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Capturing Magic: Finding Inspiration For Captivating Portraits

Capturing Magic: Finding Inspiration For Captivating Portraits

Portraiture has been around for many centuries. Before the digital age and even before the age of film, portraits had been created through other mediums such as paintings and sculptures. A portrait is a treasure that people keep around for a lifetime. A great portrait embodies the essence of the person and tells his or her story without saying a word. How can you make your portraits stand out from the rest? Getting creative. Doing something different. But then, where do you find the inspiration for such types of portraits?

Here I created an artist set to get the look of interrupting an artist at work.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

The idea for a portrait can revolve around many different things, such as an overall theme, maybe a piece of clothing, a location, a prop or the person you are photographing – among many other things. You can generate ideas for a portrait through music, art, books and more. It becomes easier to find inspiration the more you become aware of your surroundings and most importantly, familiar with your subject.

 

What’s the Purpose of the Portrait?

The first thing you should think about when deciding how to tackle capturing a portrait of someone is: what is the purpose of the portrait? A portrait might be a senior portrait for a teenager getting ready to graduate high school in the next year, an individual’s portrait, a couple’s portrait, family portraits or even glamour or boudoir portraits.

A senior portrait.

 

Determining the purpose of the portrait can help guide you toward the characteristics your client might be looking for in their portrait such as a couple’s portrait might want to display their love for one another, a senior portrait might symbolize hope for a bright future and for a boudoir portrait, the idea is “sexy”.

Glamour portrait in my hallway.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Below are several characteristics that you may find can help jog some creativity into your portraiture.

 

Background Choice

In a car. A sixteen-year-old boy just got their first car. He is proud of achieving the passing of his driving test and as a typical sixteen-year-old boy, his car is his most prized possession. This is a good opportunity to suggest shooting a few portraits with him in or standing next to his car.

Outdoors. Shooting a portrait outdoors offers an infinite number of possibilities for backgrounds. Find out your client’s favorite area of town and meet them there for the shoot. If they like the beach, shoot at the beach. Are they avid hikers? Strap on your hiking boots and let them guide you to their favorite spot and photograph them in that environment. If they’re unsure of an outdoor location, it’s up to you to scout out an interesting backdrop.

We shot this portrait outdoors in my neighborhood.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

In a studio setting. Many portrait photographers opt to shoot in a studio so that they can better control the light. You have options for backgrounds in the studio such as seamless paper, canvas, muslin or you can even build a set. Below I used a Savage Mocha seamless paper background along with dramatic lighting.

Background choice in the studio against Savage Mocha seamless paper.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

Work Your Angles

 

Shoot From Above. Savage Floor Drops can make for an interesting background when you shoot your subject from above. Having materials around such as fur and silk also add texture and sheen to the image. In the image below, I also added pillows and lit tea candles as well as a guitar to create an “At Home With the Musician” type of portrait.

Get on a ladder and shoot from above.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Give your subject space to look into. As a good rule of thumb, when shooting a portrait, especially “landscape-oriented” (horizontally), frame your subject on one side of the image or the other (use The Rule of Thirds as a guide) and make sure that he or she has space to stare into. When you have a subject facing outside the frame closest to him or her, the image generally evokes a bit of tension within the viewer.

Placing your subject on one side of the image and giving them a lot of negative space on one side gives them space to look into.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Shooting Orientation. I generally ignore the idea that portraits should be “portrait-oriented” (vertical). I generally shoot a portrait both portrait-oriented and landscape oriented (horizontal) for variations.

Vertical orientation.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Remember the best way to shoot landscape-oriented people photos is to give your subject space to look into by placing them on one side of the image or the other with their face facing into the image center.

Horizontal orientation.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Tight Shots

When I shoot, I generally have my subject hold for 2-3 shots and capture the same photo a few different ways, such as full body, ¾ shot, waist up, headshot and a tight shot. Tight shots can be an interesting choice to create a unique portrait. It especially comes in handy if your subject has a receding hairline or a double chin.

Tight shot of a friend.

 

Play With Light & Shadow

 

Mixing Multiple Light Sources. I remember I was once told that mixing different types of lighting could be tricky or disastrous. I did an experiment once in outdoor shade next to a building doorway where there was a combination of ambient daylight, my speedlight and a tungsten bulb in the doorway and came up with the portrait below. Don’t ever be afraid to experiment and create things someone else told you that you couldn’t.

Here I blended ambient light, the tungsten bulb light in the doorway to the right and my speedlight to get this shot.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Use Shadows. Whether it’s shadows created from mini-blinds indoors or from trees outdoors, or even shadows you create with studio lighting, shadows can transform such a humdrum image into something very extraordinary.

I used a tree to break up harsh lighting and got some interesting shadow patterns.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Create Silhouettes. A portrait doesn’t necessarily need to capture all the details of a subject. Sometimes just a silhouette outline of your subject can make for a creative portrait too.

Silhouettes can make for interesting portraits.

 

Go High-Key or Low-Key. High key portraits evoke a feeling of lightness, innocence and purity. The key to creating a high key portrait is a lot of light, while still managing to maintain a true black point.

A high key portrait always has a light and pure feel to it.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Low-key portraits are a good choice for music and athletic portraits or any type of portrait where you want to create a lot of drama as the images are very dark and the light is very focused on a particular part of a subject such as their face, hands or maybe even just a baby’s feet. In the image below I added a rim light to create a separation between my subject and the background to add dimension.

Low-key lighting can add drama.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

Use window light whenever possible. Many photographers are a fan of natural light and prefer daylight studios to just any ole studio. There’s just a quality of softness about light that comes through a window, which can serve as a little bit of a diffuser itself. Window light can be recreated artificially, but there’s just something striking about natural window light.

Window light makes for a beautiful dramatic portrait.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

Add Movement

 

Spin, Spin, Spin. I recently wrote an article on getting more creative with your self-portraits and experimented with spinning and shooting with a slow shutter. I managed to create the image below on the second try. Here you can see my face in profile and full face. Just a unique “spin” to a portrait.

A slow shutter offers a nice motion shot.

 

Blowing confetti/glitter. You’ve see the images. A girl with a party hat (or not) blowing confetti toward the camera lens. It’s a nice shot to try to capture for a birthday portrait, but it does take practice and a tripod to capture the confetti in the air prior to its descent.

Sports portraits. You might be hired to shoot some portraits during a child’s sports game. Anticipation of movement is the key to a sports portrait – that and a fast shutter speed. After the game you can slow down and capture images of the athlete in his or soiled uniform holding the football, catcher’s mitt, baseball bat, or whatnot. It provides much more character than a stark, sterile, clean uniform.

Dancing portraits. A photographer can capture beautiful portraits of ballet dancers who are  quick, agile and can hold a pose for a pretty long time. I actually added movement into the image below by shooting the dancer through a piece of Plexiglas wrapped in Saran wrap.

I shot through saran wrap on Plexiglas here to create a sense of movement.

