Portrait photography is the primary roll of a studio photographer. The aim is to show the personality and the mood of the subject. There are so many different tricks, tips and ideas out there I (Scott) thought we could start gathering a few these ideas together.
This blog thread has an idea behind it that will need your input. It will hopefully become a long ongoing thread based of your ideas and feedback. Simply post your suggestion in the comments below and when we have enough new portrait tips we will post them in the next part of this blog thread.
1. Customize your view: Most portraits are taken with the camera at approximately eye level of the subject. This makes sense, but completely changing the angle that you shoot from can give your portrait a real WOW factor. And convey a totally different message. Get crazy with the pose and positioning. Not only with the poses, but also with your own positioning shoot from different angles to achieve different impacts.
2. Eye Contact: The direction of your subject’s eyes will have a huge impact an image. Most portraits have the subject looking down the lens, this can create a real connection between a subject and the person viewing your image. But there are a couple of other things to try:
Lookingout of the frame: Have your subject focus their attention on something unseen and outside the photo. This can create a feeling of candidness and also create a little intrigue and interest as the viewer of the shot wonders what they are looking at. This intrigue is particularly drawn about when the subject is showing some kind of emotion (e.g “what are they laughing at?” or “why are they surprised?”). But don’t forget that when you have a subject looking out of frame that you can also draw the eye of the viewer to the edge of the image, taking them away from the point of interest.
Looking within the frame: Alternatively you can have your subject looking at someone (or something) within the frame e.g. Mother looking at her new baby, a man looking at his watch, a child looking toy etc…. When you give your subject something to look at that is inside the frame you create a second point of interest and a relationship develops between it and your primary subject. It also helps create ’story’ within the image.
3. Break the Rules: One of the first things you read about when you start to take photos is the “Rule of thirds”. It’s not a real hard and fast rule but more a guideline, which is there to be broken. Place your subject(s) on the edge(s) or in the middle or in the corner.
4. Lighting: There are a number of ways you can use the light in your portraits. Don’t be afraid to experiment a bit. Use more light, less light, different light formers, backlighting, whatever works for you after all it’s your photo.
5. Move the person out of their comfort zone Make them do something fun and freaky, like the jump. These shots would be fantastic and unusual, unique. This wont work for everyone but it can be a lot of fun. And you will need to get your timing right.
6. Image Manipulation (AKA "Shopped"): If you’re good with post-processing and manipulations, use it to your advantage. Use your imagination, try some new Photoshop techniques. Even the most basic adjustments like exposure correction and cropping can totally change your image.
7. Texture: If texture is a big part of your subject, make it stand out and make it obvious e.g the wrinkles on an elderly persons face, or the long red hair.
8. Exposure: Blowing out the highlights can make a nice soft portrait with kind of a light airy feeling. Another advantage of “high-key” photos is that the smaller details and defects are blown away, making the image look much smoother. Or a dominantly dark or low-key image will naturally draw your eyes to the lighter parts. These tend to have a grittier and harder look to them than the high-key images.
9. Props: Adding a prop of some kind into your shots and you create another point of interest that can enhance your shot. But it should also be appropriate for the photo you want to take e.g. give a singer a microphone.
10. Culture: Capture the local culture, what’s mundane to you is exotic to us. Culture is everywhere, even in your own town. Just image you’re visiting from a different country, what things would then seem more interesting to you?
While we were doing the "Studio 101" workshop the topic of different light modifiers came up a lot. So we decided to run a workshop based on that exact idea "Beauty dish vs Soft box". The concept was simple, we set up a large soft box 45degrees to the model and took a few photos. Once every one had taken a few photos we swapped the soft box for a white beauty dish, then a silver beauty dish and finally a silver beauty dish with a honey comb grid.
Caroline, A dress maker from here in the area modelled her fantastic hand made Tudor period dresses for us. Thanks for the fantastic work and amazing dresses.
After everyone had tried out all the different light formers and we had discussed the differences it was time to get down to some serious shooting. We set up the "Pseudo Light ring" again and spend the next hour or so getting some fantastic shots
As we didn't move the lights around much there isn't a lot in the way of lighting diagrams this time, due to the fact that we simply changed light modifiers so we could compare the differences.
And las but not least our behind the scenes video and a group shot.
On May, 7th 2011 the Flickr Klub Karlsruhe has organized a photo walk in Rastatt, with a BBQ afterwards. Since the lightGIANTS have emerged from this group, we naturally want to tell you about it.
