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DPChallenge Forums >> Photography Discussion >> Portrait Lighting -- Learning Thread
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06/29/2006 05:09:19 PM · #1
Hi all.

I’ve agreed to begin a thread on portrait lighting but let me begin by saying I’m no expert. What I am is an avid (obsessive) student of portrait photography. I attend workshops, read books, search websites, talk to other photographers, study other people’s work and practice practice practice. So with that in mind, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some of what I have learned and learn some more as we go.

I hope some of the other portrait photographers on the site will share their wisdom as well since mine will be sadly lacking in many areas.

This thread is open to all, but please try to keep it orderly and on topic…. And be patient. Oh, and lets keep this fun. :)

Here are some topics I thought we could try to chat about, but this is flexible.
1. Available light – outside, window light, etc.
a. Modified available light
b. Locations

2. Studio light
a. Key terms (so we’re all speaking the same language)
i. Key light
ii. Fill light
iii. Kicker
iv. Reflector / Bounce
v. Hair light
vi. Catchlights
v. Background light
b. Lighting styles
c. Corrective lighting (what to do when someone has “flaws”)
d. Dramatic effects

Before we begin, can I get an idea of level of interest and level of experience? Also any topics you would like to have added to the list?

heheee confusing enough? mumblesaboutforumtext

Message edited by author 2006-06-29 17:38:52.
06/29/2006 05:12:49 PM · #2
I will follow this discussion closely. I am not very good at all at portraits. It is hard for me to take pictures of people. Think I have submitted only one in all the time I've been at DPC. Would like to grow and improve in that area.

I've done some wedding and maternity photography but am always uncomfortable with it. Wish I could do a better job. It is incredibly important to the people involved.

Message edited by author 2006-06-29 17:15:58.
06/29/2006 05:14:41 PM · #3
I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this thread tup.gif
06/29/2006 05:15:50 PM · #4
I'm going to follow this thread as well. I've got limited access to a studio, and tried out a few things which can be seen here and here but as you can see, I've got a lot to learn.

What you will cover looks great!
06/29/2006 05:16:51 PM · #5
Oh, and shameless plug - here are a couple of shots I took of my daughters earlier today while I was thinking about this thread. We'll chat later about how they were done.

355297.jpg 355298.jpg
06/29/2006 05:33:14 PM · #6
I love this idea! I am just starting my wedding and portrait business part time, and I think there is always room for more learning and more immprovement. Also, the two pictures are very nice...
06/29/2006 05:36:41 PM · #7
I'll be interested to see what goes on here. I've done portraits for a few people, and even been paid for them, but I wouldn't say that I have a lot of experience. It's just too difficult to find willing models to practice on. I do have the lighting equipment though.

BTW, you didn't mention a background light. I have one of those and I've even used it a couple times.

06/29/2006 05:39:04 PM · #8
i will keep an eye on this thread since i am really interested in photographing people..
06/29/2006 05:39:16 PM · #9
Originally posted by micknewton:

BTW, you didn't mention a background light. I have one of those and I've even used it a couple times.


Thank you - added it. :)
06/29/2006 05:50:21 PM · #10
I recently purchased a portable lighting system. Main light , fill light, background light and I added a hair light with a snoot ( cone shaped attachment that funnels the light to the hair) My wife quickly grew more anxious because she knew I wuould make her the practice model. After she said enough I used myself.
The first thing that really is needed for good portraits is a light meter. I will never use a spot meter from the camera.
I had a great opportunity to photograph 23 executice secretaries at a medical center in New York. Long story short it came of great.
You really have to practice alot. Trail and error.
I found the less the lighting the better. I would change backdrops from white to black. Used a main Light, a fill light and a hair light.
I also found that the more you talk to your model and explain just what you are doing they become more relaxed and you will get a better photo.
06/29/2006 05:52:33 PM · #11
I'll certainly follow this thread. I have lots of interest in portrait photography but only average experience. I do have a umbrella and stand as lighting option.
06/29/2006 05:55:12 PM · #12
I forgot to mention that I use soft boxes and modeling lights. Strbes save your subject from squinting and complaining.
06/29/2006 05:57:11 PM · #13
Awesome Cindi!