Model/dancer: Shoko Fujita

 

Reflections

A different way to approach shooting a subject is through the use of a mirror. If you can find a room with a full length mirror on one side, this can make for a stunning image – especially the more dramatic the wardrobe they are wearing. No mirror wall? A stand-up mirror can also work to capture a person in a just little bit of a different way than just a “smile and say cheese” portrait.

Use of a mirror for this portrait.

Model: Colleen Rose Careri

 

Composites & Double Exposure

 

Composites. A composite, if done right, can add a new dimension to a portrait. I’m not an expert with Adobe Photoshop, nor do I have the patience to spend hours and hours to do outrageously amazing composites, but taking your subject and placing them on a different background can sometimes make the image more interesting.

A composite created from a studio shot on white seamless and an image borrowed from Google.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

Double Exposure Images. A double exposure image is another process that can take a little bit of time but can fun and can literally share your subject with something they like. I’m a huge fan of sunflowers so we created the double exposure of me in a sunflower field. The sun just happened to be in a perfect spot to generate an even deeper meaning to the portrait.

This is a double exposure self-portrait amongst my favorite flower.

 

Introduce Props

 

Flowers and foliage. Whether you add flowers to your client’s hair or put flowers in their hands (which can also help to relax your subject by giving them something to do with their hands…!), adding a client’s favorite flower to their portrait not only adds an additional piece of beauty into the image but it also adds yet another hint to the viewer as to the subject’s likes and preferences. Beyond the example below, the self-portrait above also showcases this.

Giving my subject flowers gave her something to do with her hands too.

Model: Larissa Byrd

 

Food. Yes food… but make it fun food! A portrait of a child blowing out candles on a birthday cake makes a nice sentiment. Combining a lollipop or even a piece of fruit into a portrait can make the portrait a little more fun and interesting. If your subject is holding the object, even better! Giving them something to do with their hands helps to relax them a little in front of the lens as it helps take their attention of the camera and places it on the object they are holding.

Add a lollipop for a twist to the semi-monochromatic image.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

Materials and Lace. Exaggeration is okay not only in fashion, but portraiture too. In the image below I draped a piece of beautiful jade lace over my client’s hair and gave her a bouquet of black calla lilies to create a little bit of a darker portrait. Adding various materials or lace to a portrait set whether it’s on your subject or they are laying on it, adds a nice touch to the final result.

Here the props were the lace made into a veil and the black calla lillies.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

Incorporate Accessories

 

Hats. Hats can be a fun addition to a portrait depending on what they are wearing and your subject’s personality.

I added a cowgirl hat to complete this ensemble.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

Scarves. In addition, a scarf can also be a nice addition to a subject’s look in a portrait. In the image below, my subject has an Eastern European background and actually asked me if we could incorporate a scarf into some of her portraits.

Because of her ethnic background, the scarf helps lend to her story.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Add Embellishments to Makeup

 

Feathers. While feathers might be a little overboard, they can make for a fun and dramatic portrait if you have a great makeup artist on hand. In the image below, we went with a beautiful peacock theme.

We created a beautiful peacock theme for this shot.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Jewels. Adding jewels to makeup, especially around the eyes, can really bring out the feature they are near. The colors and sparkle also really stand out.

Adding jewels to her eyes draws your attention to the most important part of the portrait – the windows to the soul.

Model: Lizbeth Sawyers

 

Various Facial Expressions & Emotions

Rather than a typical, “say cheese” portrait, you may be able to evoke several different emotions in your client and capture them. Teenagers are notorious for being a bit reserved when it comes to professional portraits when it’s not their idea and the parents are the ones demanding them. A serious expression is quite fine though! Try to conjure up different expressions from your client. A sly or coy smile here, a bright cheery smile there, a pensive and thoughtful expression there – it all works!

It’s ok to capture a normal beautiful portrait.

Model: Chelsea Jackson

 

If your client is a bit of a jokester, even capturing capturing silly facial expressions really captures their essence and shows the viewer their personality.

Sometimes different facial expressions can show a fun side of someone in a portrait.

Model: Chelsea Jackson

 

Shoot Candids Between the Posed Shots

Of course, capturing candid shots in between the posed shots can also be a huge bonus as you’re capturing unposed, true, expressions of your client when they are being themselves and are caught off-guard. I managed to capture this candid portrait below during a pause between poses. I thought it was a bit calm and serene (almost meditative) and the client loved it.

I caught this shot between poses.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

A Last Word About Gaining Creative Insight…

Finding inspiration and coming up with creative ideas for captivating portraits can be very easy. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the more you will realize that the possibilities for ideas are endless. One of the great things I’ve learned over the past few years that has helped my creativity is self-portraits. You learn a lot not only about being in front of the lens, but how to tell your own story.

Self-Portrait.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
6 Tips for Beginners Learning Photography

6 Tips for Beginners Learning Photography

Photography can be a very rewarding experience for many photographers. Not only do photographers create a permanent archive of memories, but the validation and criticism received when sharing your work – be it with friends and family or exhibiting in a gallery – can generate an amazing feeling and confidence within that photographer. While technology is making it easier and easier to “take” a good picture, many things are necessary in order to improve and “make” an extraordinary photograph.

Photo in my 2nd year of shooting.

Bern, Switzerland

 

In 2011, I started NYC Digital Photography Workshops, which has now collectively grown to over 5,000 members. Working alongside some of our world class instructors over these last six years, I’ve helped generate a terrific program, especially for beginners on how to best learn photography and have consistently seen positive results. Below are 12 tips for beginners on how to best learn photography.

 

DECIDE ON A WORKFLOW FIRST

I wanted to start with workflow first as not having one from the beginning was a personal mistake I made that resulted in over 30,000 images years later and not knowing where and how to start with organization. If you sit down, think about and create a good workflow from the beginning, you can avoid feeling like you will never be caught up because you keep changing your mind on how you want process your images from set up to sharing with the world.

I use Adobe Lightroom for the post-processing part of my workflow.

 

General Camera Setup

Since this article is primarily for beginners, it’s important to set up your camera’s general settings from the start and to know what will change from scenario to scenario. Some of the features you’ll want to consider setting up from Day One are:

 

  1. Your playback options of what is displayed on images upon playback such as highlights, RGB histogram and shooting data.

Info I’ve chosen to be shown on upon playback.

 

2. On your shooting menu, things such as file naming, card slot rules (if you have two card slots in your camera, what role each card slot will play), image quality (jpeg vs. RAW) and color space (sRGB or Adobe RGB). It’s extremely important for the sake of post-processing your images that you set your camera to record images in RAW format as this format will gather and record the most data. If you want to be able to instantly share your images, set your camera to RAW and JPEG together, but don’t just shoot JPEG as you will severely limit your editing options.

Shooting in RAW is extremely important for post-processing purposes.

 

3. On the video shooting menu (if you have this), you’ll want to set up your file naming convention, the destination where videos will go should you have more than one memory card slot, frame size/frame rate, movie quality, microphone sensitivity and wind noise reduction.

