash exposure on the subject is the same in both pictures. Both shots are at ISO 1600 and f/4.0. As a final note, the subject was completely dark, so to focus I had him use his phone to light his face. I used autofocus to lock focus, then switched to manual and indicated he should stay still.

If your shutter speed is really slow, like 1/15th of a second or below, encourage your subject to stay still so they aren’t blurred in the image.

Background Ideas

Your background can be an interesting building, a bridge or even just a street. For a really cool look, find somewhere with loads of lights. By using a really shallow aperture these look fantastic out of focus.

Bokeh background

Using Continuous Light

If you bring a something to light your subject other than a flash, there’s a different juggling act that needs to happen. First, you’ll probably need a higher ISO. For these shots, set your background exposure first and then introduce the light on the subject.

In the image below I brought in a $35 Godox LED video panel. The panel has both brightness and white balance controls from Tungsten to Daylight. It gives a nice soft quality of light and looks natural. Even better is that what you see in the viewfinder is what you’ll get when you shoot, not like flash, where you’re always guessing.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits - LED panel

Using an LED panel instead of a flash can be a great option. You can see the shot in the viewfinder and focus easily.

If your light doesn’t have a brightness control, you can move it closer or away from your subject to change the intensity on the subject instead. This applies to using a street light as well. If your subject is bright compared to the background, move them further away from the light to get a better balance.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

Street lights can also be used for night portraits.

For this shot, I used a street light across the road as my key light. I moved my subject until I could see a triangle of light on the side of the face opposite the light. A slight tilt of the head helped as well. I chose this spot so I had the railway bridge and cars in the distance out of focus, but the background still retained interest.

Shooting with Style

To go the whole hog, you could get someone to do hair and makeup, as well as getting really stylish clothes to make the shot look even better. You can just use friends and clothes borrowed their wardrobe, but it makes it look properly professional.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

Here’s a selection of night portraits that I’ve done and details about how they were made.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

The band, Drown, photographed for The Thin Air Magazine. Here I used the Godox AD360 with a 120cm Octa box off to camera right. This post-sunset scene was exposed to capture a good exposure for the clouds, then the flash was set to expose the band correctly. Without flash, the band would have been silhouetted

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

This photo doesn’t contain a background, but I wanted to create the feel of a busy road. I used two bare-bulb speed lights to give the effect of passing cars lighting from the front and back. In reality, we were on an empty road with no traffic. The backlight was positioned as both a rim light and to add flare.

How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits

I’ve been doing a series of portraits with a red tulle skirt, so it’s appropriate that I include them here. This was shot using a speed light and a 120cm Octa box. The light was off to camera left to create a loop lighting pattern. I’ve balanced the flash and ambient light to get this exposure. There is a mistake in it though. I really should have used a CTO gel (Color Temperature Orange), or at least a half CTO gel to warm up the color of the flash a little. The flash can look quite blue when shot against tungsten lighting, especially the sodium vapor lights in the background here.

Get out there and try some night portraits

Nothing here will make any difference if you don’t get out there. If you’ve got no gear, you should start with a battery powered LED work light or even one of the Godox LEDP 120C panels (make sure you get a battery as well). Get your camera off automatic too, and give yourself more control!

The post How to Create and Shoot Night Portraits by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.

May
9

Comparing a 50mm Versus 85mm Lens for Photographing People

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

As a writer for Digital Photography School, one of the most frequently asked questions I receive from beginner and intermediate photographers is, “If I have to choose just ONE lens to buy right now, which one should I choose?” We’ve previously discussed the differences between a 24mm lens and a 50mm lens for photographing people, and in that same vein, it’s time for another lens showdown!

lens photographing people

In this article, we’ll be discussing the differences between an 85mm and a 50mm lens for photographing people. Once again, I’ll walk you through several sets of similar images taken with each lens so that you can easily see the differences between the two. Hopefully, you can walk away with a better understanding of which lens might be the best upgrade for you.

To keep things consistent, all images in this article were taken with a Canon 60D, and either the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens or the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens. The Canon 60D is an APS-C sensor (cropped sensor) camera, so in order to determine the functioning focal length of these lenses on this camera, multiply the lens focal length by 1.6 (multiply by 1.5 if you use Nikon). So on a cropped sensor camera, the 50mm lens functions roughly as an 80mm lens, and the 50mm lens functions as a 136mm lens.

1. Differences in Depth of Field

lens photographing people

This image was taken with Canon 85mm lens at f/1.8.

One of the biggest differences between the 85mm lens and the 50mm lens is the distance that you’ll need to stand from your subject. With the 85mm lens, the minimum focusing distance is 2.8 ft, and with the 50mm lens, the minimum focusing distance is 1.15 ft.

This means that in general, you will be standing further away from your subject with the 85mm lens, than you will with the 50mm. In turn, this decreases the depth of field, which means that images shot with the 85mm lens tend to have much blurrier bokeh than images shot with the 50mm lens, even when using the same aperture.

lens photographing people

This image was taken with a Canon 50mm at f/1.8.

You can see the difference clearly in the cherry blossoms in the background of the two images above, both of which were shot at f/1.8. The cherry blossoms are fairly well blurred in both images, but the shape of the blossoms is more defined in the image taken with the 50mm lens, and the blossoms are significantly more blurred and creamy in the image that with the 85mm lens.

Of course, everyone has a different preference when it comes to bokeh. Some prefer the more uniform creaminess that the 85mm lens offers, while other photographers prefer to have a little more definition in the background.

lens photographing people

Left: 85mm lens | Right: 50mm lens.

You may even find that you prefer different approaches in different applications! For example, I usually favor the more uniform bokeh of the 85mm lens. However, when I’m photographing in the grass, I prefer the bit of texture which the 50mm lens provides (see the examples above).

This is purely a matter of preference, so start making mental notes about which type of images you tend to prefer when you look at other photographers’ work. If you find that you are always drawn to the creamier texture, then the 85mm lens may be a better fit for you. If you prefer a bit more texture in the background, you may want to consider the 50mm lens instead.

2. Differences in Framing

lens photographing people

This image was taken with 50mm lens.

In addition, spend some time thinking about the content of your backdrops. Using an 85mm lens will result in an image that is more closely framed on your subject. On the other hand, shooting with the 50mm lens will result in an image that includes more of the background (though not nearly as much as shooting with the Canon 24mm lens).

Do you happily hike up to the top of a mountain for a photo session? You might want to consider the 50mm lens in order to more fully capture the trees and vistas in the background behind your portrait subject(s).

lens photographing people

This image was taken in exactly the same place as the previous one, only using the 85mm lens instead of the 50mm.