I only have my cheapo ebay lights, I have two working softboxes, but my umbrella strobe is dead :(. I'll be watching and hoping to learn. Feel free to thwap me on the nuckles with your ruler. ;)
06/29/2006 05:58:10 PM · #14
me too me too!!
:)
06/29/2006 06:22:04 PM · #15
Side note:

The following is some titles from my book shelf; these are the ones I go back to again and again when I need inspiration or feel stumped.

Portrait Photography – The Art of Seeing Light, by Don Blair & Peter Skinner

Corrective Lighting and Posing Techniques for Portrait Photographers, by Jeff Smith

Learning to Light, by Roger Hicks & Frances Shultz

50 Portrait Lighting Techniques – For portraits that Sell, by John Hart

The Best of Portrait Photography, by Bill Hurter

I would recommend any of these. This is also where I will dig for answers to many of the questions that come up in this thread.

06/29/2006 06:23:11 PM · #16
I did an engagement series on Saturday. It was early around 9am, but the sun was out in full force. I moved to a shady area in the park for some better light. My intent was to go for bokeh with my lens wide open, but at F/1.4 I found that my lady subject was in good focus while the male subject wasn't as sharp. What I learned; I should have stepped up my ISO a little and maybe shot in the F/3-4 range.
Any other corrections I should have made?
355362.jpg
06/29/2006 06:36:27 PM · #17
Originally posted by caba:

I did an engagement series on Saturday. It was early around 9am, but the sun was out in full force. I moved to a shady area in the park for some better light. My intent was to go for bokeh with my lens wide open, but at F/1.4 I found that my lady subject was in good focus while the male subject wasn't as sharp. What I learned; I should have stepped up my ISO a little and maybe shot in the F/3-4 range.
Any other corrections I should have made?
355362.jpg

This is a nice shot Frank. They look relaxed and natural, the composition is good, and the bokeh is nice too. I think the lighting is just a bit flat though. Maybe a little fill flash? Also, the skin tones seem a little off to me, like there might be a bit too much cyan in the mix.

06/29/2006 07:01:05 PM · #18
This is a great idea. Unfortunately, I'm away from my school studio for about a month so I don't have access to a studio right now. I did spend my entire last semester working on portraiture as a portfolio for my studio class and most of them are in my portfolio here. I have been quite pleased with my progress so far and am looking forward to doing more complex setups, almost to the point of fashion. Either way I'll keep an eye out here and would happy to get involved with some basic questions. I certainly have a little experience and have worked with many people whom I had never met till our photoshoot. My highest entry on this sight was done with someone I met while doing school yearbook headshots, although it is quite different than a standard head shot. Anyways...great idea idnic and I'll continue to peek my head in here.
Might as well take the chance to share a couple of my own favorites.

315127.jpg 328766.jpg 327014.jpg

316423.jpg 344882.jpg and of course myself 343563.jpg

Message edited by author 2006-06-29 19:07:10.
06/29/2006 07:09:58 PM · #19
I'd be interested, too, Cindi, though I won't have much opportunity to practice. I've no lights, and like Steve, I'm not very good at taking pictures of people, or even trying to take pictures of people. But maybe some day!
06/29/2006 07:11:56 PM · #20
For frank, I agree with mick. The shot is a nice classic portrait with good comfortable expressions. Certainly a little soft but it works with the feel of the shot. It does seem to need a little cyan taken out, but more importantly, the teeth are extremely yellow and removing cyan from the whole image won't completely take care of that. If you have photoshop, I would select the teeth specifically and try removing yellow. I suspect you'll notice a big difference. I would do an example for ya but my parents don't have photoshop back here at home...and I'm in withdrawal. But thats beside the point. Good stuff, and keep working at it.
06/29/2006 07:24:51 PM · #21
Yay! Looks like a good bit of interest so lets get started ļ

Available Light

Before we get into the thick of studio lighting, I thought we should begin with something everyone can do and that is a portrait in natural / ambient / available light. That is to say: using the light that is already present to your best advantage.