 

4. Under your custom menu, you might want to set up your general autofocus settings, metering and exposure settings such as ISO sensitivity, step value and EV steps, whether the camera beeps upon shooting (this can be helpful when shooting subjects in studio), continuous mode frames per second, whether or not you want to have a grid display in your viewfinder to help guide your composition and functions of the buttons on your camera. You can customize what the buttons on your camera do as you may find you use certain functions more than others and you’ll want to be able to adjust those quickly and easily, therefore, assigning those functions to buttons that are more easily accessible.

 

5. Under your setup menu, you may want to set up the color balance of your LCD monitor, your monitor brightness, the timezone and date/time, language, auto-rotation of images and customize your image copyright information.

 

How You’ll Backup

There are many ways you can backup your images as you create them with some ways being temporarily convenient while others are much more reliable in the long run.

Example backup sources (clockwise from top left): Dropbox (cloud), flash drive, desktop external

hard drive, memory card and portable hard drive.

Images courtesy of Adorama

 

Memory Cards. A CompactFlash or SD card will be your first method of backup as you are initially shooting your images (unless you are tethering to a computer or laptop…) This isn’t a reliable way to permanently store your images as they become full quickly, can be a bit pricey and offer no way to organize your images. Since you will need these regardless, I do not recommend using only one large capacity memory card when you shoot as should that one large capacity memory card become damaged, you will lose all of your images. Instead, use several smaller capacity cards so that if a card gets damaged, you only lose some of the images instead of all of them.

 

Flash Drives. While cloud-based platforms really make these unnecessary anymore these days, a flash drive is a great way to transport or deliver images should you want to share images in a place where you do not have a wifi connection. I wouldn’t recommend a flash drive for permanent storage of your images but more for when you might have a presentation and need to plug a pocket-friendly portable storage device into your laptop on the road.

 

External Hard Drives. An external hard drive is a “must” as local, secondary backup source. A couple of great options for external hard drives are the WD My Passport Ultra 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive, the LaCie 6TB 2big Quadra Hard Disk Two Bay RAID Desktop Drive or what I have: the LaCie 4TB Rugged RAID 2.5″ External Hard Drive, Thunderbolt, USB 3.0. I’m a big fan of RAID drives because you can set up half of the drive to mirror the other half so that if one half goes down, you’re still backed up because the both halves of the drive are identical. Portable hard drives are a great backup option when you don’t have access to wifi to backup to cloud storage.

 

Cloud Backup and Storage. Your best option for backing up and sharing your work is cloud storage. Some of most common options out there are Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, iDrive, Google Drive (Google Photos), Apple iCloud Drive and Box. I was very pleased to find that Google Drive/Google Photos has options of 100GB to 30TB in storage ranging from $1.99 per month to $299.99 per month.

 

 

How You’ll Process Images

Another major workflow decision that you’ll want to decide on is what software you will use to organize and process your images. There are many choices out there such as Aperture, Capture One, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. I will be honest with you. Adobe has some of the best software out there for importing, organizing, processing and sharing your images. We generally teach our students to use Adobe Lightroom because it’s so easy to use and you can batch process images, to do as much as you can in Lightroom first and then do any fine tuning in Photoshop. You can take advantage of a free trial of Adobe Lightroom here: http://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/photography.html.


Various photo editing/tethering software such as PK Tether, Camera RC,

Control My Nikon, Aperture, Capture One and Lightroom.

 

Naming Conventions

When using photo editing software, you’ll want to decide up front on the naming convention of your images and the folders they will be stored in. Due to keywording features, some photographers keep all of their images in one folder, thoroughly keyword their images and then they are able to locate them upon a search later down the road. I personally title my folders by “yyyy-mm-dd Project Name or Subject Title” and then my images are titles “Subject Title-Sequence Number”. It’s really up to you how you prefer to organize and name your images, but it’s good to decide this in advance to avoid having to go back 20,000 images later and reorganize and rename everything in a consistent manner.

 

Keywording Your Images

Lightroom is a great tool for not only organizing your images but also locating your images when images are thoroughly keyworded. I try to be as descriptive as possible with keywording for each of my shoots so that if I need to find all images of models with black hair across all of my images, I can easily search and see only the images I have of models with black hair. It automatically picks up image information such as the camera and lens used, the date the image was created and the settings for each image (aperture, shutter speed and ISO).


Keywording in Lightroom

 

How You’ll Organize the Images

Going along with the topic of naming conventions and keywording, Adobe Lightroom is a great tool for organizing your images because you can import, create folders and move images from folder to folder within Lightroom and it mirrors the same organization on your local hard drive. An important tip: If you use Lightroom, don’t try to move images from folder to folder directly on your local drive instead of through Lightroom as when you go to look for the images in Lightroom again, you will have to locate and relink the images in Lightroom to the new location where you moved the images on your local drive.

Organizing images into folders in Lightroom.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop or any other photo editing software, my group, NYC Digital Photography Workshops offers private workshops with photo editing guru, Clifford Pickett, who specializes in Lightroom, but also teaches other software as well. For more information, you can email pi@nycdpw.com.

 

GET TO KNOW YOUR CAMERA

You just got your camera and you’re ready to hit the ground running to start creating amazing images. It happens all too often though, that a new photographer will get frustrated with not getting the shot they want because they can’t figure out how to use the camera and they end up putting the camera into a drawer, never to be picked up again. Let’s safeguard that from happening to you.

 

Read Your Manual

You’ve probably heard this many times, and most of us hate to do it, but the best way to get to know your camera is to read your manual from front to back. I know, I’m terrible at manuals too, and usually don’t even look at directions when putting furniture together, but this is one instance where it will make using your camera a whole lot easier.

Read your camera manual cover to cover!

 

Try Out Every Function on the Camera

As you go through your camera manual, try out every function you read about to better understand what it does, where it is and when you might use it.

 

Lenses & Focal Length

While the camera is the performance mechanism for your kit, the lens is what creates the quality of an image once you’ve learned technique and composition. As you acquire lenses, you should have at least one good lens in your kit, which usually do not come cheap. As the saying goes, you can put a high quality lens on a non-top-of-the-line camera and still get a great shot but you can’t put a bad piece of glass on a top of the line camera and still get that same shot!

Just a few of my lenses.

 

What lens(es) you choose will be up to what you shoot. If you fancy shooting landscapes, a wider angle lens would be a good bet and those can vary in focal lengths. If you like to shoot portraits, a prime lens like an 85mm and using your feet to zoom in and out would work, or a zoom lens like a 70-200mm would do the trick – depending on how much space you have to shoot your subject.

 

LEARN MANUAL SETTINGS TO OBTAIN PROPER EXPOSURE

Learning manual settings give you more control over your shooting.

 

Program Mode

The program mode can be helpful for beginners as a place to start when learning manual settings. Set your ISO and the camera will select the aperture and shutter speed for a properly exposed image. This mode is a good start to see and understand the relationship of aperture, shutter speed and ISO and where you might want to make adjustments to these elements in full manual.

