Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday

Lighting for Portraits (Part 2)

Your friend has asked you to take her portrait.  You are at the designated location, she is looking fantastic, and you and your camera are ready to start snapping.  As you begin to place her in position you should ask yourself, "what do I need to do to showcase her best features, and then make this photo come to life?"  There are, of course, many things to take into consideration, but I'm going to be talking about lighting right now because that should be one of the most important things to consider and will determine whether your friend can't stop raving about what an amazing photographer you are, (you end up with a great portrait), or if she politely thanks you then never mentions it again, (a mediocre one), or heaven forbid, she isn't speaking to you anymore!  I'm going to help you avoid that last alternative, so read on.

In a portrait, the face, most always, should be the focal point.  Think of the face as an upside down triangle with the eyes the actual focal point.  Remember that dark colors recede and light colors advance, so your 'triangle' should be lighter than the rest of the image, with the eyes the most important part of that triangle.  Portraits are bad if the eyes are not bright and sparkly!  (Of course there are always exceptions; for example if you are going for a moody, vampire look or some other artsy thing).  So, the first thing I do is look at the eyes.  If the lighting is such that the eyes are dull or lifeless, you'll have a crummy photo.  Even worse, if the only light source is coming from above and the eyebrows are shading the eyes and creating dark circles underneath (raccoon eyes), yikes....you will have a really unflattering photo.  So the first thing to remember is the light must make the eyes bright and expressive.  If you get nothing else right but the eyes, you and your friend will still be on speaking terms!!!  But of course, you won't stop there....

The direction of the light, the number of light sources, and the intensity of the light sources will determine whether you have a flat, boring portrait, or one with depth, dimension and 'pop'.  In this photo, the model is sitting next to, but not facing, a huge window.  You can see the light streaming in on the right side of her face as we see it.  She is angled partly toward the window creating catchlights and sparkle in her eyes.  As the light travels across her face, notice it is brightest on the side next to the window.   It moves across her face creating definition and shadow on her cheek.  Then it defines her nose with a soft shadow.  On the other side of her face the light begins to lessen, then ends with a deeper shadow on the other side of her cheek.  Notice how the light defines and shows her cute dimple.  (Before I go any further, here is my disclaimer.  This photo was shot quickly while Kenneth was setting up (see previous post), so it certainly is not a perfect example of perfect lighting, although there is no one perfect type of lighting.  Also, here I'm talking about simple solutions, not fancy lighting techniques with names like Rembrandt or Butterfly.)  Can you imagine how different this portrait would look if she were directly facing the window, or if a straight forward on camera flash was used?  I should have had a shot like that to compare, but I don't so you'll just have to imagine.  On second thought, you won't have to imagine because I'll just tell you.  It would look flat, boring and unflattering!  So, you must remember to have your main light source at an angle to the face.

The bottom line is this, you can make beautiful portraits with available natural light if you study the source and intensity of the light, carefully chose a location, then position your friend so the light softly wraps around her face and highlights her eyes.  Next week I'll talk about SIMPLE solutions when you need to help mother nature out a bit by adding alternative light sources, and tell you the best secret I learned at the workshop!  This will make your portraits even more beautiful and professional looking.

I'll leave you with a photo of my drop dead gorgeous daughter-in-law.  This was taken with only one natural light source.  Notice the soft shading on her face.