Daylight is one of the most beautiful sources of light available for creating portraits, artists have known this for a very long time. But remember that is ¡§daylight¡¨, not ¡§sunlight¡¨ which can be unflattering and cause harsh shadows. Daylight is the softer light that we find along the edge of a forest, under trees, filtered through windows and under balconies or other structures that create open shade. You want the light to be diffused, but still directional, flat lighting does not look as natural.

Much has been said about shooting during ¡§sweet light¡¨, that is early morning and late afternoon ¡V but in reality, we must shoot portraits when we must, so seeking the softer diffused light is key. In large open spaces a scrim (large panel of light diffusing material held over/beside the subject to diffuse the harsh sunlight and create pleasing shadows) should be used.

The optimum lighting outdoors would not have the subject facing toward the light or away from it. The light should fall across the face creating natural highlights and shadows, wrapping around the face for the most pleasing result.

Modified Available light

This simply means helping the existing light to create the soft wrapping effect that you want by means of reflectors or bounces. A simple reflector can be made with white poster board or a car windshield sun reflector. When you¡¦ve placed your subject in a shady place, perhaps along a tree line, you will get lovely wrapping soft light from the non-tree side of the subject, but the tree side might fall into complete darkness ¡V that's when you would want to use a reflector on the tree side of the subject to bounce some of the daylight back toward the subject and brighten the shadow side of the face.

Some tips:
The farther the subject is from background items, the more out of focus and non-obstructive those objects will be. The closer, the more they become a part of your composition.
Do look at EVERYTHING within the frame, pay attention to distracting items and try to eliminate them from the scene.
Step in close
Fill flash is good, but straight on light tends to be flat, so to get the nice directional light that best suits the face, turn your flash at an agle to the subject and use a reflector to bounce light onto subject.

OK, everyone with me so far. Questions? Too much information or too little? Additions? Too confusing? :)

Assignment #1 ¡V With the tips above in mind ¡V over the next week or so, shoot an available light portrait and lets talk about results.

06/29/2006 07:43:42 PM · #22
I am comfortable with lighting one subject, but don't have much experience with lighting a group.

I am having a hard time finding a balance between avoiding shadows on other's faces and flat lighting. Tips?

Example 1 I like that the lighting is not flat, but the shadow on the little secret teller ruins it for me.

Example 2 No horrible shadows, but the lighting seems flat to me.

I guess I just prefer more Rembrandt style lighting like THIS PORTRAIT.

Thanks for any tips :) I have 3 lights, one which is dedicated to a background light.

Message edited by author 2006-06-29 19:44:21.
06/29/2006 07:46:36 PM · #23
I think our assignment, should we choose it, is to take various photographs with the different terms provided.

Flat open sunlight
Sulnight with a diffuser or scrim overhead.
Sunlight with fill flash

Shade w/ side lighting
Shade with side and bounce for fill
Shade with fill flash

"sweet light"
"sweet light" with bounce
"sweet light" with fill

Good/bad? Anything more we need to do?
06/29/2006 07:46:48 PM · #24
Jennifer, here is a diagram that gives a lovely rembrandt style. The 3rd light would be use directly behind the subject pointed at the backdrop.
319659.jpg

Also, you are correct about both of the images you show. The solution for the shadow on the face of the secret-teller would have been to have her face more toward the camera and have a little separation between the two girls so light can get in there. For the other, flat light is caused by a lack of strong direction as you know, so the solution would be to move the main light more to one side or the other. We'll chat more about studio lighting later.

Message edited by author 2006-06-29 19:51:17.
06/29/2006 07:48:44 PM · #25
Originally posted by wavelength:

I think our assignment, should we choose it, is to take various photographs with the different terms provided.

Flat open sunlight
Sulnight with a diffuser or scrim overhead.
Sunlight with fill flash

Shade w/ side lighting
Shade with side and bounce for fill
Shade with fill flash

"sweet light"
"sweet light" with bounce
"sweet light" with fill

Good/bad? Anything more we need to do?


Yes, Steve, I think that would be the natural progression to understanding what the optimum light looks like, but feel free to post as many or as few of the "trial & error" shots as you wish. :)
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