 

The Aperture Mode

With Aperture Priority, you select the aperture and ISO and the camera figures out the shutter speed for optimal exposure. Aperture Priority is best when you are wanting to control the Depth of Field. When shooting things like landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes, you will most likely want everything sharp in focus, so you will need the maximum aperture (a higher number). When you are photographing people, whether it’s portraits or headshots, you will most likely want your subject to be the only thing in focus with things behind your subject out of focus so as to avoid mergers and distractions in the portrait or headshot.

The background is out of focus here through a shallow depth of field.

 

The Shutter Priority Mode

When using the Shutter Priority mode, you select the shutter speed and ISO and the camera determines the aperture to obtain a proper exposure. The shutter speed priority mode is best used when you are trying to capture motion or to control freezing motion and to make everything in the image sharp.

 

Full Manual Mode

If you choose to use full Manual mode, you are controlling all aspects of the capture: the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

Aperture is basically how large the opening of the lens is when a picture is taken. The aperture is what controls the amount of light that enters the camera. The smaller the opening (the higher the number), the less light will come into the camera. The larger the opening (the lower the number), the more light will come into the camera.

Shutter speed can best be described as the amount of time that the shutter stays open when a picture is taken. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more light that gets onto the sensor.

ISO is the measure of sensitivity your camera has to available light. The lower the ISO setting, the less sensitive your camera will be to light. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive your camera can be to light. The part of your camera that needs this input to make an image is the image sensor. The image sensor is what takes available light and creates the image. As a rule of thumb, you want to try and keep your ISO as low as possible to obtain the best image quality. You want to use a low ISO setting when there is plenty of available light to satisfy the sensor sensitivity to make the image. The workaround to use a low ISO setting in a low-light environment would be to stabilize your camera on a tripod or sit it on a stable surface and set a longer shutter time to allow more light onto the sensor. Note that anything moving within the frame may disappear or become blurred in motion. You may want to use a higher ISO when you are in a low-light environment but want everything captured within the frame and/or are limited in time to capture the image. Again, you may have to compromise image quality (introduction of grain) to get that low-light shot quickly.

 

LEARN THE KELVIN SCALE & WHITE BALANCE

To top off a good exposure, you want to also make sure that you have the proper white balance in your photo.

 

White Balance Settings

As you can see in the first image below, tungsten lights tend to produce a warm yellow-orangish hue while a typical fluorescent light might produce a little bit of a greenish hue. If you look at a scene on a cloudy day or if it is in a shady area, the image might have a slight cool cast. Your camera offers quick white balance settings for lighting situations like shade, cloudy days, sunlight, artificial/flash light, tungsten and fluorescent lighting to balance the color of your images. For more control over the white balance of your images, it’s a good idea to learn the Kelvin Scale and how to use it in certain lighting situations.

 

The Kelvin Scale

White balance and the Kelvin Scale.

Image courtesy of Google

Since the goal is correct white balance, you want to match the Kelvin number to the environment lighting. When using tungstens, for example, you’ll want to set your Kelvin number to somewhere around 3000 to get a proper white balance.

 

Tools to Help With White Balance

The easiest way to get your white balance correct is to use an 18% gray card and correct your images in post-production. You can also use the same Lastolite Gray Card or an ExpoDisc 2.0, snap a photo using one or the other and use that photo to set white balance under the Custom White Balance setting in your camera.

Lastolite Gray Card (left) and ExpoDisc 2.0 on the right.

Images courtesy of Adorama

If you don’t have a 18% gray card or an ExpoDisc, you can still get your white balance close to accurate by using the white balance settings in your camera and/or making adjustments in post-processing.

 

STUDY COMPOSITION

Good composition of a photograph is generally what will make the subject of a photograph more appealing to a viewer. To break the rules of composition, you first should learn the rules. Some elements of composition to familiarize yourself with are: The Rule of Thirds, line, balance, motion, shutter speed, depth of field, focal length, light, color, form, positive/negative space, camera position, texture, pattern, contrast and tone.

Lines make this image a little more appealing to look at. The S-Curve takes a viewer’s eyes through the image.

 

A good exercise is to go through a bunch of magazines and tear out the images you like, and then determine if composition played a part in its appeal to you.

It’s good to study magazines containing photos of your favorite genre to shoot to determine what about the image appeals to you.

I wrote a great article earlier this year that involves many of the elements of composition among other things that make an image more appealing called, Creativity & Awareness: Learning to See Before the Capture. Be sure to check it out.

 

LEARN LIGHT

Light and shadows are what make up photography, after all, the word photography literally means “to draw with light”. Light and shadows can create patterns on surfaces, which we’ve already determined is appeasing to the viewer’s eye. It can also create lightest and darkest areas of an image whereas the lightest part of an image generally will attract a viewer’s eye before anything else.

 

Natural Light

Many photographers may think that natural light photography is easy but it’s uncontrolled light that spills everywhere and with things like harsh daylight, can cause very harsh shadows, not to mention cause your subject to squint, which can really break a photograph. Once you learn some of the tools and techniques necessary to control natural light, this type of lighting can be your definitely be your friend.

Playing with the shadows of the trees in natural daylight.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

The best time to photograph outdoors is when there are clouds in the sky. Why? Because the clouds serve as a natural diffuser to soften the harsh light the sun produces. However, when you don’t have cloud cover and you still have to shoot, you learn to find workarounds like breaking up harsh sunlight with a tree’s shadows or using a manmade diffuser to soften the light. A white sheet works wonders and can be tied or clamped to trees or light stands or held by assistants. If you can swing it, you can buy a large portable collapsible reflector, which generally has a diffuser as the base option when the covers are taken off. Another option is a scrim which you can attach to a light stand to diffuse light from the sun.

Using a reflector shooting in natural light.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

What is really important to learn whether you shoot indoors or outdoors and no matter the subject is how to use a portable collapsible reflector to bounce light back onto a subject to fill in those harsh shadows. Learn how to angle the reflector and see the light on your subject and you will always have a well-lit subject.

 


Artificial Light

Another great way to learn light is by purchasing one or two continuous lights and placing them in various positions around your subject. This will give you the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) result of how the position of lights affect the way your subject will be lit. These are a great learning tool prior to obtaining monolights. Adorama has a great Flashpoint CL-1144R Circular LED Two-Light Kit to work with for $560.95.

One of my first portraits with monolights.

Model: Tara Virada

 

CONCLUSION

As a newbie to photography, these are going to be the six most important keys to learning your craft as exposure (learning your manual settings to obtain this properly), white balance, composition and light are the most important elements of photography while having a workflow in place and knowing how to use your camera will make your creating and processing your images a lot easier and much less stressful down the road. Stay tuned for more tips for new photographers learning photography – coming soon!

