Portrait Lighting Presentation

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Earlier in the year I was asked by my camera club to give a presentation on Portrait Lighting. To be honest, I was hugely flattered and I tried everything I could think of to get out of it.

“Oh yes!” I said.  “I would love to do that but I’m in the middle of a remodel, so…”

Well, she said there were many months that were available, how about April?  No, I thought that would be pushing the time line.  Then she suggested June and it was far enough away that I thought I might be able to work up my courage by then.

The months zoomed by and soon it was the end of May and I was moved in to my new house so there was no reason to put it off any longer.  I spent several weeks poring over my photos, choosing ones that I thought would demonstrate not only different ways to light a portrait, but would also clearly show my style.

I came across this photo, which was taken several years ago and was responsible for me pursuing people photography over other types of photography.

Portrait Lighting.002-webI took this shot without much thought.  Again, I saw something pretty and shiny and I put the camera to my eye, which I had done many times before and many times I was unhappy with the result.  This time I wasn’t.  I was actually amazed.  It was a pretty pose, graceful almost, the light was good on her hair and shoulders, the wedding dress reflected back up onto her face making it well lit and I could see the background.  There is even a little movement with the water dropping off her dress.  I fell in love with people and people photography.

I thought about this photo for a while and how it played into my style of photography now. What was it about this photo that captured my attention and passion?

I hadn’t had much to do with making this photo…I hadn’t posed her or told her where to stand or set up the background.  But to me, it told a story.  It was better than a posing bride in the water.  It spoke a story of light, delicacy, elegance and simplicity.

I had always enjoyed being a story-teller and now I could gear my photography towards telling stories.  So, although my presentation was supposed to be about lighting portraits, I went a slightly different route, while speaking about lighting portraits.

My thought pattern always starts with the person I am photographing, her/his personality and the story that I am trying to portray.  What are their desires or what is the story I am trying to tell when I hire models for a photo shoot?

Next I think about a pose that will be genuine and help to tell the story.  I can usually tell right away if my subject is uncomfortable in the pose.  Sometimes I continue with the pose trying to help the subject feel more comfortable, but most often I change up the pose until she feels more comfortable and I can achieve a more genuine look.

And at some point I think about the light.  Sometimes the light catches my attention right away and I try to place my subject in that light in the most flattering way.  Sometimes I add light to make my photo.  Sometimes I combine the light that I see and some additional light.  It all just depends on the story I am trying to tell.

So, here are some of the examples I presented to my camera club and the thought process that went along with them.

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And last I used my favorite model, my youngest son (oldest son is pictured above).

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The rest of my presentation involved setting up a quickie studio with a backdrop one light and a model (my youngest son) and going over some of the equipment I use when I’m only using artificial light.  It was a fun time and I’m hoping that my camera club enjoyed it, also.

My strong conviction is that as a photographer you are always looking for the best light for your subject, but if you do not have a beautiful pose with a relaxed subject, then the light just doesn’t matter.  Develop a relationship with the subject because a photograph is a two-way mirror…the subject and the photographer.  If the subject is uncomfortable and ill at ease with the photographer, it will show in the photo.

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