On the other hand, do you often find yourself trying to disguise the background in your images? Do you shoot on location with backgrounds that are sometimes out of your control and/or unpredictable?  In that case, you may want to consider the 85mm lens.

When you combine the decreased depth of field of the 85mm lens with the closer framing of your subject, the 85mm lens is stellar at creating beautiful portrait images at almost any location.

3. Differences in Shooting Distance

lens photographing people

This image was taken with 50mm lens.

Remember when I said that when you’re using an 85mm lens you’ll be standing further away from your subject than you would be using a 50mm lens? Here’s another reason why that’s important to know, I almost never use my 85mm lens inside our home.

Our house is just over 1,000 square feet, and depending on the room, sometimes I physically cannot back up far enough to use my 85mm lens. Aside from official photography business, it’s important to me to be able to capture little day to day moments of our family, and so having a fast lens that I can use indoors is a must-have for me.

As much as I love my 85mm lens, it just isn’t a great fit for that purpose given the size of our home. Your mileage may vary.

Lens photographing people

This image was taken with 85mm lens.

On the other hand, when we’re outdoors I often prefer my 85mm lens. In that situation, standing further away from my subjects is a good thing. I can let my kids play and have fun without being all up in their business. Having a bit more space between them and the camera means that they’re able to relax more easily, which in turn leads to more genuine expressions and candid smiles.

Conclusion

As you can see, both of these lenses are great for capturing portrait-style images of people – I personally keep both in my camera bag and use them with near equal frequency.

That said, if you’re only able to purchase one lens right now, both lenses have situations in which they outshine the other, so it’s important for you to think realistically about your preferences and the way you’ll use a portrait lens most often in order to get the most bang for your buck!

If you have one of these lenses – which do you use the most for people photography?

The post Comparing a 50mm Versus 85mm Lens for Photographing People by Meredith Clark appeared first on Digital Photography School.

May
3

8 Tips for Mastering Your Portrait Photography

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

Becoming a master of portrait photography takes lots of patience and practice. It’s likely there are a few mistakes you are making with your portraits that hold them back from excellence. In this article, I will walk through eight tips to instantly boost your portrait photography game and take it to the next level.

#1 Adapt to the available light

Light is one of the most important elements to keep in mind when taking portraits – specifically how the light looks on your subject’s face. Proper lighting, or lack thereof, can make or break your image. Direct the person you are photographing to turn their head towards the main light source, whether it’s a street lamp or the sun. If you’re having them look towards the sun, tell them to look in a direction that won’t cause them to squint or be unpleasant for them. You don’t want people going blind on your shoot, right?

Portrait photography

While the golden hour is a fabulous time to photograph portraits, you won’t always have the luxury of perfect lighting thanks to the whims of Mother Nature. In these situations, you need to adapt to the available light to maximize your portrait opportunities.

Keep in mind, there is no such thing as bad light. It can all be used to your advantage if you know what you’re doing. Here are some basic tips for different natural lighting scenarios:

  • Harsh sunlight – have your subject stand in the shade to provide even lighting across their face.
  • Golden hour – have your subject face the sun to give a nice glow on their face or put the sun behind them to get some halo lighting.
  • Cloudy day – you will pretty much be good to shoot anywhere since the clouds will naturally diffuse the sun and provide flattering, even light on your subject’s face.
  • Night time/low light – look for a street light or other light source that can provide good lighting on your subject’s face.
Portrait photography Portrait photography

#2 Give directions to your subject

Let’s face it, most people are not confident or even comfortable being in front of the camera. Providing gentle directions to the person you are photographing can help them relax. Keep your directions simple and positive. If you don’t know any poses, focus on one thing to improve each shoot. Perhaps you ask your subject to lift their chin to provide a more flattering view of their face. A little positive direction goes a long way.

#3 Find a clean background that contrasts with the subject

Backgrounds are extremely important in creating pleasing portraits. The key role of the background is to provide context to the environment the person is occupying and make them stand out. Finding a clean background that provides contrast with your subject is crucial.

Some things to be mindful of:

  • Branches, poles or other objects may look like they are growing out of your subject’s head, depending on where they are in the image. Try to frame the shot so that your subject’s head is distanced from distracting elements.
  • Try to find colors or tones that either complement or contrast your subject’s skin tones and clothing.

Portrait photography

#4 Focus on the dominant eye

This is particularly important if you’re shooting with shallow depth of field. Be sure to focus on the dominant eye of your subject, the one that is closest to the lens. If the dominant eye is out of focus, your photo will end up looking slightly off. This can ruin an otherwise good portrait.

#5 Keep your lines straight

Crooked horizon lines can give your portraits a weird look, so make sure to keep those lines straight. The same goes for environmental elements like doors and the edges of buildings. If these types of lines aren’t straight, it can give your portraits a tilted look that isn’t flattering. Of course, you can straighten important lines in post-production, but this will involve cropping, which may ruin the composition. Focus on getting it right in camera.

Portrait photography

#6 Be careful where you crop extremities

Hey, I get it. Sometimes you don’t want to frame up a full body shot of your subject. Maybe you want to pull in closer for an upper body profile or headshot. In these cases you will be cropping a portion of your subject’s body out of the frame, so be very careful where you crop their extremities.

Some tips about cropping:

  • Don’t crop body parts at the joint: Cropping your subject at the elbows, knees, or wrists can make them look like they have lost a limb. Try cropping halfway between joints instead. For instance, if you are cropping out part of the arm crop halfway up the wrist or bicep rather than at the elbow.
  • If your subject’s hands/feet are in the frame make sure they are all the way in: Don’t accidentally lop off fingers or toes at the edge of the frame. This can ruin your portrait.
Portrait photography

Look at the hand here, it appears somewhat cut-off or missing.

Portrait photography

This is better, it includes her while arms and hands.

#7 Pay attention to the edges of the frame

If you’re shooting portraits on the street, get that trash can out of the corner of your frame! Or at the very least, make sure it’s out of focus and blends into the background.

When you’re photographing a person, it’s easy to have all your focus on them to the point where you lose track of the outside of the image. But having distracting elements on the edges of the frame can ruin your portrait. Make the proper adjustments in framing before you press that shutter and keep those edges tidy.

#8 Incorporate something interesting

If you really want to take your portrait photography game to the next level, it’s important to think outside the box and get creative. A lot of portraits can be boring and look the same; properly exposed pictures of people just standing there.

To spice up your portraits, try incorporating some interesting props or environmental elements. Now, you don’t need to grab onto Instagram trends, like wrapping your subject in LED lights, but including props can help your portraits stand out from the crowd. Get creative and start mastering your portrait photography game.