 

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10 Tips for New Photography Students

10 Tips for New Photography Students

Photography is a hobby for some, a part-time venture for many and a career for others. There are many things that some photographers wish they knew in the beginning, before even picking up a camera and creating their first photo. Some wish they knew the easier way around doing things to get the same result. Here are 10 starters tips to help give you a jumpstart ahead of the rest as you begin you journey into the world of photography.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

  1. Always Shoot RAW. I learned the hard way after several trips around the world and 20,000 images later that the best way to shoot is RAW. Why? Shooting RAW records the most data. This allows you to do as much nondestructive editing as you wish. When you shoot only in JPEG, every time you open a file,  make adjustments and resave the image – you lose quality. If you shoot an image under or overexposed, it’s much easier to fix this if the image is in RAW than if it were in JPEG format.

Switch your camera mode to RAW format before you begin shooting.

 

One of the best photo editing programs out there for importing, organizing, keywording, editing and sharing your images from RAW is Adobe Lightroom 6. We always teach our students to do as much as you can possibly do in Lightroom (because it’s so much easier!) and then make any fine adjustments in Adobe Photoshop, if needed. The Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop Creative Cloud 12-Month Subscription Photography Plan goes for $119 at Adorama. You’ll always be current with your software version if you go the subscription route.

 

  1. Don’t Delete Images In-Camera Based on Your LCD Monitor. Another common mistake photographers sometimes make is to delete images in-camera based on reviewing it on the back of that 3.5” LCD monitor. It’s really better to invest in a few extra memory cards than to erase potentially good images by mistake. Keep all of your images until you can get to a larger monitor to review your images in detail.

Your LCD monitor is small. Invest in additional memory cards and wait to review images on a larger screen.

 

To make sure you do get the shot in the outdoors however, I recommend the Hoodman Compact Hoodloupe Optical Viewfinder. When you are shooting in bright conditions, this not only puts a nice tunnel vision between your eye and the LCD monitor when reviewing an image, but you can magnify the details by a slight twist of the middle piece. In a studio? Invest in a Tether Tools Starter Tethering Kit. I am so glad I did because it has saved me hours of reviewing too many images that could have been reduced by seeing what needed adjusting as I go along. This one piece cord connects your camera to your computer or laptop where you can review your images as you are shooting them. The Jerkstopper for both the camera and computer each help keep the cord where is belongs preventing disconnect.

 

  1. Save For Quality Gear and Equipment. Photography can get really expensive. Just ask any professional. It’s better to wait and invest in a quality piece of gear or equipment than to buy something that will fall apart within months because it was so inexpensive and not made to last. This is really key with cameras, lenses, light stands and tripods. Buy the camera you want rather than what you can afford. When you buy the camera you want, you are more likely to use it. As far as lenses, a low-quality piece of glass in front of a high end camera will not make the best image. Invest in at least one high quality lens before you begin buying a bunch of accessories you’ll probably never need or use. For more on good camera and lens choices, check out my article, Building the Home Studio Part 1: Space and Essential Shooting Gear.

 

Quality light stands and tripods are also really important. They what are supporting your $500+ camera, lens and/or light setup. Buying something low quality because it was less expensive is a recipe for disaster. Check out my article, Tripods: Choosing the Right Support for Your Investment for more on choosing the right tripod and my other article, Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights and Light Stands for more on light stands.

 

  1. Vary Your Shooting Orientation and Angles. My mentor once taught me, “If you want to make your images better than 80% of the other photographers out there – change your perspective.” He was absolutely right.

“Bug’s eye” view of tulips.

 

Get on the ground and try shooting from the ground up. Get up on a ledge or ladder and shoot down.

Shot from the top of a ladder.

 

Try shooting every subject/scene both horizontally and vertically – or even shoot from the hip. You never know what might end up being really interesting.

 

  1. Learn To Understand and See Light. Light is the most important element of photography, so it’s important to understand and be able to see and work with it. I’ve had numerous student assistants who struggle with using a collapsible reflector in that they cannot see the light bounced from a light source onto the subject using one. It’s good to practice with a collapsible reflector as you can use these for so many photography subjects be it people or flowers. I own a variety of shapes and sizes of collapsible reflectors selecting from those what is the best for a particular situation. My favorites are the Lastolite LR3696 8-in-1 Tri Flip Reflector Kit and for a larger reflector, I use the Westcott 40” 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector w/ Case.

Learn light. This is a 2-light setup a spotlight in the front with a rim light in the back.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

For studio work, the best way to learn how to light something is to get a continuous light and try placing it in various positions around your subject. A continuous light will produce a what-you-see-is-what-you-get result before you click the shutter so you already know what the end result will be. I’m in love with the Fiilex P360EX Variable Color LED Light as you can control the color of the light for a more natural look.

 

  1. Try Different Genres of Photography. Don’t get stuck in one area of photography. It took me 12 years to venture out from travel and street photography into shooting people for portraits, headshots and fashion.


A sample of some of my travel work.

 

It’s not that I fell out of love or got bored with travel and street photography. I just hadn’t discovered yet that I also had a love for and was very good at shooting people too.

A few samples of my portrait/fashion work.

Models clockwise from top-left: Katie Buell, Daria Komarkova, Shoko Fujita and Karen Ramos.

 

After trying as many different genres of photography as you can, then narrow down your specialty for a career based on what you are good at and what you enjoy.

 

  1. Develop a Workflow and Stick To It. Setting up a consistent workflow for your photography is very important to do from the start because it gets really difficult (but not impossible!) to start implementing one 20,000 images into your portfolio.

Import screen in Adobe Lightroom.

 

The instructors of my group, NYC Digital Photography Workshops and I generally recommend Adobe Lightroom as a great way to set up a consistent, accurate and streamlined workflow. You can check out my article, Photography Workflow and Digital Asset Management (D.A.M.) for more on workflow.

 

  1. Charge For Your Work. Unless you are collaborating with models and hair and makeup artists on a creative project, or for practice – charge for your work and charge what you are worth. This makes your photography more rewarding is some ways, plus it helps to cover the cost of your equipment and time. It’s also important to note that photography is a full-time career for some, so keep in mind that there will be more full-time freelance working photographers out there struggling to make ends meet if they are competing with photographers working for very little or for free.

 

  1. Look for Opportunities to Show and Sell Your Work. Another rewarding thing about photography is sharing it with the world. Look for opportunities to show and sell your work through exhibitions, art fairs, etc. I wrote two articles on exhibiting that are great reads if you are interested in going this route: Selling Your Photography and Where to Show and Sell Your Photography.


Showing your work is a very rewarding part of photography.

 

Both articles are excerpts from my upcoming book to be released in the upcoming months called, Exhibitions, Marketing, Promotion and Publicity.

 

  1. Always Continue Learning Your Craft. As photographers, we can never know everything about photography. It is a constant learning process as technology changes…and technique changes, as we discover more interesting ways to make an image. It’s really important to continue learning and honing your craft whether it’s studying the masters, doing photo walks, taking group or private workshops, having your portfolio critiqued or reading books and articles like these.

