Speedlight vs Monolight on Location: See How They Compare [video]

The post Speedlight vs Monolight on Location: See How They Compare [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video from Adorama, Gavin Hoey compares speed light vs monolight on location.

In the test, he does three very common lighting scenarios. He uses the flashes as fill flash, overpowering ambient light, and high-speed-sync flash.

He uses model, Charlotte, for the demonstration.

Gavin uses the following gear for the shoot:

 

 

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Scenario one: fill flash

First up, in the Speedlight vs Monolight comparison, Gavin uses the monolight.

Before taking any shots, he takes a meter reading of the ambient light. Then to get his flash to match those settings, rather than use trial and error (which you can do), he uses a light meter to take an accurate reading from his model’s chin. He then uses that to set the flash.

Settings: f/3.5 1/250th Sec ISO 200

Next, he uses the speedlight flash. He sets it up using the same light modifier that he uses with the mono light and puts it in the same position.

He takes another light meter reading of his model’s chin, and set’s his speedlight flash.

When comparing the photographs, it is difficult to see the difference between using the monolight and using the speedlight.

Scenario two: overpowering the ambient light

Settings: f/16 1/250th sec ISO 200

In this scenario, Gavin runs the flash at full power to see what sort of aperture he can get out of the flash.

When doing a light meter reading, he gets an aperture of f/22 at the flash’s full-power setting.

Because he doesn’t want to waste the flash battery power and have a longer recycle time, he drops the flash to half power, which gives him an aperture of f/16.

He tests the camera settings without flash first to see how dramatic the sky looks. Then he turns the flash on to get some dramatic shots.

Gavin then swaps the flash over to the Speedlight, again using the same modifier and distance. The meter reading with the speedlight gives f/11, and the speedlight is set to full power.

In the side by side comparison, Gavin prefers the speedlight version over the monolight (what do you think?). But he prefers the flexibility, faster recycle times, power usage etc. of the monolight.

Scenario three: high-speed-sync flash

High-speed-sync flash strobes the light rapidly, meaning you get less power out of the lights. It is used for a shallow depth of field, so Gavin switches to a 25mm f/1.2 lens and shoots at f/1.2.

Firstly, Gavin turns off the flash and dials in f/1.2 and his flash sync speed of 1/250th of a second and then takes a picture of his model, Charlotte, to see what he gets at those settings.

While his model is quite well exposed at those settings, the background is overexposed, so Gavin tries 1/4000th of a second shutter speed, which gives him more detail in the background.

Most light meters won’t work with high-speed sync, so Gavin uses trial and error to set the flash to light Charlotte. He settles with 1/16th power.

Settings: f/1.2, 1/4000th sec, ISO 200.

He then tries the same settings with the speedlight flash with the flash at half-power.

While the flash does well to light the model, it struggles to keep up when shooting a number of shots in quick succession. He managed to get 18 photos in a row before the speedlight stopped working. This was actually the recycle time getting much longer.

Conclusion

If you have lots of high-speed-sync photos to take on location, you are better off with a monolight.

Variables: how far flash is from the subject, amount of ambient light, and softbox.

What are your thoughts on the comparisons? Which do you think wins in the speedlight vs monolight comparison? Share in the comments!

 

You may also like:

 

The post Speedlight vs Monolight on Location: See How They Compare [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Simple Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photography Immediately

The post Simple Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photography Immediately appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

tips-to-improve-your-portrait-photography-immediately

Getting started with portrait photography can seem like a daunting task. Once you start researching all the techniques, equipment and (so-called) rules, and everything else you have to memorize and acquire, it can all feel a bit overwhelming. Even so, the journey is worth it, and portraiture is a rewarding pursuit. Throughout your time taking portraits, you will meet, talk to and get to know a lot of people, and hopefully take some great photos of them as well. Instead of focusing on what you need to take great portraits (that’s a camera by the way, nothing more), this article outlines eight tips that you can take and start using immediately to help you improve your portrait photography immediately, without spending another penny.

1. Use softer light

tips-to-improve-your-portrait-photography-immediately

Soft light is an incredible tool to get the very most out of your portraits. Using it is not the only way to do things, but it’s a great place to start.

If you’ve read anything about portrait lighting before, this is a tip you’ve already heard, but it needs to be repeated over and over again. Hard light, such as that from the midday sun, is usually the quickest way to attain contrasty and harsh portraits with unflattering shadows and highlights. Taking the time to seek out pockets of softer light (or creating it in the studio) is by far the quickest and most effective way to improve your portrait photography without doing anything else.

Outdoors, look for areas of open shade or take advantage of overcast days where the light is diffused by the cloud cover. Of course, golden hour will provide you with amazing light most of the time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go out and search for pockets of diffused, flattering light at any other time of the day.

Image: For soft light in the studio, big modifiers in close will do the job just great.

For soft light in the studio, big modifiers in close will do the job just great.

In the studio, make sure that you are using as big of a modifier as you have. If the light is still too hard, you can diffuse your light with a diffuser (yes, I know that might require another purchase, and I apologize for that), or you can move the light closer to your subject.

Just remember that the bigger the apparent light source is to your subject, the softer the light is.

Is all this to say that you shouldn’t use hard light for portraits? Absolutely not. Hard light can make for wonderful portraits, but in a lot of cases, and especially as you are starting out, you will find it beneficial to learn how to use and understand soft light first.

2. Light for the eyes

tips-to-improve-your-portrait-photography-immediately

Making your subject’s eyes a priority when you are lighting your images will ensure that the eyes are bright and remain the focal point of your images.

Eyes may be the most important part of a portrait. When your viewers look at photos of people, most of the time they engaging with the person’s eyes first. This is because that is how we humans engage with people in face-to-face scenarios. To make sure you get the very best from your subject’s eyes, start making sure that you light for the eyes at the beginning of every portrait session before you even take your first frame.

To do this, watch your subject’s eyes carefully as you arrange the light, whether that be outdoors or in the studio. Direct your subject (or move your light source if you can) so that the catchlight in their eye is near the top of their eye. It also helps if the light is going directly into their eyes. This will help you to get the most detail in your subject’s eyes.

You will also find that making the eyes a priority at the capture stage means that you will rarely have to do anything to them in post-processing.

In short, light from above whenever possible and direct your subject’s pose so that the light is going into their eyes.

Image: If you use a really big light source (i.e. to get softer light), the less bright the eyes wil...