Portrait photography Portrait photography

Conclusion

Follow these eight tips and see how your portrait photography improves. Please share any comments or questions you have in the section below, as well as your images.

The post 8 Tips for Mastering Your Portrait Photography by Dan Bullman appeared first on Digital Photography School.

May
1

How to Plan a Successful Sunset Portrait Session

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

In this article you will get some solid tips for planning and executing a sunset portrait session. Learn how to take the images that you and your subjects will love.

Planning sunset portrait session 01

Plan ahead for a successful sunset portrait

Many photographers feel overwhelmed when they start photographing portraits, professionally or for fun.

Where should I shoot? How should I pose people? What lens should I use? What settings should I be using? When should I move them to/from a great spot? What should I say to get great emotion?

A plan will give you confidence and help alleviate some of the immediate pressure of decision making. It’s not restrictive because often the best shots are unplanned, but rather something to give you confidence and a direction to fall back on when you aren’t feeling inspired.

Here is our rough plan for all of our sunset shoots, whether it be an engagement, part of a wedding, family portrait, maternity, or outdoor newborn session. Our sunset portrait sessions are always planned approximately one hour before sunset.

This plan’s purpose is twofold – it not only helps you have more confidence and direction, but will also help you make the most of your location and sunset lighting.

Planning sunset portrait session 04

STEP ONE: ARRIVE EARLY TO SCOUT

Plan to arrive at least 20-30 minutes early to scout a new location. You never know what amazing little lane or spot may be just around the corner, so it’s worth taking some extra time to explore. It’s also nice to arrive before your client so that you can make them feel welcome upon their arrival.

STEP TWO: ASSESS THE LOCATION

Start to assess the location by asking the following questions:

Where are some nice shady spots to begin? Shady spots are perfect to start off with while the sun is still bright and harsh.

What is the highest point at the location? If you are at a hilly location, this is where you will be able to capture the final moments of sunset and make the most of the golden light.

Where is the most impressive spot for sunset? This is where you want to end up – so it should be last on your route.

With these questions answered, you can very roughly map out a planned route. This means you’ll always have a direction to head and will be able to lead the clients confidently around the location.

Planning sunset portrait session 07

STEP THREE: SHOOT FOR THE BEST LIGHT

To make the absolute best of the sunset lighting, you can follow the same sort of pattern every shoot (in this order):

  1. Shade shots
  2. Filtered Light shots
  3. Silhouette shots
  4. Sunset shots
  5. Dusk shots

Let’s put your plan into practice, assuming sunset is 6 pm:

4:40 pm – Arrive, scout the area and assess the location.

5:00 pm – Your client arrives and is briefed about the fun time they are going to have!

5:10 pm – SHADE SHOOTING

Get straight into shooting in the nice shady spot you already found. We love to knock out some more formal shots like these here, as usually these are photos clients love, but don’t want big on the walls. Save the more impressive lighting for landscape shots.

Planning sunset portrait session 02

Planning sunset portrait session 03

5:25 pm – FILTERED LIGHT SHOOTING

You can then move on to any shots where you want the sun in the photo, but you can filter the light through the trees. (Read our past article on four different ways to filter sun flare in this article: How to Control Sun Flare in Your Photos). Photos such as these:

Planning sunset portrait session 05

Planning sunset portrait session 06

5:40 pm – SILHOUETTE SHOOTING

Roughly 10-20 minutes before sunset is usually the best time to try a silhouette. As silhouettes require you to shoot at a very low angle, you won’t be able to match up the height of the sun with the clients’ feet if you wait any longer. You can read our article on capturing silhouettes here.

Planning sunset portrait session 08

Planning sunset portrait session 09

Planning sunset portrait session 10

5:50 pm – SUNSET SHOOTING

At this point, the light will be golden – so you want to be at your final spot. Do all you can to make this most of the beautiful soft light – you can even position your clients out in the open if you know how to control sunflare. We try to take a variety of photos at this time – a landscape, waist-up, and close-ups. That way, we can create wall art sets that all have the same sunset colouring.

Planning sunset portrait session 11

Planning sunset portrait session 12

Planning sunset portrait session 13

6:00 pm – DUSK SHOOTING

The sun has set, but you still have a glorious window of 15 minutes where you can capture the gorgeous colours of dusk. Because the sun is no longer emitting harsh light, you can now use the whole other side of the location! Areas that were previously too lit by the sun can now be shot in the soft light of dusk.

Planning sunset portrait session 14

Planning sunset portrait session 15

Planning sunset portrait session 16

6:10 pm – DONE!

This plan is designed to give you some structure if you are lacking confidence and direction for your sunset portrait photo sessions. It will help you get the most from the sunlight, and effectively manage your time during the shoot. Of course, being photographers, we’re all for creativity, so breaking the rules is great once you have more confidence.

Please share your sunset portrait images in the comments below.

Planning sunset portrait session 17

The post How to Plan a Successful Sunset Portrait Session by Alana Orth appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Apr
27

3 Lighting Setups for Photographing Headshots

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

I do a lot of corporate and actors headshots around Washington, DC and I wanted to share some of the simple but effective lighting setups that I use over and over, which you can easily copy and use yourself.

lighting for headshots

The One Light Wonder

My standard setup consists of a large soft light source to the left or right of the subject, a reflector under the face, and another reflector opposite the main light source. I shoot hundreds of headshots per year using this simple setup. I use a Paul C. Buff Einstein unit with a large octabox in my studio, but you could easily put together something similar with a cheap speedlight, an umbrella, and a couple of $20 reflectors.

You can see this setup in the photo below, with my poor wife Karen standing in as a subject. She was just coming downstairs to make some tea, and got ambushed!

headshots lighting

Reflectors and adjustments

Once my subject is in place, I do some tweaking. First I will adjust the light source so it is slightly above their eye level. For most people, I think it looks best to have the light coming from above to cast subtle shadows under the chin, accentuating the jaw and helping to hide any double chin.

Then I will adjust the reflector underneath their face and bring it up to about their mid-chest level. This reflector helps fill in shadows on the face and provides a really nice extra catch light in the eyes. Some folks will use another (powered) light source down here, but I find the reflector to be much simpler to set up, and it also has the virtue of being idiot proof.

For example, if you have another light instead of a reflector below the subject, and you accidentally overpower it (so it is more powerful than the main light), you have created some horrible Frankenstein lighting! It is physically impossible to do this with a reflector, which can save from you from costly mistakes.

headshots lightingYou can see the side reflector in my studio in this photo (it’s just to Karen’s left).