 

Photography is an amazing, rewarding journey – allowing you to capture memories and points in time, subjects of interest and/or scenes in our lives. It’s a wonderful outlet for many and it’s a beautiful creative process that is growing with interest for anyone who embraces their sense of sight. It’s only up to you to bring a unique twist to your work to share and capture viewer’s attention.

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The Art of Portraiture Part 2: Light

The Art of Portraiture Part 2: Light

Light is a vital part of portraiture. Heck, it’s a vital part of photography period. The word “photography” literally  translates “to draw with light”. There are many ways to introduce and use light in a portrait and we’ll go into some of those ways and more in this second installment of my series: The Art of Portraiture. In case you missed the first article, check out, The Art of Portraiture: Composition, Depth of Field and Background.

 

LIGHT SOURCES

 

Daylight and a Reflector

Daylight is the cheapest and easiest way to light an image because most of a day, it is always there. The quality  or characteristics of it may change due to the weather, but it is always available. A photographer’s optimal daylight situation is partly cloudy or overcast. This is mainly because when the sky is sunny and there are no clouds in the sky, first, there is no texture in the sky which is the result a cloud will insert into an image. Second, a sunny day tends to wash out colors. An overcast day will enrich colors.

A reflector was used on the left as I wanted to play with shadow and bright sunlight.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Typically, you will want to position your subject with their back against the light source. A reflector is key to have on hand regardless of the weather since there is nothing to bounce light back onto your subject like a white ceiling or wall would. Whether you are creating a headshot, ¾ shot or a full body shot, a large reflector is a terrific tool for bouncing a lot of light back onto your subject to fill in the shadows that appear under the eyes, nose and neck.

 

Speedlights

Speedlights are an inexpensive light source that can be used on- or off-camera. They tend to be a versatile tool and a more convenient solution than a monolight or strobe.

My Nikon SB-700 Speedlight.

 

While they are a tiny little light source, there light can be spread through the use of tilting its head and bouncing its light off of a wall or ceiling onto a subject, or it can be combined with a modifier such as an umbrella or softbox to widen its effect.

 

Continuous Lights

Continuous lights are as they are titled: continuous running lights. They do not flash like a speedlight, monolight or strobe would. Some of the benefits for using a continuous light are that many subjects tend to relax more under continuous lighting rather than a flash and that you can shoot wide open for a shallow depth of field. They are also great for shooting people that blink a lot. The downside to continuous lights is that you are limited on modifiers and a tripod is almost a must for the sharpest image when setting the shutter slower than sync speed. Continuous lights come in a few flavors: tungsten, fluorescent and LED lights.

Left to Right: Lowel Rifa 66ex – 750 Watt Light, Westcott Spiderlite TD6 and the Fiilex P360EX Variable Color LED Lights.

Images by Adorama.

 

A few good recommendations I have tested and used in the past for continuous lights and that are available at Adorama are:

 

Strobes

Strobes are generally the lighting tool used in studio portraiture as they emit a great deal of power and light your image for capture in a split second. They can work with almost any modifier that is compatible with their make (and sometimes, model), usually using a speedring adapter.

Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

I recently found the Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight with Built-in R2 2.4GHz Radio Remote System (Bowens Mount) to be a great find as they work seamlessly with other tools in the R2 family such as R2 Zoom Flashes when using one of the following transmitters:

 

Flashpoint R2 i-TTL Wireless 2.4 G Transmitter Remote for Nikon,

Flashpoint R2T 32 Channel 2.4GHz Manual and HSS Transmitter for Canon, or

Flashpoint R2 TTL 2.4G Wireless Remote and Triggering System – Sony

 

Other good systems that are a little bit pricier but offer superb quality are the Broncolor Siros 800 Basic 2 Monolight Flash Kit, WiFi which includes a great starter kit. I am personally in love with the Profoto B1 500 Air TTL Battery-Powered 2-Light Location Kit. These can be used in the studio or outdoors on location as they are battery-powered and they can come with the transmitter and do include a convenient backpack for travel.

Profoto B1 500 Air Location Kit.

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

USE OF LIGHT SOURCES

There are many different lighting uses for monolights and strobes in a studio. Let’s jump into some of the main uses of these when shooting portraits.

 

Key Lights & Fill Lights

When working with multiple lights, a key light is the main light used to illuminate a subject. A fill light is sometimes used to fill in the shadows created by the key light to make up a more evenly lit portrait.

A key light was used on the right and a fill light was used at a lower power as fill on the left.

Model: Lizbeth Sawyers

 

Background Lights

A background light is used to illuminate a background and can be placed in several ways. I typically either place a floor light directly behind my subject angled up and shining on the background to create more of a circular effect on the background behind my subject or I’ll place a light on each side of my subject aimed toward the background either at different heights or the same height to evenly light the entire background.

Here I used a floor light aimed up at the background behind my subject and attached a red gel to it.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

Rim Lights

A rim light is typically placed behind a subject aimed at the back of the subject and does just what its title suggests: it creates a rim around the the hair and shoulders and arms of a subject.


Use of a rim light.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

Floor Lights

While floor lights can also be used as background lights and rim lights, they are typically used when lighting full body shots to illuminate the legs and feet of a subject.

I used a floor light to illuminate my model’s legs and feet here.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

Hair Lights

Hair lights are used to create separation between your subject’s hair/head and the background or another subject in an image.

I used a hair light above my subject to illuminate her hair and to give a little rim to separate her head from the background.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

LIGHTING TECHNIQUES

We all aim to make our images look unique from others and while there are a lot of choices in how to shine some light on your subject, below are some lighting techniques to help get you creating more interesting portraits.

 

Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt lighting came to be known by its name through study of works from the artist, Rembrandt, and how he portrayed light in his paintings. In most, if not all, of his works, he worked light into his masterpieces much like we shape light in our photographs, but with one interesting niche that became a “tell” of his work: he would show light shining on his subject in a position that made one side darker than the other and that darker side would contain a triangle of light on the shadow-side cheek.

Rembrandt lighting.

Model: Tara Virada

 

Loop Lighting

Loop lighting is a lighting technique called such as its “tell” is that it leaves a loop pattern under the nose. The loop lighting setup is very similar to Rembrandt lighting setup except that the triangle on the shadow side never closes and the shadow of the nose appears to be pointing to and/or just touching the corner of the lips.

Loop lighting.

Model: James Karl Campbell

 

Split Lighting

A split lighting setup results in one side of the face being lit and the other side of the face being completely in shadow. This occurs by placing a light on one side of the subject or the other.

Split Lighting.

Model: Celeste Smith

 

Underlighting

Underlighting, sometimes referred to as “movie” lighting is a quick and easy one-light setup that reels in (no pun intended) a dark, dramatic effect and will help to sculpt a subject’s body and face. Typically, a subject is wearing darker colors, though a mix with whites or reds can also lend to a character’s look.