If you use a really big light source (i.e. to get softer light), the less bright the eyes will be. This is a good thing to keep in mind as you start looking towards big octaboxes and parabolic umbrellas.

As an aside, the softer the light source, the less detail will record in your subject’s eyes and the darker they will appear in your images. The harder the light source, the more detail.

This will only become an issue if you are using really, really big modifiers in the studio, or if there’s particularly heavy cloud cover. You should be fine if you’re using medium (normal) sized modifiers.

If your goal is simply to get the most detail possible out of your subject’s eyes, you might need to go for a harder light source. You could also mix light sources so that your subject’s eyes are lit by a hard light source, but there is still a softer light source evening-out the contrast in your images.

3. Rapport

tips-to-improve-your-portrait-photography-immediately

Having a good rapport and good communication with your subjects is the best way to get the best expressions out of them.

It should probably go without saying that if you are serious about undertaking portrait photography, then your people skills are going to be paramount to your success. In order to get the best reactions and poses, and to keep your subjects comfortable and engaged, you should build a rapport with each and every subject. Every person is different and no two techniques or methods will work the same with everyone, so you will need to build a catalog of techniques to help you encourage the best from people.

You can start by always, always being polite. Stay positive and complimentary even if things are going completely wrong. Instead of saying: “this isn’t right,” try something along the lines of “This is cool, let’s move on to something else.”

Also remember that as the focus of your portrait is the person you are photographing, so should your attention be. Talk about your subject, and let them talk about themselves.

Try to avoid talking about your photography and definitely avoid technical jargon. Unless you are photographing a photographer, nobody cares. I know that’s tough to hear as you as a photographer care deeply about that stuff, but nobody else does. The confusion and disinterest that those topics inspire in other people will clearly show in the final photos.

If you remember that it’s not about you or your photography, but the person in the photo, you mostly can’t go wrong.

4. Background

Image: On location, making sure your backgrounds are clean and distraction-free is a vital skill to...

On location, making sure your backgrounds are clean and distraction-free is a vital skill to develop.

This is one of those skills that once you learn, you will start to do it automatically and never have to think about it again. In the beginning, however, it is vital to pay close attention to the backgrounds in your images. Ensure there are no extraneous elements creeping into the frame. Make sure there’s nothing like poles, trees, or cars intersecting your subject. If your background is blurred with a shallow depth of field, make sure there are no blobs of contrasting color or value that take away attention from your subject.

In short, pay as much attention to your backgrounds as you do your subjects and ensure that they are clean and distraction-free.

tips-to-improve-your-portrait-photography-immediately

Background clutter is just as much of a pain in the studio. Lights, cables, reflectors, edges of the background all seem to find a way to creep into the frame.

This is easier to do in the studio environment, but there are still things that you can look out for. Avoid using wrinkled backdrops (they never, ever look good). With plain walls, look out for marks and cracks from subsidence or similar. Just taking a moment to pay attention to these small details can help to improve your photos immensely. It’s also a lot easier to spot these things and deal with them in the moment than it is to retouch them out of your photos later.

5. Get close

tips-to-improve-your-portrait-photography-immediately

Filling the frame with your subject will help to emphasize the focal point of your image.

It was Robert Capa who said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

Out of all the photography quotes ever quoted, this is the one I find the most useful by far. It applies to all genres of photography in general, but in portraiture, it’s a particularly important concept. Whatever the focus of your photos (people in this case), ensuring that that your subject is the focal point, and the only focal point in the image, is important. Get close and fill the frame. In most cases, you don’t need much background, and in a lot of cases, you don’t need any background at all.

Doing this helps you to make sure there are no distracting elements in your images. It also helps to emphasize that your portrait is a portrait of a person and nothing else. Sure, there are plenty of instances when you want more background in your images.

Environmental portraiture is a fantastic genre that I love to look at, but if you look at some of the best examples of these, you will probably find that the subject still dominates the frame. The background is just ancillary information that is used to complement the focus on the subject rather than detract from it.

tips-to-improve-your-portrait-photography-immediately

All that said, the use of dead space is a valuable and wonderful compositional element.

Another instance you might opt not to get too close is when you want to use dead space as a design element or perhaps for editorial photography. That’s also fine. The key in these situations is to know when to be close and get a tight-framed portrait, and when to step back and let more into the frame. Most of the time with portraits, however, you will be well-served by getting in close and filling the frame.

The beginning

There you have it, that’s a few tips that will help you to improve your portrait photography without spending another penny. Perhaps not all of these tips will suit you and your photography, but I encourage you to try to implement them for the sake of seeing what you can learn from them anyway.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and if you have any tips you feel should be shared with beginners to help improve their portrait photography, please do leave them in the comments.

The post Simple Tips to Improve Your Portrait Photography Immediately appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

How to Use Lighting and Gels for Modern Portrait Photography [video]

The post How to Use Lighting and Gels for Modern Portrait Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

In this video from Lindsay Adler Photography, Lindsay deconstructs an image that she has lit using colored gels to make it look as though she photographed it in a nightclub or bar.

Inspired by a red velvet couch that she has in her studio, Lindsay decided to make her studio look like it was a nightclub or bar. She takes us through the process to teach us exactly how she achieved this look.

When choosing the color of her gels, Lindsay chose red to unify the subject with the color of the couch. She then used color wheel theory and used contrasting/complementary colors, so she went with a color close to green – teal.

Lindsay uses three strobes with fairly basic modifiers – bare bulbs and umbrellas.

Lindsay states that “The shot as lit overhead by a small white umbrella (no gel). The right-hand side of the frame was lit by a large deep umbrella with diffusion and a red gel to wrap around most of the frame. Finally, a bare bulb with a teal/green gel was used to light the shadows on the left of the frame. The colors selected helped create a sense of atmosphere to the otherwise static black environment.”

During the video, you’ll find out why these choices were made to combat particular issues that arose, including the wall being a slightly reflective surface.

You’ll also see some post-production choices that Lindsay makes with the image, as well as discovering why Lindsay chose to have the model posed in this particular way.

But more importantly, you’ll learn how to make a photo like hers!

What did you think of Lindsay’s video? Did you find it helpful? Let me know in the comments!

 

You may also find the following helpful:

Your Guide to Studio Lighting Equipment

Understanding Broad and Short Lighting in Photography

5 Creative Portrait Lighting Tricks Using Only Phone Light

How to use Off-Camera Flash to Create Dramatic Images with Cross Lighting

5 Lighting Setups You Can Do Using an Octabox

How to do Clamshell Lighting: A Reliable Two Light Setup

The post How to Use Lighting and Gels for Modern Portrait Photography [video] appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Caz Nowaczyk.

Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography

The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

Image: Using fill light is an essential skill that will allow you complete control over the contrast...

Using fill light is an essential skill that will allow you complete control over the contrast and tonality in your images in any type of lighting situation.

It should be no secret to any photographer that one light is all you need to achieve great results. While one light setups (in this context, specifically those that don’t involve the use of a reflector) are both well discussed and incredibly useful, sometimes it’s good (or even essential) to go beyond the basics. The next step in your progression is probably going to be to add fill lighting.

Fill light is one of those essential skills that every photographer should have a good grasp of no matter what type of light they are using.

Image: One light setups are powerful, and the results can be great. However, sometimes it’s us...

One light setups are powerful, and the results can be great. However, sometimes it’s useful to be able to take even more control over the contrast in your images.

This article will help to get you started with two types of fill lighting. The first of these is the use of the humble reflector. The other is to use a second dedicated light source. Both of these methods are very different in how they are implemented and what they can achieve. Mastering both will give you a more complete skill set with which to use in your photography.

What is fill lighting and what does it achieve?

Image: In the image on the left, the lack of fill lighting has left most of the details in the back...

In the image on the left, the lack of fill lighting has left most of the details in the back of the subject’s dress as pure black. Adding fill light (right) has brought those details back.

The concept of fill lighting is quite simple.

The idea is that you use it to light the shadows in your frame. What this does is:

  • Brings up the exposure of the shadow areas in your image.
  • Reduces overall contrast in your frame (much like landscape photographers use graduated ND filters to reduce contrast in their images).
  • Brings your final images more in line with how the eye sees the world, rather than the limited range of your camera’s sensor.

While really dark and contrasty images definitely have their place (I love them myself), images (especially portraits for clients) will benefit from a more even contrast ratio. I once heard it described (I’m sorry, I don’t remember where) that in lighting for TV and cinema, the shadows are always lit. This was a lightbulb moment for me as I had always wondered how cinematographers seemed to show a lot detail while still retaining a good amount of contrast. The answer was controlled fill lighting.

Two types

Reflectors

Image: Reflectors are a powerful and versatile tool that allows you to be as subtle or as bold as yo...

Reflectors are a powerful and versatile tool that allows you to be as subtle or as bold as you like with your fill lighting.

The most basic type of fill lighting is that provided by the ever so basic, yet powerful, reflector. You probably have at least one of these already (or you’ve made a few). Reflectors provide fill light by reflecting light (go figure) from your key back into the shadows of your frame. In a lot of cases, reflectors will be your first foray into fill lighting. However, they will also be one of your most-used pieces of kit altogether.

Secondary lights

Image: Using a secondary light source as fill is going to be your most versatile option.

Using a secondary light source as fill is going to be your most versatile option.

You can also use a second light (or third and beyond) as your fill light. A dedicated fill light will do the same basic job as a reflector, but it is infinitely more controllable. You can fine-tune the exposure and shape of your fill light with a precision that reflectors just don’t allow.

Contrast ratios – The very basics

Image: Left: The shadows are filled heavily and the fill light is metered one-stop below key. This r...

Left: The shadows are filled heavily and the fill light is metered one-stop below key. This results in a low contrast image with shadows retained. Right: the fill here is four stops below key. The contrast is high and the shadows are deep, but all of the detail is present.

The very concept of a contrast ratio can seem technical and daunting, I know. However, it is not at all that difficult of a concept and it’s just not that technical. At the most basic level, a contrast ratio simply tells you how bright one light is in relation to one another in terms of the aperture of your camera.

If your key light is metering at f/8, that means that if you set your camera to f/8 and an appropriate shutter speed (lower than your camera’s max sync speed) you will achieve a correct (subjective) exposure in-camera.

Fill lighting will always be underexposed in relation to your key light. If it’s even to your key light, you will get flat, no-contrast images as a result. For a contrast ratio that provides low contrast, you will want your fill light to be at least one stop darker than your key light. Since our hypothetical key light is f/8, that means the key light in this instance needs to meter f/5.6. This is a ratio of 2:1 (which is more advanced and you definitely don’t need to know to get started).

In short, if you want less contrast, your fill light should be one to two stops under your key light. If you want more contrast, try three to four stops.

Metering

If you want to be as precise as possible with these ratios, you will want to consider a light meter. That way you can measure any light falling on the scene with the press of a couple of buttons. This is the easiest way to go about it and works in the studio and natural light. You can also meter the light bouncing off a reflector.

Image: A light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to read what your light is doing. However,...

A light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to read what your light is doing. However, they don’t tend to be cheap.

That does not at all mean that you have to use a light meter, though. While more difficult (especially if you’re new to lighting like this), you can do it with your histogram on the back of your camera. Take a test shot with just your key light on. Now take one with only your fill light on. (Note: you won’t be able to do this if you are using a reflector.) Because fill lighting should be raising the exposures on your shadows, the shadow area of the histogram of your fill light test shot should be further to the right than that of your key light test shot.  If the shadow areas on both histograms line up, you need to increase the exposure of your fill light. If the shadow areas of your fill light’s histogram line up with the mid-tones or highlights of your key light’s histogram, you need to decrease the exposure of your fill light. (I did say it was trickier.)

Image: Left: Without fill light, you can see the shadows are underexposed. Right: With subtle fill l...

Left: Without fill light, you can see the shadows are underexposed. Right: With subtle fill light, you can see the shadows are brought up quite a lot.

Of course, you don’t have to do either of these things. You can always eyeball the whole setup and try to adjust things on the go. I would say this is perfectly fine with experience, but as you start out, I encourage you to at least have a go with the previous methods. It will drastically reduce the amount of time it takes you to get to grips with the technique and fully understand what is going on with your light. The more you understand, the easier you will find it to adjust things on the fly. You will also be able to learn new techniques faster.

Fill light with reflectors

Image: Reflectors can be subtle or bold when used as fill and are pretty versatile for what they are...

Reflectors can be subtle or bold when used as fill and are pretty versatile for what they are.

Reflectors are:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to setup
  • Easy to use
  • Very effective

Getting started with reflectors as fill lighting

Image: Reflectors are powerful, yet accessible, tools for fill lighting.

Reflectors are powerful, yet accessible, tools for fill lighting.