Finally we have the reflector opposite the light source. For this one, I will often use a black-sided panel to create a darker shadow on that side of the face. This effect can be very dramatic, and has added benefit of slimming the face. The downside is that if your subject is very wrinkly, you’re not filling those wrinkles with light from that side. So it doesn’t work for everyone.

Here’s an example where of a headshot where I used this effect to create a nice dramatic edge:

headshots lighting

Some additional tweaks

With this simple setup, it’s very easy to make tweaks and see what works best with a particular person’s face. Often I will leave the basic setup in place with the black reflector, but a few examples where I might make changes are:

  1. The subject has a double chin, so I really want to define the jaw. In this case, I may raise the light up extra high to cast more shadow under the chin (make sure you don’t go too high and lose your catchlights), and/or lower or remove the under reflector.

headshots lighting

  1. The subject has long dark hair. In this case, the dark reflector is not necessary because we already have a dark edge there from the hair. So in this case I would go with a white reflector on the side or bring in a hair light from behind (more on that in the next section)

In the photo below, you can see a lot of detail in her hair on the shadow side. That’s because I brought my big white reflector in close.

headshots lighting

  1. Subject has deep set eyes. We want to fire more light into those sockets or our poor subject will end up looking like a serial killer or a cave man! In this case, I might lower the main/soft light so it is right at eye level.

Two Lights

You could run a whole business just using the one light system, but if you’re anything like me you get bored and like to try new things. So let’s bring in a second light.

The second light for me is usually a “kicker” (also called a rim or accent light) coming from behind and opposite the main light. I use this to accentuate the jaw, especially in men, or hair in women. It’s especially nice to create a little highlight on darker hair.

In the photo below, I needed a way to separate this young man from the dark background. My kicker light did the trick!

Headshots lighting

In my studio, I use a strip softbox for this purpose, but you could also use a bare head with a grid or even an old speedlight with a paper towel roll taped to it to make a simple snoot. The important thing is that you want to control the light so it doesn’t spray into your lens and create flare or lack of contrast.

You can see my kicker light in this setup shot with Karen.

headshots

Three and Four Lights

I use lights three and four to create a clean white background. You can either use one light fired at the background from just behind the subject, or two lights off to either side.

The white background is my favorite look these days for a lot of reasons. I think it looks super bright, modern and happy, and really pops on LinkedIn and other online profiles. It is also a great way to go for companies because it is easy to replicate and get a consistent look from shoot to shoot (for example, when photographing a new employee months after the initial shoot, or replicating the same look with shoots done across the country by different photographers).

headshots lighting setups

headshots lighting setups

headshots lighting setups

headshots lighting setups

Whether you use one or two lights for the background depends on your budget and the space where you are working. Two lights can give you a larger more even spread of light, whereas with one light you might have some fall off around the edges that you need to clean up in post-production. So I usually stick to two lights unless I’m on location somewhere and space is tight.

Conclusion

So I hope you all found this article helpful and you can use the lighting setups for your headshot. I look forward to your comments and questions!

The post 3 Lighting Setups for Photographing Headshots by Dennis Drenner appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Apr
27

How to Photograph People Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

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

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Kota Wade

You just got booked for a marvelous portrait photo shoot out in a gorgeous natural landscape. You run out the door, with camera gear in tow. Then you arrive at the location, the fresh air filling your nose, the beautiful natural world flourishing all around. You meet with your lovely portrait subject. The sun is beating down on you from above. Then it hits you… you forgot your reflector at home.

Or maybe you don’t have a reflector, maybe you just never felt the need to spend money on one. All of this is totally okay because there are some tips and tricks to take stunning photographs without the use of a reflective disc! Keep reading to learn more.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Bina Monique

What is a reflector?

A reflector is a simple tool that redirects existing light. A reflector does not illuminate, it merely allows you to manipulate the light that you already have.

Photographers use reflectors to fill shadows, which is why you often see them used in outdoor settings where you cannot control the light. Being at the mercy of the sun, you add a level of control to your situation with the use of a reflector. However, there are ways to take advantage of your situation without one.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Skylar Roberge

Find even lighting

Essentially, part of the trouble with shooting outdoors comes from the lighting. Clients often see a clear blue sky with the beaming sun and think that is an absolute joy for photographers. But we shooters silently scream in agony at the prospect of overblown highlights, underexposed shadows, and the dreaded contrast.

What’s the best solution for this? Find some even lighting!

Positioning your subject under a tree, in the shadow of a building, or simply positioning yourself so that the sun hides behind a mountain can all make for some nice even lighting. Although the background might be overexposed if you are simply using a small patch of shadow, try to change your perspective to make the most of the situation.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 400 – Shutter Speed: 1/100 – Aperture: f/2.8
Even Lighting: Rooftop overhang

Make even lighting

Are you out in a field or a desert and don’t have access to any form of even lighting? Is the sun too bright to have on your subject’s face? Then it’s time to get creative!

You can make your own even lighting utilizing things you may already have in your car. Use an umbrella and position that over your subject, or to block out the sun in your frame. You can use a vehicle windshield cover or shade to do the same.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 1250 – Shutter Speed: 1/500 – Aperture: f/2.8
Even Lighting: Umbrella

Use the contrast to your advantage

Are neither of the aforementioned tips applicable to your scenario? Well then, this is where we get inventive.

Photography is an art form, and artists are creative, imaginative, and inspired. Instead of fighting against the contrast, why not use it to your advantage? Work your shoot around the contrasting shadows and highlights, and create dramatic photographs. Several well-known clothing designers, such as Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, use contrast in their fashion editorials to stage a theatrical scene and illicit an intense response in the viewer.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 200 – Shutter Speed: 1/1000 – Aperture: f/2.8

Shoot at the right time of day

When a choice presents itself, shooting at the correct hour of the day can ease your lighting woes. The golden hour is infamous for being an excellent time to photograph. Aiming to photograph when the sun is low and producing a more even light removes the need for a reflector.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 1600 – Shutter Speed: 1/640 – Aperture: f/2.8

Fill shadows by finding a natural reflector

Various surfaces can double as reflectors, such as water or windows from a building. Positioning your model just right can garner the same effect as if you had a reflector yourself.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 2000 – Shutter Speed: 1/320 – Aperture: f/2.8
Reflector: Car windshield, parked to his right side

Fill the shadows in post-processing

The computer is your friend, and it is okay to use programs to help you bring your vision to light (no pun intended). Shooting in RAW format (an image file that contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of a camera – Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed) gives you better control over your image when you edit it. RAW files have more shades of colors compared to JPEG files, higher image quality, significantly better control over editing lightness, white balance, hue, saturation, etc., and all of the changes made on a raw image file are non-destructive. You can use any post-production software to lighten the shadows in your image and darken the highlights.