Underlighting example, sometimes referred to as “movie” lighting.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Doubleback Lighting

Doubleback lighting, which I also found to be also called as “badger” lighting is a creative two-light setup that helps to emphasize shadows which adds angles to the face and body. Depending on the power and modifier used, the shadows can range from harsh (which works for chiseling a man’s face) to soft (like in the image of my beautiful model, Kathryn, below).

Badger or Doubleback Lighting.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

The tell of this type of moody lighting is that it leaves inverted color markings rendered by the lights similar in look to those of a badger.

 

Butterfly Lighting

Butterfly lighting can be as little as a one-light setup (more if you want to light the background) positioned above and in front of your subject – high enough so that it creates a shadow under the nose similar to the shape of a butterfly.

Butterfly Lighting.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

Clamshell Lighting

Clamshell lighting is a form of beauty lighting that pretty much eliminates shadows on a subject’s face as the lights are positioned to cancel out the shadows each would create. It is generally used to emphasize natural beauty or to highlight makeup (usually for a skincare or makeup ad…) We used it artistically in the image below to highlight the creative color work that my hair/makeup artist, Gil Aldrin, created on my model.


An artsy example of clamshell lighting using two lights for the clamshell and two background lights.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

High-Key Lighting

High-key is a lighting style that is a results in little-to-no shadow on your subject, based on the level of brightness of your lights hitting a subject. High-key is based on lighting ratios. It’s not a lighting pattern – which is based on light direction. Many lighting patterns can work for high key lighting so long as there is minimal to no shadows. High-key lighting can be achieved when your fill light(s) project(s) the same level of brightness as your key light to fill in shadows. This creates a 1:1 ratio eliminating all shadows.

High-key image of my model, Kathryn – extremely soft shadow transition,

light-color clothing and a strong black point using two background lights.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Low-Key Lighting

“Low key” lighting is a more dramatic form of lighting that focuses on form and shadow. It is typically a darker image where the focus can be on part of your subject whether it’s their face, a body part or a certain amount of their whole body. It can be much more interesting when adding a little bit of rim lighting behind your subject.


Result image of my model Baron based on a low-key lighting setup.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

LET THERE BE LIGHT…

Lighting a portrait can make all the difference between a good portrait and a bad one. As you can see here, there are several light sources available to you to use for different uses and to light in different ways. You can develop your own style just in the way you light an image. While I can light an image in any way (as shown above), my personal style, be it woman or man, is more on the darker side with lots of shadow – creating a moodier image. What’s your style?

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Creativity & Awareness: Learning to See Before the Capture

Creativity & Awareness: Learning to See Before the Capture

“You don’t take a photograph – you make it”   – Ansel Adams

 

Seeing is the very essence of photography as much so as the light that is needed for a photograph to exist. It’s a consistent and continuous mental activity that we do everyday as we go to school, go to work, go out for a night on the town, traveling and so forth.


While this image has been digitally enhanced, there are several elements of composition here lending to an interesting image.

The Adirondacks, Upstate New York

 

Remember when you were younger, the game of “Punch Bug” that you might have played with a friend or family member(s) where you called out “punch bug” and the color, whenever you saw a Volkswagen Beetle? You then begin to notice Beetles a lot more often after making it a practice to find them in the game. Perhaps you buy a new car and it’s not until you own the drive the car that you notice how many other people are on the road drive the same type of car. It’s only when you practice looking for something or when you are involved in or with a certain thing that you start to see it everywhere when you never really noticed that thing before. This is a form of “awareness” as you become more aware of something because you’ve been exposed to it in some way.

When you become more aware of your surroundings, the more photographic opportunities will arise for you. Below are various elements and techniques to help you train your eye to create more interesting images.

 

THE ART OF COMPOSITION

 

Lines

I never really formally studied art until I was 33 years old, living in St. Petersburg and attending Eckerd College after having already acquired a bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies. I decided to major in Visual Arts and in the very first class I took, I spent the entire semester working with lines. The first exercise I had was to use sharpie only and create faces using a certain number of straight and curved lines.

By week 5, the faces became more character-like as I was released more and more from line restrictions.

 

As the semester progressed, the exercises built upon the exercise from before until I had gone from being a realistic artist to an abstract artist. It was a terrific exercise to creativity. While that was drawing and painting, photographing has a use for lines as well in the form of the S-Curve, leading lines and patterns.

 

The S-Curve

Some of you may somehow find an image of a winding road through a scene to be very interesting to look at and there is a pretty good reason for this. It’s generally called an S-Curve and it helps to take a viewer’s eyes throughout an image from bottom to top and left to right (and vice-versa).

The S-Curve of the flowerbed here takes your eyes from the bottom of the image to the top.

Toronto, Canada

 

Leading Lines

Leading lines help to connect the foreground to the background of an image and they also create a sense of depth and dimension, bringing the viewer into the image. They give a sense of an infinite beyond. Some good examples of a leading lines are straight roadways and paths or even a river or creek.

The leading line of the path here creates a sense of infinite distance.

Madrid, Spain

The little creek connects the foreground to the background here.

Near Mont Tremblant, Canada

 

Patterns

Patterns give way to be an interesting element to photograph. Symmetry and repetitive things in an image are good examples of types of patterns to try to capture. In the image below, not only is there a sort of C-Curve in this image taking the viewers eyes from one side to the other, but there is a repetition of shadows, windows and arches that pulls attention into the image.

Also a good example of a leading line, there’s several repetitive aspects in this image.

Sevilla, Spain

 

Complementary Colors for a Pop Factor

If you remember the color wheel in grade school and learning about primary, secondary and tertiary colors as well as complimentary colors. Balance and harmony of an image not to mention a nice pop can be created using color contrast, which is why the use of complementary colors can be effective in composition.

 

The use of red and green complementary colors.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

 

Orange and blue…

The use of orange and blue complementary colors.

Munich, Germany

 

and purple and yellow…

The use of purple and yellow complementary colors.

New York Botanical Gardens Annual Orchid Show

 

Texture

Another element of composition that makes for an interesting capture is the element of texture. Photographing fur, wool or even in the case below, the macro capture of a flower petal conveying the feeling of a velvet-like touch appeals to a viewer’s sense of touch.

The detail conveys a velvet-like feel of the petal stimulating a viewer’s sense of touch.

New York Botanical Gardens Annual Orchid Show

 

Negative Space

Negative space is the area surrounding your main subject with your main subject known as “positive space”. Negative space is a natural relief for a viewer’s eyes to rest and prevents your image from appearing too cluttered.

I like using negative space in my headshots and portraits (and here, a self-portrait…)

 

Negative space also places more emphasis and bring the viewer’s attention more clearly to the main subject of your image.


The negative space of the sky, though textured, brings the viewers attention to the main subject, this statue.

Iwo Jima Monument, Arlington, Virginia

 

Close Crop

The opposite of negative space really is cropping in close, used mainly to eliminate distractions around a main subject, but also to capture detail and/or for artistic purposes. It also works well when your subject is stuck in broad daylight.