Before you start to think about fill, you will want to decide what your key light (main light source) is going to do. Set up your key light so that it is shaping and lighting your subject the way that you want. Meter so that you have the exposure settings that you desire.

Image: A small(ish) softbox placed in front of and above the subject creates soft light with shadows...

A small(ish) softbox placed in front of and above the subject creates soft light with shadows underneath the subject’s features.

Now, evaluate the shadow areas that your key light is creating. If you’re using natural light, or strobes fitted with modeling lights, you can do this by eye. Alternatively, you can take a test shot and review it on the back of the camera.

Image: Here you can see that while the light is soft, the shadows are a prominent part of the image.

Here you can see that while the light is soft, the shadows are a prominent part of the image.

Place your reflector so that it is roughly opposite your key light. Evaluate what the reflector is doing (either by eye or test shot again).

Image: Adding a reflector beneath the key light serves to raise the exposure in the shadow areas of...

Adding a reflector beneath the key light serves to raise the exposure in the shadow areas of the image.

What you are aiming for is for you shadows to be brought up in exposure, but not eliminated altogether. If you want low contrast, bring your reflector in as close as possible. If you want more contrast, move it away.

Image: With the reflector used as fill, the shadows are still present, but the overall contrast in t...

With the reflector used as fill, the shadows are still present, but the overall contrast in the image has been reduced.

It can take quite a lot of practice before you learn to see the subtle changes a white reflector provides. The key is to get as much practice in as possible.

Set up an object and light it. Put your reflector wherever you want and start taking shots, being sure to move the reflector into different positions each time. Review each shot and try to notice the behavior of the light in each instance. This exercise will give you a pretty good idea of how a reflector is going to behave in any given situation. Do this exercise often and you will find you can see even the most subtle shifts in light where it was difficult before.

Another quick tip to help you see the difference in contrast in a scene is to squint. It sounds ridiculous, but squinting reduces your vision to blocks of value and you will be able to see the contrast in the scene more easily.

A second light

Image: A second strobe serving as fill gives you the most control over how you manipulate your shado...

A second strobe serving as fill gives you the most control over how you manipulate your shadows.

Like reflectors, using extra lights as fill is a fundamental skill, albeit one with a slightly steeper learning curve. That said, unlike reflectors, using a dedicated light source allows you full control over the power output, making it much easier than a reflector to control how the light is going to behave.

Image: Varying degrees of contrast between your shadow and highlight tones are possible just by adju...

Varying degrees of contrast between your shadow and highlight tones are possible just by adjusting the power of your fill light.

To get started using a dedicated fill light, place your key light in your desired position and set the power for your desired aperture. Let’s return to that hypothetical of f/8.

Image: Here, a softbox is placed at 45 degrees to the subject.

Here, a softbox is placed at 45 degrees to the subject.

Knowing your aperture, place your fill light where it will affect the shadows in the manner you would like and set the power output so that it will be underexposed in relation to your aperture. How much you underexpose for is entirely up to you. If you want, say, two stops of fill in this scenario, then you will want your fill light to meter at f/4.

Image: A 7′ parabolic umbrella with diffusion was added about 10-feet away to serve as fill. I...

A 7′ parabolic umbrella with diffusion was added about 10-feet away to serve as fill. It was set to meter 2-stops under the key light.

Take a test shot and see if you have your desired effect. Adjust as required and there you go.

Image: In this before (left) and after (right) you can see how the shadows on the right side of the...

In this before (left) and after (right) you can see how the shadows on the right side of the image are lifted and filled in with the fill light.

Taking it further

Image: You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple sources of different...

You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple sources of different sizes and shapes if it works.

Of course, you are not limited to a single fill light. You can have multiple fill lights lighting your subjects from both sides. You can also mix lights and reflectors for different strengths of fill lighting from various angles. You can pretty much do whatever you want in terms of designing a light set-up. You are only limited by the equipment you have at hand and what you can dream up.

Image: Using multiple fill lights allows you to control every aspect of contrast in your images.

Using multiple fill lights allows you to control every aspect of contrast in your images.

An idea is only crazy if it might work and you don’t try it.

Tips for fill lighting

1) It’s often better to retain the shadows rather than fill them in completely. This is not a rule, but images that retain some amount of contrast are often more natural and pleasing to the eye.

2) Pay attention to the catchlights in portraits – Extra light sources mean extra catchlights. When you are setting up your lights (reflectors included), be sure to watch the catchlights in your subjects’ eyes. Catchlights can make or break a portrait, so make sure you are controlling them as much as you are the lighting itself.

3) Big light sources at a distance work very well as fill light.

Image: This is by no means a rule, but big light sources (like the 7′ umbrella to camera right...

This is by no means a rule, but big light sources (like the 7′ umbrella to camera right) from a distance work really well as fill lighting.

4) Don’t be a slave to the ratios – While using the ratios as a starting point can, and will, be a useful springboard, that doesn’t mean you should adhere to them rigidly. If something isn’t right, adjust as you see fit. Nobody cares in the end if your ratios are exactly 4:1, but they do care if your photos look right. Use your best judgment and change things up if you need to. Sometimes only the tiniest of power adjustments will completely change the end result.

5) Think outside the box – Any light source can be your key and your fill. You’re probably aware that you can use flash to fill-in shadows in natural light, but you can also use natural light as fill where your main lighting is provided by flash.

Image: Here, the key light is a large window to the camera right. The fill light is provided by a st...

Here, the key light is a large window to the camera right. The fill light is provided by a strobe. You can mix light sources however you want to achieve your fill lighting.

That’s it

Hopefully, that’s served as a primer to get you started and demystify fill lighting. Being able to control the contrast in your images with lighting is a fundamental skill that you will be able to use across multiple disciplines. It will allow you to bring a new level of depth to your images straight out of the camera.

Get out and practice, start simple and go slow, and you will master the basics in no time at all.

Try out some of these tips, and share your photos with us in the comments!

 

fill-light-in-portrait-photography

The post Getting to Grips with Fill Light in Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

How Using Props in Portraits Can Make Your Photos More Interesting

The post How Using Props in Portraits Can Make Your Photos More Interesting appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

There are many ways using props can make portraits more interesting. Often photographing a person can be challenging. This can be so for both the photographer and the person being photographed. Using props can not only add interest to the portrait, but it can also help your subject relax more.

What are props and how can you use them effectively?