Original image before processing.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

After processing.

There you have it, sounds like you have a solution to your no-reflector problem.

The post How to Photograph People Outdoors Without Using a Reflector by Anabel DFlux appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Apr
26

7 Tips to Get Professional Results on Your Next Outdoor Fashion Photography Shoot

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

Many photographers like to take portraits or fashion outdoors, as it does not require any huge investment such as owning a studio space and lights. Though it might look like an easy task, there are few things that you need to be aware of before and while doing fashion photography outdoors.

Outdoor fashion photography 01

You might have a good-looking model and expensive camera and lens, but you still may not be able to capture professional results. You need not worry, as the tips mentioned below would help you drastically improve your results during your next outdoor fashion photo shoot.

1. Know the location well

The location is one of the first things you should finalize while planning an outdoor photo shoot. Scout the location at least once before the day of the shoot to ensure that you do not waste time on the final day. It is even better if you take some photos of the places that you feel could be perfect for your images, and simply browse through them on the day of your shoot.

If you follow these practices for your next outdoor photo shoot, you would surely save a lot of time as you would have already pre-planned and pre-visualized your frames.

Outdoor fashion photography 4

2. Choose the right time of the day

Once you have finalized the location for the fashion photo shoot, you need to make sure that you choose the right time of the day to captured desired results. There is no fixed time of day that you should be shooting, it all depends on the weather conditions and how you want to use the ambient light.

Try and avoid the time when the sun is at its peak as it would create hard shadows on your model’s face. The safest time to shoot outdoors is either just after the sunrise or a couple of hours before the sunset. During a cloudy day, the light would be soft and there would be less contrast in the background (depending on the backdrop) but it all depends on your choice. I you wish to capture photos with diffused light, you can go ahead and shoot during a cloudy day.

Outdoor fashion photography 5b

3. Choose the right background

It is important to spend some time thinking about the background in your photo. You might see a beautiful location and simply pick up your camera and get started taking photos, without even visualizing whether the background will make or break your photo.

You need to think, visualize, and then frame accordingly, making sure that the colors in the background and the colors of the model’s clothes are not getting merged. The colors in the background should not overpower the model, which is the main highlight of your photo.

Outdoor fashion photography 05

4. Try mixing ambient and flash light

Go out of your comfort zone and do something different by using both ambient light as well as flash. This gives an extra dimension to your photos. You can use the sun as the key light falling on the subject and place the flash at the back of the model to give a rim light effect on their face or hair. Or you can use the sun light as the rim light or the kicker and the flash as the key light source, this allows you to control the shadows on the face.

Outdoor fashion photography 02

5. Make the model comfortable: Talk and Compliment

Expressions and body language of the model are key ingredients in fashion photography. You need to make sure that your model is comfortable shooting outdoors, as sometimes there may be other people surrounding you as you work. If it’s possibility that you are shooting with a model who is not professional or has just started his/her career, you as a photographer have to make your model feel comfortable.

You can do so by constantly interacting with your model, compliment them while he/she is posing and make them feel confident. You need to tell your model whether they are posing right, you must direct and get the best out of the model in the friendliest way possible.

Outdoor fashion photography 08 Outdoor fashion photography 09

6. Get the best possible exposure in camera

Never shoot with the thought that the exposure can easily be adjusted during post-processing. You can adjust the exposure later during the post-processing stage but you might end up losing details in your photo, depending on the camera that you are using. If you have taken a photo which is 2-3 stops over/under exposed, adjusting the exposure during processing will not give details as good as a correct exposure would.

If you adjust the exposure of an underexposed photo, remember that you may also be introducing noise. Similarly, if you adjust the exposure of an overexposed photo then you will not be able to retain as much details in the highlights as you would have in a correctly exposed photo.

To ensure that you are capturing correctly exposed photos during the shoot, you should refer to the histogram in your camera.

7. Shoot in RAW format

Never be afraid of shooting in RAW. It may take up space on your memory card but it is really for your benefit. Shooting fashion in RAW format allows you to capture much more details as compared to the JPEG format, which helps in retouching the image during post-processing.

Outdoor fashion photography 6

Another benefit of RAW format is that it contains the maximum dynamic range possible from your camera and can be used to recover an overexposed or an underexposed image during the processing, as discussed in the previous point. You can also edit the same RAW file multiple times, without losing any details. Whereas, a JPEG file loses its quality every time you edit the image.

Conclusion

Being a photographer, you need to plan and stage the photo shoot so that you get the best possible results out of your model. From choosing the apt location to scheduling the shoot at the right time of the day, it is your job to get the things planned in advance to save time and energy. Try and get out of your comfort zone by adding more light sources such as the flash lights or strobes, this will help give you more professional results.

You might be using the best possible camera and lens, but if you are not able to get good expressions and body language, your photos will not stand out. So, the next time you plan an outdoor fashion photo shoot, do keep these tips in mind to achieve the best possible results.

Share your fashion photography tips and images below.

The post 7 Tips to Get Professional Results on Your Next Outdoor Fashion Photography Shoot by Kunal Malhotra appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Apr
23

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile in Photos

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

One of the biggest challenges every photographer faces it getting people to smile naturally for a photo. Sure, you can ask someone to say “cheese!” and he or she will likely comply. But you’ll also probably end up with a cheesy smile that doesn’t look natural or attractive. After all, there’s a HUGE difference between a genuine smile and a fake one.

As a professional event photographer, spontaneously getting complete strangers to smile is a big part of my job, and I’ve picked up some proven techniques that I’ll share with you in this article. Note that I’ve broken up the sections into tips for photographing people by themselves, as couples, in groups, and children, but you can certainly mix and match. Also, be careful to always consider your audience and adjust your technique accordingly.

For Singles

1. Approach with a smile

A smile and friendly demeanor are contagious. Before you ask someone else to smile, make sure that you’re smiling yourself and approach with a friendly tone. If you want to get a real smile out of someone, you need to set the tone by approaching them with a giant, genuine smile on your face.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

2. Offer a compliment

One of the quickest and easiest ways to get someone to smile is to boost their confidence. This is something you can easily do by offering a compliment based on a feature or quality you observe about them. Are they wearing an attractive outfit or an unusual piece of jewelry? Do they have a friendly smile or laugh? Offer a compliment!