The conditions for this Photo Walk could not have been better, the temperature rose to nearly 28 °C and the sun took care of plenty of "available light". Before the walk, we all have met at my place (Stefan), so the meat and drinks for the BBQ party later could be stored and cooled.
Overall, 15 people have registered to come, of which all have appeared. After a brief welcome, we started directly with the Walk. We walked along the river "Murg" to the other side of the city.
Some other key points of our walk were the "figure garden" at the employment office, the Pagodenburg, the water tower and the chapel of Einsiedeln. The last stop was the newly renovated residence castle of Rastatt. The following group picture was taken there.
We really had a lot of fun on this photo walk. And the subsequent BBQ was a great completion of a beautiful day. I always find it very interesting to exchange views with other photo enthusiasts, and discovering new or different perspectives. Also getting to know new techniques (eg, infrared photography) in a pleasant atmosphere expands your own horizon.
Here are a few of the images which were created on this day:
From my experience countless images are taken on those walks, which you naturally want to share with friends and your fellow photo walkers. For this purpose Markus Wochele has discovered a very good tool for our website. It's called ZenPhoto. With this tool each participant has access to our gallery via a username / password and can upload his/her pictures.
We also use this tool for our lightGIANTS workshops which take place every last Friday of the month. Here, the workshop participants can upload their results to share them with us and the models. This eleminates the annoying sending or troublesome downloading of images from various platforms. You can also download an entire folder as a zip file and do not have to select each file individually.
In the last few weeks we have had a lot to do with first time studio users and people who wanted to know a bit more about lighting a subject. When you take control of the the light you have far more control over the final image, but at first it can be difficult to understand. There is no one single way to set up your studio lights, but rather a number of way that will provide you different types of lighting effects. The set up you chose will depend, on the subject you are photographing, (such as a human model or a static product), the lights you have available and the result you want to achieve. As your knowledge, experience and equipment improves so will the complexity of your lighting set-ups. These set-ups are very basic way of getting into lighting and should not be thought of as the perfect set-up but rather set-ups that you can try out easily, either in a studio or with your own system flash(s). We deliberately haven't gone into using things like light modifiers (Soft-Boxes, Umbrellas, Beauty-Dishes etc). That is simply all to much for one topic, and will be covered in the future. Also dont forget that the hight of your lights will also play an important roll when setting up your own set-up
One Strobe set-up
A one light set up is great for a simple photo shoot or for a starting photographer who has not yet accumulated a lot of lighting equipment. The camera is placed directly in front of the subject, with the single light slightly to the side of the photographer. The light is pointed directly at the subject. Because a single light set up tends to create many shadows, a white reflector should be placed on the opposite side of the subject just out of frame. If the photographer don't have a reflector, any white surface (such as paper, poster board, polystyrene or even a wall) can be used. It is simple and cheap way to get started, it can be very affective when use properly.
Two Strobe set-up
The simplest studio lighting set up is the standard two light system. The first light of the two (called a key light) , and should be placed in front of the subject (between the subject and the camera) and slightly to your side. The light should be directly facing the subject. Because lighting of this type tends to be harsh, the light can be softened with a soft box or umbrella. The second light should be placed behind and slightly above the subject just out of frame. This is called the hair or rim light, and will create a soft halo of light around your subject. NOTE:Your hair light may need to be set to a high power out put then your key light, to get the halo affect.
Another very easy set up with 2 lights is both light s are placed in front of the subject (one left, one right) in approximately the same position, and you shoot from the middle point. Set one of the flashes to have more power then the other. The flash with more power will be your key light and the weaker one will be you fill light. If both lights are set to the same power this will create a very flat light.
A third simple two strobe set-up (that will create a lot more dramatic light) is when both flashes are on the same side. Either both left or both right of the point you are shooting from. If you use the flash furthest away from you as your key light and the closest flash as your fill light you will achieve a very cool look very easily.
Three Strobe set-up
By reversing the first three strobe set up you will totality change your results. Place your Key light close to the same position as where your shooting from. And then set up two rim lights behind your subject, one to the left and one to the right.
The clamshell lighting set up provides the softest light and is ideal for beauty shots. The camera should be placed even with the subject--at eye level if using a model, or straight on to a static product. The largest light should be placed above the camera and be pointed down slightly so that it is aimed directly at the subject. The smaller light should be placed below the camera and be pointed upward slightly so that it is aimed directly at the subject. You shoot from in between the two lights so that the lights create a "clamshell shape" around the camera.