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

A prop is any element you add to a photograph which adds interest or meaning to your subject or the concept you’re creating. What you can use is up to your imagination. They can be anything from an ancient tree stump to a melting ice cream cone.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Props can add humor to photographs. Using a prop well with a nervous subject can help them relax. You can use props effectively to help contextualize your subject. Without a prop, a portrait may not convey much or any concept. With the addition of a prop, a portrait can take on a whole new meaning.

A prop is often used to add visual information about the person;

  • their occupation
  • hobbies
  • character
  • or location

Using props to help illustrate a story

When you’re illustrating a story using a portrait, adding a prop can add depth and meaning. A prop incorporated into a photo will tell more of a person’s story than a caption, or even a whole paragraph.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Making a series of travel portraits with a visiting friend I asked her to bring along her backpack. She was going to the station to purchase a ticket for a later date and would not have brought her luggage. Having it with her for the photographs helped to create more of a visual story.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

The location and the train tell part of the story. Having her backpack in the pictures lets you know she was traveling, not just there to meet a friend. The more relevant visual information you can include, the more interesting your portraits become. Well-used props help stimulate the viewer’s imagination.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Isolated studio portraits using props

Isolating your subject on a plain background is a popular method of taking a portrait. A subject on their own can produce great character portraits. But for many people, it can be somewhat intimidating.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Using a prop can help them relax and enjoy the experience more. Having something in their hands to concentrate on distracts them from your camera. Feeling less intimidated by it, they are more likely to give you vibrant expressions.

I took a series of photographs for a small drama school. Using props helped the students feel more at ease. They were confident performers, but many of them were not so comfortable in front of the camera. Including props allowed their tutor, who was assisting me, to encourage them into character.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

A single prop keeps a studio portrait simple and adds meaning that would not be evident without it. Creating concepts for stock photography in this manner it’s possible to facilitate a whole series of photos.

Including props will add depth and interest to a series of photos of the same person. It can be challenging to take more than one or two different portraits of a person on an isolated background. Using props will give you more diverse options for what you can achieve.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Bring your own props or use what’s available

Often asking a person to bring along their own props can help create a meaningful portrait. Using items that they relate to and tell something about themselves will add genuine feeling to the portraits.

I asked this friend if I could photograph her and also what she’d like to use as a prop. Immediately she replied, “ice cream.” She loves ice cream so it was appropriate and meant she’d enjoy the photo session. The weather was so hot that even with the air conditioning blasting the ice cream melted quickly. We went with the flow and used the prop for additional makeup as well. It was a fun session.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Any well-established portrait studio has a diverse selection of props. Your subject doesn’t have to own a prop. If they can choose from a selection you have, they might find something that lights up their imagination.

Even simple things that are common can work as props. Having someone read a book or make a phone call can help them focus on what they are doing and not on your camera.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Finding props on location helps to incorporate your subject in the place. Having them pick up some produce at the market, or interact with some part of the environment can make for a more illustrative portrait.

Conclusion

Working with props definitely adds diversity to photographing people. Use the props to support your subject. Having the prop and subject in the same frame is not enough. Encourage them to interact with the props in different ways. The way your subject relates to the prop is important. This will influence the feel of the photo.

Image: © Kevin Landwer-Johan

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Work to develop a healthy relationship between your subject and their props. This is part of your job as a photographer. Doing this, you’ll create more entertaining portraits.

Have you tried using props for a portrait session? Let me know in the comments below the props you have found helpful during the session. Also, what type of props help make the most interesting portraits?

 

using-props-in-portraits

The post How Using Props in Portraits Can Make Your Photos More Interesting appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

How to Shoot a Self Portrait to Support your Brand Identity

The post How to Shoot a Self Portrait to Support your Brand Identity appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

Personal branding has become more and more important over the last few years. As photographers, we often carefully curate the image that we present to the world, even as amateurs. Our brand and image are usually closely linked to the kind of photographs we shoot.

Photographers will often carefully curate the look of their website. They’ll spend hours contemplating the images and text that they use to express their photographic hopes and dreams. They want their websites and online portfolios to give people an insight into their creative working process and the kind of photos that they intend to take.

How-to-Shoot-a-Self-Portrait-to-Support-your-Brand-Identity

I often start with natural light when shooting self-portraits. It’s how I prefer to shoot most of the time!

And yet, I often look at the ‘about me’ page on a photographers website, portfolio page, or social media, and front and center is a photograph of them taken by someone else. The image on your “about me” page, or your portfolio profile picture, is a great piece of marketing real estate. You can use this space to express yourself and tell a story. So why let someone else take that photo?

So what’s the solution? Shoot a self portrait! Put your own work in that valuable space, and express yourself and your photographic style clearly and coherently – even on your “about me” page.

What is a brand identity?

Now more than ever, photographers are the face of their brand. Almost everywhere you go on the internet, you’ll have the option to upload an ‘avatar’ image that represents you in digital format. This avatar image is a space to tell the world something about you and your photography.

A brand identity is the way you present your work to the world. It’s the visual and textual elements that differentiate you from other people in the minds of your audience. Since photographers are usually the main (and often only) person in the creative process when it comes to image-making, they are often the embodiment of their brand.

Image: A single large beauty dish for this portrait reflects one of my usual lighting styles.

A single large beauty dish for this portrait reflects one of my usual lighting styles.

Generally, for a photographer, their brand identity will be heavily tied up with their style in which they usually work. A photographer who creates beautiful fine art portraits inspired by the Old Masters may have a brand identity that embodies timelessness, heritage, and classical values. On the other hand, someone creating cutting edge contemporary portraits may embody qualities such as innovation, diversity, and courage.

The key is to get your values into the images you’re shooting. You’ll probably find it happens naturally once you’ve been shooting a while and have developed a style. However, creating a self-portrait for your “about me” page and avatars is a good time to brainstorm what your work is about. The challenge is to see if you can capture these ideas in a single shot.

Got a fear of shooting self-portraits?

Self-portraits are hard. They’re hard technically, creatively, and emotionally. It’s no surprise really that photographers often shy away from self-portraiture. Portraits can be hard enough to get right when you’re shooting other people, let alone when you’re photographing yourself!

How-to-Shoot-a-Self-Portrait-to-Support-your-Brand-Identity

Experimental tricks like this shallow depth of field combined with fairy lights can add an artistic side to a self-portrait while covering up any perceived flaws in the way we look.

That aside, a self-portrait or two is also a great way to improve your skills, try new things, and make sure that the entirety of your personal branding works together coherently. You are likely to be your most patient subject, and if you set aside a day to create your self-portrait then you have time to get it exactly right – even if you’re trying something new.