3.  Smile with your eyes

How do you know if a smile is genuine or fake? It’s all in the eyes. A fake smile tends to only have the lower half of the face engaged, with the lips curled into a smile. But if the eyes aren’t squinting as well, you can tell the smile is forced and not very genuine. If your photo subject’s smile is looking a bit off and you can’t tell why, ask them to smile with their eyes, or “smize” as Tyra Banks would say.

4. Fake laugh!

To illicit a genuine smile, your photo subject needs to feel comfortable and relaxed. The best way to break the ice is to get them to laugh. Ask for a fake laugh, saying something like this, “Let’s see who’s got the biggest, loudest fake laugh! On the count of three, 1, 2, 3, LAUGH!” The whole point here is not to capture the fake laugh, but to get the resulting real laughs and smiles that you’ll get after the fact. It’s also important to note that your own enthusiasm for the activity and tone of voice is what makes this technique work.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

5. Show me your happy face! Silly face! Sad face!

Most photo subjects respond the best if you give them specific instructions. Help them loosen up and feel less self-conscious by having them go through a series of facial poses. You might think this one only works with kids, but certain types of adults will totally get into this exercise.

6. Instead of “Say cheese,” say…

Most people expect to hear “say cheese” before getting a photo. Surprise them by saying something else, such as, “money” or “whiskey” for adults, or “pickles” or “chocolate” for children. Use your discretion and pick a word that suits your audience.

7. Tell them a joke (or ask them to tell you a joke)

One of the most obvious ways to get people to laugh or smile is to tell a joke. The trick is finding a joke that is appropriate for the audience. Personally, I use the joke below all the time for my corporate event photo shoots, and it almost always gets a laugh out of people. But I wouldn’t use this joke with children; I’d maybe use a knock knock joke instead.  You can also flip the tables and ask your photo subject to tell you a joke.

Q: “What’s the quickest way to make money as a photographer?”

A: “Sell your camera!”

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

For Groups

When photographing groups, you can use any of the above techniques for singles, but you can also add quite a few extra tricks to get creative, engaging shots.

8. Whisper a secret to the person standing next to you.

The idea is to get the people in your group engaging with each other. This technique can also elicit grins and giggles as people tend to whisper nonsensical noises to each other.

9. Everyone look at each other.

This works best for groups of at least three or more people. The reason why it works is that the instructions are vague. No one is really sure who to look at, and the resulting expressions tend to be smiles and laughs. This is great for capturing candid shots. Use it to loosen people up, and then move onto to the next few tips to work them into a more serious, smiling pose.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

10. Everyone look at ____.

It’s essential to know everyone’s names or titles for this one to work. By calling out someone specifically in a group, you’re making them the center of attention and it’s often funny to the rest of the group to see how that person reacts.

11. Everyone look at me!

Follow this up after #8 or #9. After getting the group to engage with each other and laugh, they’ve loosened up. At this point, you can turn their full attention back to the camera and get everyone looking at you with a real smile on their faces. You can also take it a step further by saying something playful and silly like, “You guys don’t look happy enough! Make those smiles bigger!”

12. Action for a silly photo

Almost every single group photo will result in the group wanting to take a silly picture after the serious one. The problem is, most groups don’t know what to do for a silly photo. Help them out by throwing out some suggestions. My favorites for adults are:

  • Everyone clink your glasses together and say, “cheers!” if they’re holding drinks.
  • Hands in the air and raise the roof!
  • Point at the camera!
  • Thumbs up!
  • Give me your best impression of ____ (a celebrity, animal, etc)

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

For Couples

You can use many of the above group techniques for couples, but you’ll also want to have a few other tricks up your sleeve.

13. Tell me about how you met / first knew you were in love.

Talking about intimate, happy moments with couples is a great way to get them in-tune with each other and eliciting romantic smiles.

14. Give her a kiss on the cheek/forehead/nose.

Most happy couples will definitely smile when asked to be intimate with each other for the camera.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

Photo by Jonathan Gipaya

15. Ask them to dance.

Get the couple moving and focus their attention away from the camera, especially if they are having a hard time relaxing. Almost any couple dancing together will be in good spirits. This also gives you a chance to grab some candid, action shots.

For Children

16. Stare at each other without laughing.

The minute you tell kids to be serious without laughing, you’re more likely to get the opposite effect. This is a simple, yet highly effective way to get kids to smile.

17. Play a game.

If you have the time and the space to get kids to play a game, take advantage of it! Have them play Simon Says, Duck Duck Goose, tag, or any other age-appropriate games that will get them engaged and having fun.

18. On the count of three, jump as high as you can!

Jump shots are always fun for kids and even certain types of adults. Make it more fun and engaging by turning it into a jumping contest to see who can jump the highest.

20 Tips for Getting People to Smile for a Photo

19. Stick your tongue out.

Admittedly, photos of kids sticking their tongues out often aren’t what you’re trying to achieve. But if you stick your tongue out at them or turn it into a game of who has the longest tongue, this can lead to laughs and smiles, which you definitely want to capture in photos.

20. Bunny ears.

You may not even have to ask kids to do this for you. Bunny ears seem to be a universal photo prank that even adults play on each other and seem to find funny.

In Conclusion

There you have it, 20 ideas to help people smile for a photo. Get out there and try some of these techniques and see how they go! But always be sure to gauge how your photo subjects are reacting to your suggestions. You might have to adjust your tone of voice and photo directions for different types of people.

Have any ideas to add to the list? Mention them in the comments below!

The post 20 Tips for Getting People to Smile in Photos by Suzi Pratt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Apr
20

How to Overcome Difficult Lighting Scenarios at Weddings

Filed Under Digital Photography School, Make Money From Photography, Photography Tips and Tutorials, Portrait Photography

A wedding photographer has to be prepared for pretty much anything. Big belly laughs, impromptu outbursts of song and bear hugs can happen at any moment. Not to mention that the light is constantly changing and you’ve got yourself a schedule to keep. Let’s just say weddings keep you on your toes.

That’s why it’s always worth planning ahead and being prepared. Weddings rarely take place in just one location and moving from indoors to outside, or from sunshine to shade can cause a huge change in exposure. When not competing with the sun, indoor lighting poses new problems. Tungsten bulbs mixed with daylight causes all sorts of white balance issues. But this is why we love weddings, they keep us sharp.

Being prepared and practice is key to achieving consistent results. Here are three top tips on how to make the most of difficult lighting situations.

Couple portraits – How to find good light on a dull day

Believe it or not, it is raining at the point of capture in the image below. This photograph was taken in July in Surrey, UK. The British weather was doing all it could to play up to the stereotype it would seem.