The Key light
Also called a main light, the key light is usually placed to one side of the subject's face, between 30 and 60 degrees off centre and a bit higher than eye level. The key light is the brightest light in the lighting plan
The Fill light
Placed opposite the key light, the fill light fills in or softens the shadows on the opposite side of the face. The brightness of the fill light is usually between 1/3 and 1/4 that of the key light.
The Hair light
Also called a rim light or back light, the rim light is placed behind the subject, out of the picture frame, and often rather higher than the Key light or Fill. The point of the rim light is to provide separation from the background by highlighting the subject's shoulders and hair. The rim light should be just bright enough to provide separation from the background, but not as bright as the key light.
Some times called a popper. A kicker normally is a small light, often used with a snoot or barn door to limit its coverage. It is generally used to add a bot of "pop" to a fine detail or fill in fine shadows. The placement and brightness of a kicker is a matter of taste and technique. Sometimes the rim light is set just off to the side, on the fill light side. This can add edge detail to the shadowed side of your model's face. This can add the effect of having a kicker light using only the three basis lights of three point lighting.
Not so much a part of the portrait lighting plan, but rather designed to provide illumination for the background behind the subject, background lights can pick out details in the background, provide a halo effect by illuminating a portion of a backdrop behind the subject's head, or turn the background pure white by filling it with light
About 12 months ago I (Scott) was chatting with Kat Bradshaw from Kat Bradshaw photography … She was talking about her smoke machine that a friend of hers wanted to borrow. As a joke I asked to borrow it, and like the wonderful person that she is she said yes, but lets be honest the postage from Nashville Tennessee to Karlsruhe Germany would be a killer.
Not that long ago we did “The walking dead” shoot , and I thought it would be a great chance to use a smoke machine in combination with a shooting. I asked m-arx organised a rental as he “Knows someone”. The machine was amazing but way to powerful for our studio, so I started to look at what eBay had to offer.
The best deal from a reputable dealer, was a NM040 - 400 Watt Smoke Machine with 5l of fog fluid.
Heating time: circa 7 minutes
Spray distance: circa 6 meters
Fluid capacity: 0.75l
Maximum spray time: 40-50 seconds
Dimensions: (WxLxH) 132 x 242 x 102 mm
Fog Capacity: 57m³/minute
Included in the delivery : 1x 400w Smoke machine, 1x 5M trigger cable, 1x 5 leter Smoke fluid
Price: €40.00 plus €6.50 postage
According to the manufacturer
The NM040 provides a cheap start into professional working with fog machines. In spite of the robust cabinet, the weight is very low. The bracket enables you to flight this device, too. Due to the analogue technology it is very easy to put the fog machine into operation. The inbuilt components were chosen because of their durability, also during heavy-duty.
At first I thought “OHHH NO what have I bought here”. It was tiny could to do the job? I set it up in the studio and tested it a but, and was sceptical (at this point all I was thinking is where the receipt so I can send it back). Before I send it back I did want to give it a real test run (so I had something to blog about). And I’m glad I did….
I contacted Sandra J.K and asked if she would model as a “Rocker Girl” so I can test the “Fog Machine” in a real shooting environment. I tested it with different spray times, and at different heights in the studio. After a few attempts I found what worked for me. I placed the NM040 on a 2.5m light stand and placed it up high right next to a 400w Bowens Gemini monoblock (fitted with a set of barn doors and a blue gel filter). I was using a red background and the resulting colour contrast was fantastic. At this point I really go into the shoot and had a fantastic time.
For the price it’s a great accessory for the studio but you have to know how to use it and its limitation. It needs to be placed high so the smoke can fall into the photo. Using colour gels that contrast to your background will defiantly add that wow affect.
Smoke machine basics
The most common type of smoke machine takes a glycol based fluid that is pumped into a heated chamber. The normal components used are a solenoid pump to push the liquid in, and a fibreglass lagged heater block based on a sandwich of aluminium plates, a heating element and a long piece of copper capillary tubing snaked around between the heater plates. In some units the heater is tubular with the capillary tubing wound round it, but the effect is the same.
At switch on the unit will not pump liquid until the heating block has come up to the correct temperature, whereupon the pump can run and squirt the fluid into the block. When it does, the fluid evaporates very quickly and the resultant increase in pressure not only causes it to form a dense superheated vapour, but forces it out of the front of the machine via the exit port, which can be as simple as the end of the capillary tubing being poked out, or in some cases a small pinhole orifice to make sure that the internal pressure is kept high.
The resultant dense vapour exits the front of the machine and upon contact with the cool air it forms a dense cloud that is a very close relation to real fog.