Go light on the retouching. When you’re working on a self-portrait in post-processing, it’s easy to be super-critical of everything you don’t like about yourself. Stick to your usual workflow and only retouch as much as you normally would.

Start simple

If all else fails, start like you would any other portrait. If you’d usually start with a simple two-light headshot in your studio, then give that a go first. Review your images and then make adjustments. Once you’ve found a shot that works then try something a bit different. You might find a completely new direction for your work!

Image: This self-portrait was shot with natural light against a grey paper background. Often simple...

This self-portrait was shot with natural light against a grey paper background. Often simple pictures can be really effective!

It’s easy to think about self-portraits in the context of a studio, but don’t limit yourself! Take your camera outside into natural light if that’s a place you enjoy taking portraits usually. You can even buy stands to hold reflectors so that you can take advantage of all the usual light modifiers that you’d use.

But if you’re going out on location to shoot self-portraits, consider taking someone with you. It’s easy to get distracted while shooting self-portraits out and about. Having an extra pair of eyes can help protect you and your equipment. You can also get your assistant to hold the reflector or a flashgun too!

And if you want to really show off what you do, consider an environmental portrait in your own studio and surrounded by your tools of the photographic trade.

Think about the context

Where is your self-portrait going to be placed? Will it be on your own website or will it be on social media?

In traditional media, you usually want to have the subject facing the viewer or looking towards the center of the book or magazine. There’s a reason for this. It helps direct the readers focus back to the content rather than off the edge of the page into the wider world. It’s a simple trick to help keep the readers’ attention where you want it.

Image: The “about me” page on my portfolio website showing my self-portrait in relation...

The “about me” page on my portfolio website showing my self-portrait in relation to the text block.

You can apply this to your website too. Think about the placement of your self-portrait on the page of your website. Does it fit better on the left or the right of the “about me” text? When you’re working out your poses, keep this in mind and make sure you’re either looking straight ahead or towards the text block.

It’s possible to break the rules, of course, but make sure you shoot both options if you’re going to be adventurous!

What about the practicalities of self-portraits?

If your camera connects to a phone app that can assist with exposure and focusing, then make sure you take full advantage of that. Self-portraits used to be a lengthy process that involved sitting my mannequin on a chair in my studio to get the focus and lighting right.

Now I can see everything in real-time, including exposure and focus adjustments, using the Fujifilm Cam Remote app that connects to my camera.

Image: Using the Fujifilm Cam Remote app to set up the lighting and exposure, and the resulting self...

Using the Fujifilm Cam Remote app to set up the lighting and exposure, and the resulting self-portrait a few minutes later. (Lighting was a single large beauty dish).

If you don’t have a camera that connects to your phone, get yourself a remote trigger and consider shooting tethered to a laptop so that you can see the images as you trigger the camera. You can look at software such as Lightroom or Capture One Pro for tethering. That way you can make small adjustments to your pose and settings as you go along to make sure that you really nail everything and create your best work.

Using a good tripod will also save you some frustration when you’re shooting portraits. Balancing the camera on a stack of books can work (believe me, I’ve done it before), but a tripod will help you compose a shot more effectively. Don’t forget to try unusual compositions too. Raising the camera up above your eye level can be very flattering while shooting from down low can create a powerful pose.

How-to-Shoot-a-Self-Portrait-to-Support-your-Brand-Identity

A profile self-portrait recalls the kinds of images that you often see historically on coins and medals. Don’t be afraid to experiment with unconventional poses when photographing yourself.

Keep your standards high

And lastly, be as thorough and rigorous with your standards as you would when shooting a portrait of anyone else.

Make the effort to do your hair, press your clothes, and get a great expression. Just because it’s a self-portrait it doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to be lazy and “fix it in post.”

I’d love to see how you get on with shooting your self-portrait to support your brand and expressing your values through them. Drop a comment below with the results, and don’t forget to update your avatar with your new portrait!

 

How-to-Shoot-a-Self-Portrait-to-Support-your-Brand-Identity

The post How to Shoot a Self Portrait to Support your Brand Identity appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

How to Take Better Beach Portraits at Anytime of the Day

The post How to Take Better Beach Portraits at Anytime of the Day appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jackie Lamas.

Golden hour is famous for being the most ideal lighting for portraits, especially at a beach location. Unfortunately, sometimes, the golden hour isn’t an option. Therefore, it’s essential to know how to photograph portraits at any time of the day. That way, you can always create beautiful photos for clients.

Know where the sun is at all times

First, you’ll need to know where the sun is at all times. The easiest way to do this is to use an ephemeris (I personally use this one). This is a tool that can help you see where the sun will be at any time during the day.

Here you can see where the sun will rise from, set, and the times when these will be happening during the day.

Before, or even while you’re scheduling your session, you can quickly check this tool to see the sunrise, midday, and sunset times.

An ephemeris can give you the details on the direction the light is coming from at a particular point in the world. Simply plug in the location of your session, and you can see all of the important details.

Here we can see where the sun will be on this particular day at the same time on the opposite coast in Mexico from the previous photos.

This is really helpful since no beach is alike and the direction of light differs from one side of the world to another. For example, in California, the sun sets behind the beach. Whereas on the east coast, the sun sets in the opposite direction.

Here we can see where the sun will be on this particular day at the same time on the opposite coast in Mexico from the previous photos.

Also, different beaches may face differently and therefore it’s good to know where the sun will be during your session.

Morning light

Morning light on a beach is magical. It has a whole different color temperature than that of the golden hour and can provide a nice soft glow if you have your session early enough.

The light is a little bluer, and depending on the beach where your session is taking place, the sun can rise overlooking the ocean or peaking through the trees. For example, a beach on the east coast like Cancun can mean during your session in the morning you’ll catch the sunrise behind the beach.

Alternatively, on a beach in California, you’ll catch the sun hitting the water from the land side. This will give you that beautiful yellowish-blue glow if your session is before 9 o’clock in the morning.

On the left we see the sun rising behind the bay and at right is after the sun is nearing midday.

Use a simple reflector to bounce light back onto your subject if you feel the sunrise light causes shadows. This is especially useful if sunrise is behind the water at the beach.

Midday light

Midday light at a beach is pretty harsh and therefore it’s good to have some kind of additional lighting equipment to help with shadows. You can use an external flash, popup flash, or a reflector.