Couple portrait weddings

Not every wedding takes place on a gorgeous sunny day and it’s not always feasible to shoot at sunset to capture the golden hour of light. What can you do to create images that your clients will love and to which you’re proud to put your name? Especially when the heavens decide to play against you. Here is the process I use when assessing lighting conditions and how this photograph was taken.

Understanding the principles of lighting is fundamental in any photographer’s quest to a beautifully lit photograph. Fortunately, these principles are consistent regardless of where you are located in the world or how expensive your equipment is. Whether you’re using the latest Canon or a generation old Smartphone, light can be manipulated to your advantage.

Approaching every scenario with the same set of questions can radically change how you see light and ultimately how you take pictures. Where is the light coming from, where is the even light and where are the greatest differences in the light?

Place the subjects in shade

Shade weddings

Here you can see the scene exposed to what the human eye sees. The background is correctly exposed which throws the foreground into darkness. What we want is to do is correctly expose the foreground to create a clean canvas with an overexposed background. In this scenario, there is about three stops difference in exposure, which is perfect.

Shade overexposed weddings

By placing the couple under the branches of the tree they are instantly evenly lit. There are no stray light rays coming through branches or dappled light on faces, and the pebbles on the driveway aid in reflecting light back onto the subjects. By exposing for the skin tones the background will be overexposed, providing a clean canvas.

A few tweaks in Lightroom to warm the skin and recover some of the highlights and voila! An evenly lit portrait on a rainy day. The added benefit of the tree branches is that they, of course, provide shelter from the wind and rain. This technique of using trees as shelter can also be employed on dry days that are windy. Even if the sun is shining, a venue on a hill can increase the risk of a veil blowing away!

Confetti

Why is this difficult? Depending on the location of the venue or church, you may be competing with changing light that the couple will walk through as they process down the confetti line. This is problematic as you are going to be walking backward, trying to capture the action, as well as tracking the changing light.

It is quite common in the UK for churches to have tree lined pathways, this creates a lighting issue as a break in the trees will cause the couple to walk from light to shade to light, etc. This can mean a dramatic jump in exposure.

Confetti lighting weddings

Take pictures of your hand

This is probably the easiest method to test the exposure of skin tones which can and should be used to test all of the techniques in this article. Take a photograph of your hand, inspect the screen and adjust accordingly. The wedding guests may look at you in an odd way, but when you’re working at a fast pace this can be a life saver.

Take images of your hand in both the light and the shade and note the difference in exposure before the bride and groom appear. Depending on how you shoot, it makes sense to only change one setting as you will be multi-tasking. The control for shutter speed on Canon cameras is located where the index finger naturally rests, and logically is the easiest of the settings to change.

Pay attention as the couple moves from light to shade, remembering the readings of your hand. The camera settings are displayed in the viewfinder and alternate between the two as the light changes. Where possible, pre-plan your shots, performing a mental run through of where people are likely to be and what lighting difficulties you may encounter.

Confetti lighting 2 weddings

First dance

Who knows what kind of lighting setup the DJ will have. Will they make a beautiful white spotlight for the first dance, or will they bust out some crazy laser snowflakes? Anything could happen. One method to overcome this is to shoot into the DJ’s lights and use them as compositional features rather than compete with them.

This isn’t the only option, sometimes shooting with the lights are beneficial as it gives you scope to capture the guest’s reactions. To create this shot, one flashgun at both corners of the stage (pointing at the center of the dance floor), elevated on tripods, and attached to Yongnuo wireless triggers were used.

First dance weddings

This setup offers two things. Firstly, by backlighting the subject even exposure on the skin can be achieved with no unwanted shadows. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about what the DJ is doing with their lighting setup.

It pays to ask the DJ before any dancing commences, what they plan to do and work with them. You would certainly be unlucky should you encounter anyone who wasn’t amiable in having a discussion. However, the point remains that they have a job to do. If they feel the song warrants a change in lighting then they will adapt it for the benefit of the wedding, not for your advantage. This is completely understandable, however, lighting surprises aren’t often welcome. This is why it makes sense to pre-plan and take control of the lighting.

Lens chimping technique

A caveat to shooting in this way is that it is possible to end up with equipment or the DJ themselves in the background. For this reason, an interesting tactic to employ is Sam Hurd’s lens chimping technique. By placing a convex lens element in front of your lens it creates cool flares and throws the background out of focus.

First dance 2 lens chimping technique

Practice is certainly recommended as an incorrect application of this technique can result in the lens element focussing all lights onto your sensor and completely blowing out the shot. The first dance is often a tricky one to shoot, it would be interesting to hear about your ideas and innovations below. Happy shooting!

Conclusion

Hopefully, these quick tips will help you deal with challenging lighting situations at weddings or any other photography opportunities. Do you have any others you want to share? Please do so in the comments below.

The post How to Overcome Difficult Lighting Scenarios at Weddings by Liam Smith appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Apr
6

How to Create Portraits with a Black Background

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

Who does not love a crisp, deep black background for a portrait? You can achieve this with the application of just two ideas, and just a little post-processing too.

black background

We are talking about a couple of techy things in hopefully, a non-techy way. These two ideas will give you tips for how to make black backgrounds for your portraits.

No calculations necessary

As an erstwhile teacher of Mathematics, I should not apologize for numbers, should I? There is quite a lot of Mathematics in photography. However, you may be pleased to know that I think you can achieve everything, without thinking much beyond the basics. If you have a broad understanding of the concepts you will be absolutely fine.

These techniques are not just applicable to portraits.

Two Tips for Making Portraits with a Black Background

Banana palm leaf

Firstly, please think of stops of light as units. Using the term stop is like saying that something weighs 12 kilograms or that it is 10 miles away. As photographers, we tend to talk about stops and stopping down, but it is just as valid to say units. The thing is not to get bogged down in technicalities, the term stop is only a unit of measure.

The falling off of the light

The first concept might be stated simply as light falls off rapidly. Fleshing that out just a little, the amount of light available decreases greatly as you move away from the source of the light. But we are photographers and we do tend to think that a picture is worth a thousand words, so look at the diagram below:

In the example above, one unit of light arrives at our subject, one meter away from the window. If she moves two meters away, just one-quarter of a unit of light will now be arriving at her. Then, if she moves three meters away from the window, which is the source of light, there will be only one-ninth of a unit of light. The available light disappears very quickly.

It might suit some if I illustrate the same point with a graph (which, in the past, I have tended to introduce to students as a Mathematical picture).

Two Tips for Making Portraits with a Black Background

A mathematical picture tells a story?

How does that affect the background?