Seeing the shadows in front of your clients means the sun is behind them. This family is lit with an external flash mounted on-camera pointed directly at them.

You can also go without an additional light source. However, it’s good to underexpose your photos a bit so you can bring up the shadows in your editing software. Otherwise, you’ll end up with really blown out skies. Of course, this all depends on your style of photography.

Using the sand as a natural reflector helps to bounce light back onto your clients as we can see in both of these photos.

When the sun is at it’s highest point during the day, it might be a good time to take your clients under the shade of some trees nearby or opt to have more playful photos of the family. Have your client’s walk, run, splash in the water, build sandcastles, or just have a bit of fun together.

The sun is at it’s highest at different times around the world, so make sure to check the ephemeris for your exact location to know the time.

Same session, same beach, one photo with flash and one photo without.

Once the sun passes the highest point, it will be at a bit of an angle as it starts to go down for sunset. This is the sweet spot of photographing during midday sun at the beach!

Flash was used to correctly expose the photo and fill in shadows caused by the sun.

When the sun is at a bit of an angle, you can pose your clients with the sun behind them to alleviate having the sun in their eyes. This means you’ll be in the sun, but it’s better than having your clients facing the sun. This avoids causing shadows, uneven lighting, and squinting. The sand can also work as a natural reflector, bouncing light back into their faces.

After midday light

After midday light can be different in the winter than in the summer given that daylight savings can change the amount of light you have left. Either way, the sun sits lower to be at an angle behind your clients. All while still hitting the sand to reflect some light into your client’s faces.

During this time, depending on the angle of light, you can get some really interesting light. It gets more golden by the hour as you approach sunset.

Still, if you find yourself at a beach where the light is still harsh during this time, try and angle your clients away from the sun. You can also try and use your external lighting to help fill in some light.

Golden Hour (Sunset)

Actual sunset only lasts about 5-10 minutes. However, golden hour is just that – about an hour before the sun dips behind the horizon, which means the angle of the light is pretty low and directional. It can mean flooding your photos with lots of that pretty golden light. However, it also makes it difficult to capture your clients evenly lit against the background.

This is especially troublesome if the sun sets behind the water. It can be difficult capturing the beautiful colors of the sunset while also lighting your clients.

Using a flash or external light source pointed directly at your clients can help light them while capturing the sunset behind. You can also underexpose your photo a bit to bring up the shadows later without compromising the sunset.

Try silhouetting your clients behind with the sunset light to offer a different look to the final images.

Golden hour is also a perfect time to turn your clients toward the setting sun to get that beautiful golden color cast on their skin tones and in the overall look of the photo.

Blue hour (After sunset)

Blue hour is the 20-30 minutes (sometimes less time) after the sun has completely gone from view. Blue hour is nice to photograph in because of the beautiful sunset colors like blue, orange, pink, and purples that come out after sunset. The lighting is a bit darker, so you might need a tripod.

During the blue hour, you can get some additional light on your clients by facing them where the sun has set.

During this time you can attempt some slow shutter speed photos while your clients hold still. Getting the movement in water can create a more fine art approach to beach photos!

During any time of day try these ideas:

Cloudy days are perfect for photographing at any time during the day. However, you might not get the sunset as bright as on a clear day.

It doesn’t matter the time of day, it’s good to get variety in your portraits during beach sessions. For that try some of these ideas:

  • Rock formations/caves as backgrounds and also shelter from harsh light.
  • Trees can provide shade as well if the light is harsh and the day is particularly hot.
  • Around town can also serve as a nice background for photos while you’re waiting for the midday sun to angle a bit.
  • Up high can also serve as a nice way to keep clients out of harsh sunlight. For example, a balcony in their hotel room, a higher terrace with some shade that overlooks the ocean, etc.
  • Photographing more lifestyle-type photos with the family playing, getting in the water, and just having a “beach day”.

If you are waiting for the sun to go down a bit, you can take some portraits near trees that aren’t directly on the beach. This also adds variety to the final images.

Conclusion

Photographing at the beach during golden hour isn’t the only time that you can create one-of-a-kind and amazingly beautiful images for your clients.

Taking cover in caves or using rock formations as backgrounds can also help keep your client out of direct sunlight.

It is incredibly beneficial to learn to photograph at the beach at any time of the day. Moreover, it can mean the difference between a client choosing you and another photographer.

 

better-beach-portraits

The post How to Take Better Beach Portraits at Anytime of the Day appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Jackie Lamas.

6 Tips to Get Started with Portraits

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People fascinate me. I love the diversity in personality and expressions, and I love using my camera to capture all those personalities! People are by far my favorite subject to have in front of my camera.

If you are new to photography and getting frustrated that you aren’t creating portraits like you hoped, I’m here to help! Let’s go through six tips to get started with portraits. You’ll be a pro before you know it.

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1. Get yourself a 50mm lens

Are there better lenses out there for portraits? Yes. But the 50mm is inexpensive, versatile and great to get started! Once you’ve gotten the hang of this lens, you’ll know what other lenses to invest in later and you’ll never regret having a 50mm prime lens in your bag. Your camera probably came with a kit lens that zooms in and out. The drawback of this lens is that you can’t open the aperture very wide.

Have you noticed portraits that have a creamy blurred background, and the subject just pops? This is achieved by setting the aperture on a very low number, usually between f/1.8 and f/2.8. Look at your kit lens. It probably can only go down to f/3.5, and if you zoom in your lowest aperture number is probably f/5.0. You could get the 50mm 1.4 or, if you’re really unsure about what you want, give the 50mm 1.8 a try. It’s the least expensive lens out there, but it will still give you a lot of bang for your buck. Trust me on this one! If I could only choose one lens to have in my bag for the rest of my life, it would be this one.

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2. Focus on the Eyes

Toggle your focus point of your camera until it’s right on the eyes; if your subject is close to you, put the focus point on one eye (if one eye is closer to you than the other, focus on that one). If you are still letting your camera automatically choose where to focus, change that in your settings now! Pull out that manual you hid away and put it to good use.

If your subject’s eyes are in focus, it will be a much more compelling portrait. After all, the eyes are the window to the soul! If possible, try to position your subject so they have some catchlights (or sparkle) in their eyes.

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Be cautious when you are shooting really close portraits. You want to make sure that you have your aperture number high enough that everything you want to be in focus will be in focus. If you are really close to your subject and your aperture number is really low, like f/1.8, you may notice that the eyes are in focus, but the nose is not. Just bump up the aperture a little at a time until you get the look you are going for. When you are learning and experimenting, it’s helpful to zoom in on the preview on the back of your camera after you have taken the photo. Sometimes it may look like everything is in focus, but later when you upload it to your computer, you realize that it definitely was not in focus. If you can find this out WHILE you are shooting, you have a chance to correct things and learn at a faster rate.

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3. Experiment with Distance and Orientation

Sometimes as beginners we might get stuck doing things always the same way, like needing to put the subject’s whole body into a portrait, or having the face fill up the frame. Neither is right nor wrong. The important thing is not to produce the exact same photo over and over.

Try stepping back a bit and include the surroundings in your portrait. It might tell a great story about the person you are photographing. Then try getting really close. Now get even closer. Don’t worry about what grandma is going to say – it’s okay to cut off the top of someone’s head in a photo.

You might notice that you almost always shoot vertically (portrait), or maybe you’re stuck shooting horizontally (landscape) all of the time. Don’t let yourself get in a rut! Try close-up portraits horizontally and try vertical portraits that take in lots of the surroundings (and vice versa).

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4. Create a True Portrait

We can stick anyone in front of a paint splattered backdrop, sit them on a stool, turn their shoulders at an angle, tell them to smile and call it a portrait. Or we can use our skills to make a portrait that truly shows who your subject is, and what they are about. I love the portraits that tell a true story about my subject because I know that I have captured something worth keeping.

Try to get to know your subject a little bit and use that knowledge to create a portrait that anyone could look at and know a little bit about who that person is. You could do this with props, expression or posing. If they’re passionate about something, they may want it included in the photo with them. If he’s a person who smiles all the time, a serious portrait may not capture who he really is.

Your job as the photographer is to make a portrait that will be treasured by everyone who knows your subject. They will know that you really caught who he is. It’s also your job to create a portrait that will be compelling to those who don’t know your subject. It should make them want to get to know him and let them know a little bit about who he is, even if they’ve never met.

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5. Lighting First, Background Second

Good light on your subject’s face is most important in a portrait. I look for good lighting before I look for a good background. The easiest lighting to work with for beginners is an overcast day (if that’s the way the cards fall that day) or shade. On an overcast day, try having your subject facing toward the light source. Even if it’s cloudy, often the direction you have your subject face will either illuminate their eyes or put their face in shadow. If you’re not sure which direction to have him face, just rotate until you have that aha! moment when the light is just right.

You might find shade on the shady side of a building (subject facing out towards the light) or in the shade of trees, but if the light is patchy in the trees have your subject put her back towards the sun. You don’t want to have dappled light on her face, or half-shadow and half-sun. Try to have the light as even on her face as possible. Also, avoid having full sun on your subject’s face. This can cause harsh shadows and make it almost impossible for some not to squint their eyes.

Expose for the face for portraits, even if it causes your background to not be exposed correctly. In a portrait, the person is obviously the most important part, so this makes sense.

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6. Don’t Worry About the “Rules”

It’s important to learn all you can about the rules of photography. Learn them, practice them, use them. Then be creative and have some fun without worrying too much about the rules. If you’re making a portrait, the eyes don’t have to be looking at the camera. The photo doesn’t always have to be divided into the rule of thirds. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing, either. Be true to yourself and have fun with it! When you create a portrait of someone, it can be truly unique. Nobody else will be able to take that same photo in that same light with that same expression. Make sure it represents who you want to be as a photographer and make sure it represents the person you are creating a portrait for.

Do you have questions about taking portraits? I’d be happy to answer everything I can in the comments. I’d also love to see your favorite portraits you’ve taken!

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The post 6 Tips to Get Started with Portraits by Melinda Smith appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Accent Lighting for Portraits

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Tthanks to the wonderful Bridgette for her work as the make-up artist in this image

Studio lighting continues to mystify and bewilder many developing photographers. The intimidation of lighting ratios, modifiers, set-ups, etc… often seems as complex as deriving the quadratic equation or suffering through an explanation of Michaelis-Menten enzyme kinetics. Oh yes, for those of you biochemically privy folk, I did just go there! Well, one does not have to get lost amidst the photonic chaos if they understand how to interpret and understand the meaning of light.

Wow! Meaning of light? Sounds kind of deep and metaphysical doesn’t it? Please don’t worry! The only thing you need to remember about light is that it illuminates and creates shadows. Fairly simple, huh? We all know that when we shine a light onto something it allows us to visualize whatever is illuminated by the light. That is simple enough, right? Now, consider that behind every good light is a shadow waiting to give shape, form and dimension to your subject. This intricate interplay between what you illuminate and what you keep in shadow is what brings visual interest and creative acuity to your images. In studio lighting, this is your raw material with which you have to work and create.

There are many articles and books that describe studio lighting and as the student you may tend to focus on that main key light with simple one or two light set-ups, so we can dip our toe into the pool, so to speak, and see if the temperature is warm enough for us to dive in. A main or key light is simply the light source that is providing the primary illumination for our subject. Now, don’t get me wrong, one can create some amazingly, captivating portraits with a single light, but what if you want to add a little something extra? A little hint of spice to get some unique seasoning and flavor?

This is where accent lighting comes out to shine.

What is an accent light?

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Accent lighting is typically a very controlled light source that highlights specific areas of the subject. It can be a hair light that gives you some separation from a background, or a side light that illuminates the drops of sweat on an athlete after an intense workout. It gives some shape or form to elements of the photo allowing your eyes to experience the different dimensions of the image. Now, there are two important things you want to remember about accent lighting:

  1. The source should be very controlled and only hit the areas you desire
  2. It should be brighter then your main light to create a proper highlight

Easy ways to control accent lights are with modifiers such as barn doors, spot grids or small strip soft boxes. Basically, anything that will narrow and direct the beam of light coming form the light source. Heck, it could be a flashlight beam, the sun shining on the back of a subject’s head, or even the bright screen of a tablet or computer in the right conditions (yes, the eye fatigue from staring at the LCD screen is setting in). Add some colored gels to the accent lights to really make your images pop or bring some warmth into the mix.

Personally, I love adding side accent lighting to my portraits by firing my strobes into narrow V-flats (two large pieces of foam core taped together to form a v-shape) directed at the subject on either side to highlight the cheekbones and neck and really sculpt out those beautiful forms in light and shadow. The possibilities with accent lighting are truly endless, and the luminous results are absolutely stunning.

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For more on portraits and lighting check out these articles:

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