When trying to achieve a black background, you are interested in the amount of light hitting it. Again, pictures tell the story best. Both these photos had only white balance and very small adjustments to balance exposure done in post-processing.

Two Tips for Making Portraits with a Black Background

Not happy

The image on the left has the background close to the subject, about three feet (one meter) behind her. Then, on the right, the white background is about thirteen feet (four meters) back. You do not need me to do calculations, quote some nice formulae, to prove what is happening above. It is obvious, isn’t it?

In these photographs, the subject hasn’t moved and the exposure does not change. The background moves farther away, and the amount of light reaching it reduces rapidly. Even when the background is white, rather than the desired black, it gets much darker the greater the distance it is positioned from the light source.

In the practical world, there may be limits to what you can do, perhaps by the shooting space you have available. However, the message is simple, push the background as far away as possible, and even a seemingly small distance will help make it appear darker.

Two Tips for Making Portraits with a Black Background

Young Filipino.

The background for this photograph was the inside of a room. The teenage Filipino boy was standing in a doorway, getting full benefit from the light source. The background, the far wall of the room, might be only eight feet (just over two meters) away, but it is getting very close to the blackest of blacks, isn’t it?

Combine this reasonably straightforward science, the way light falls away, with the science of the dynamic range of camera sensors and you will be a long way towards achieving black backgrounds for your portraits.

Dynamic Range

Please understand that the numbers I am using here are approximate. They do vary from camera to camera, and from the conclusion given by one source to another. But I am going for using what is easy, what is really needed to make the point so you understand.

Dynamic range is the measurement from the darkest to the lightest item which can be seen. Your camera has a great deal less dynamic range than the human eye. It is much less capable of seeing into dark and light areas at the same time. That is why, when your camera produces an image with blown out highlights, and blocked up shadows. But your eye can still see the detail of a bird, which sat in bright sunlight, and you can also see the black dog which sat in the darkest shadows. Your camera simply cannot see both at the same time.

Two Tips for Making Portraits with a Black Background

Light the subject, not the background

It might be stating the obvious, but it needs to be said – the first step to getting a black background is to use a black backdrop. Then, if you can get the subject lit more brightly than the background, that will push the background into the underexposed, dark areas, outside the camera’s more limited dynamic range.

Portrait setup

If you can throw some extra light onto the subject and have them exposed correctly, in the brighter end of the dynamic range, that will help to send the rest of the image into darkness. The brightly lit subject should be properly exposed. Then there is a good chance that the background will be outside of the part of the dynamic range for which you are exposing. It will, at the very least, be heading towards black.

Portrait setup

Here is the setup for a portrait, with only natural light hitting the subject. It is not as obvious in this reduced jpeg as in the original RAW file, but the background is rather muddy, certainly getting towards black, but not the pure black you are looking for. In the original, you can clearly see folds in the cloth.

Two Tips for Making Portraits with a Black Background

Still not happy – most people would describe the background as black, but it is not the blackest of blacks, is it?

Here is the same set up again, with some extra light on the subject.

black background

I think the point is illustrated. Is it clear that the background is worthy of the classic description “inky”? Other things could be improved with a few post-processing tweaks. They are presented to show the backgrounds, not as finished portraits, and I’ve only changed color balance and tried to balance the exposures.

Use the natural law (it is called the Inverse Square Law) which dictates that light falls away rapidly from the source, and the limited dynamic range of your camera and you are a long way to getting a good, deep black, background. Next, you can help complete it further in post-processing.

Post-processing

I am referring to Lightroom here, but there are equivalent tools in other software.

Two Tips for Making Portraits with a Black Background

A bit of a muddy RAW file.

This is the photograph from the top of the article, as it first appeared out of the camera. You do not want to hear my excuses, but I did not get it as completely right in-camera as I would normally like to do. However, it turns out that is lucky, as it makes a good example for a post-processing in this case. Because the file was produced with the application of the ideas talked about above, it is very workable.

Most of the way to being processed in just a very few steps.

Edit intuitively

One of the best bits of advice I ever received, which I sometimes manage to apply, is to ignore the numbers. You should move those sliders till they give the look which you think suits the picture. Look at the photo and see what happens, take a breath, pause for a moment, and make some judgment as to whether it gives you what you’re looking for. Often this involves going a bit too far (whether it be with sharpening, or exposure, shadows, or whatever) and then dialing back a little.

I managed to do just that with this image. It makes me smile when I look at it now, a few weeks later, as I am slightly surprised at how far I went. I adjusted the color balance, brushed some negative clarity onto mom’s face, rotated the image counter-clockwise a little, but the exposure was not adjusted at all as the faces looked fine to me. Then I started pushing the sliders around.

Push the limits

It was a bit of a surprise to see just how far towards the negative I had moved the contrast slider. This may be counter-intuitive when you are trying to make parts of the image darker, but because we have got a reasonably well-produced file, we can get away with reducing the contrast, and this has the pleasing effect of lightening the hair and separating it from the background.

Of most significance to this exercise is the shadows slider which was moved in the opposite direction to usual. It was moved to the negative, to block up the shadows, rather than to the right, to try to pull out some detail.

I was also a bit surprised at how far I moved the black point. It seemed to work, though. As I say, I think it often works best if you move the sliders, without too much concern for the numbers they represent. Try to look at each photograph individually, rather than apply some sort of formula.

The final image had only a couple more, tiny, detailed tweaks.

black background

Extra Tips

A couple of other things.

How you decide to throw some light onto the subject of the photograph is for other articles. There are many other great Digital Photography School articles, which offer a huge number of suggestions for illuminating subjects. I thought you should know that I do very much like my LEDs, as I like being able to see the light. I also use reflectors. However, the first source of light in all the photographs above is natural light. You do not necessarily need a fancy kit.

In respect of the black cloth, most advice will suggest that you buy black velvet. I am sure it does an excellent job of absorbing light from all directions. But it is expensive, and with careful technique, it seems to me that another dark, non-shiny cloth can do the job too. One thing to pay a little attention to is making sure that you stretch the background cloth out a little. Try to get it as smooth and even as possible, with no creases, as any imperfections are liable to catch the light.

black background

Conclusion

The power of photography! 25 years after the event, I paid a bit of homage to Annie Leibowitz’s photograph of Demi Moore. I was not trying to replicate it as such, just nod in the photograph’s direction. But I did manage to get a really black background, didn’t I? Please give it a go yourself.

Share your images and questions in the comments below. I’m happy to try to help further if I can.

The post How to Create Portraits with a Black Background by Richard Messsenger appeared first on Digital Photography School.