Capturing a tight crop of a tiger in harsh daylight works.

Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida

 

Motion

An interesting way of grabbing a viewer’s attention is through a capture of motion. In the image below I focused on the center guitarist’s face, allowing the movement to show throughout the rest of the image, which brings the image to life.

Amongst the crowd watching a mariachi band I capture motion to bring my image to life.

Madrid, Spain

 

Light & Shadows

Light and shadows are what make up photography, after all, the word photography literally means “to draw with light”. Light and shadows can create patterns on surfaces, which we’ve already determined is appeasing to the viewer’s eye. It can also create lightest and darkest areas of an image whereas the lightest part of an image generally will attract a viewer’s eye before anything else.

Here we not only have repetition with the columns, but the

light and shadows cast patterns on the wall and ground.

Sevilla, Spain

 

As you can see here, the brightest part of this image draws your eye inward first

Central Park, New York

 

RULE OF THIRDS AND POINTS OF IMPACT

Almost all of us has heard of the Rule of Thirds. Using an off-center composition has been known to be more appeasing to the viewer’s eye. This composition also tends to appears more natural when taking in an image rather than an image with a subject dead center.

The boat falls on the top left intersecting point of the grid.

Niagara Falls, Canada

 

The Rule of Thirds is when you divide your frame into a grid of three equal rows and three equal columns = nine equal sections total with the object being to place your main subject on one of the four guidelines, preferably at one of the four intersection points.

 

FRAMING

Another useful tool in creating a more creative capture is the use of framing your your subject. You can do this using a crook in the arm of a tree, a windowpane an arch of a doorway and so on and so forth – you get the picture. Framing your subject helps to bring focus on your subject, much like literally putting your image in a photo frame.

I used the curving arm of a tree to frame the serene lake with its beaming sunlight cast upon it.

Near the Adirondacks in Upstate New York at Fall

 

Here I used an arch in the foreground to frame the gentleman relaxing on the stone wall in the background.

Malaga, Spain

 

PERSPECTIVES AND ANGLES

Someone once taught me, “If you want to make your photography better than 80% of other photography out there in the world, change your perspective.” This was probably some of the best advice I had ever heard. If you just stand there, put the camera to your eye and take the image, anyone can do that and your images may appear to be more snapshot-like. We don’t want just snapshots – we want interesting and captivating images!

I kneeled down to capture the tulips at a level of their own height.

Battery Park City in the Spring.

 

Move about a scene and try different levels: get up on the wall or bench and shoot down. Lie on the ground and shoot your subject from below (a “bug’s eye view”). Or get at the subject’s level for a more realistic impact, which works especially well for photographing animals and children.


Shooting from above.

Madrid, Spain

 

I entitled the image above, “I Am Here” as the pants and shoes are dusty and worn. Most people know that I am a traveller and this was my expression of my journeys. While you can lay down and shoot upward, in the image below, I placed my camera lens up on the ground and shot the tulips from a bug’s eye view.

Shooting from below.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

 

CREATIVE LENS USE

Sometimes you can get more creative with your images just by lens choice. A wide angle or fisheye lens is a fun lens to capture a little bit of distortion in your images, giving them a bit more powerful grip on the viewer. In the image below I had borrowed a Canon 7D Mark II Camera used a Canon EF8-15mm F/4L Fisheye Zoom Lens to capture the children running through the Fall leaves.

Timing and a fun lens made this image a bit more dynamic.

Storm King Art Center, Upstate New York

 

TIMING

Other times it can come down to the perfect moment. Sometimes life just happens before you and you get lucky enough to pull your camera to your face, set your settings and capture the moment before it disappears forever. There is also the trick of anticipating the moment. Oftentimes this works well with photographing sports as well as animals. I once sat at the window of a polar bear exhibit at a zoo for almost an hour studying the swimming pattern of the polar bear – trying to figure out how I was not only going to capture the image, but to do so in a way getting the image as sharp as possible and without glare. The image didn’t turn out half bad minus the abundance of breathing bubbles, but there is certainly something to be said about predicting the actions of your subject.

As I walked past this alleyway, I saw this duo and rushed quickly to take the shot as knew it was a fleeting moment.

Malaga, Spain

 

Whether it’s your lucky moment, like for me in the image above, or if you sit perched and waiting for the perfect moment to happen, such as what I did in the image below – timing can be everything to creating a beautiful image.

For this image I actually sat and waited for someone to walk through

the archway and found this to be an authentic shot of daily life in Sevilla.

Sevilla, Spain

 

EXERCISES TO HELP TRAIN THE EYE

There are many ways to develop a better awareness of photographic opportunities around you using the composition elements and techniques above as guidance for end results. A few starter exercises could be:

  1. Study the works of the Masters and how they used composition, color, light, etc. for inspiration in your own photographs.
  2. Lock yourself in a room and commit to taking 100-150 photos of various things in a room. You will definitely find that you are looking at something a different way for the first time after this exercise.
  3. Commit to photographing only objects of one color or monochromatic only.

 

There are many books with 365 Projects that can also be a great tool to help you train your eye, but if nothing else, the more you get out and shoot, the more practice you’ll have in finding creative ways to shoot even the most ordinary of an object.

 

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP!

You’ve probably been told to get it right in camera in the first place and quit thinking about post-production. Yes, post-production can enhance an image and can sometimes also create a whole new image depending on your skill but the bottom line is that you need to have a strong image to begin with, so practicing with the goal of a creative capture in camera is the best way to do just that.

 

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Transforming Light Into Art:  9 Modifiers For Diffusing & Shaping Light

Transforming Light Into Art: 9 Modifiers For Diffusing & Shaping Light

So you’ve just picked up a monolight or strobe for your studio setup, or maybe you already have that and you are looking for tips on diffusing and shaping the light that comes from it. Acquiring a modifier for that light is pretty much a necessity as without a way to diffuse a light source, the light ends up being harsh, producing high contrast. You also end up losing any control over the light as the light spills everywhere.

An 11” long throw metal reflector was used as a front light and a 7” metal reflector was used as a rim light.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

You have several options for light modifiers (depending on the type of monolight or strobe that you buy since some light models are limited on modifier options…) Which modifiers you choose depend on the result you are aiming for in your images. Below are nine light modifier options that can help you diffuse and shape light in your studio work.

 

COLLAPSIBLE REFLECTORS

While not everyone has an easy time folding them back up, most of us know what a collapsible reflector is and many folks have actually successfully used one. They should really be your first light modifier, even before you buy your first monolight or strobe because they are useful outside in the field too. They work for not only lighting people outdoors, but subjects like flowers too.

Collapsible reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

 

Reflectors do exactly what their name might imply: they reflect light. They are used to bounce light from a light source back onto a subject. Photographing a person outdoors in the sun? We generally put the sun behind our subject to avoid him or her squinting, but then our subject becomes too dark because the light behind him or her is so bright. A reflector can be used to bounce light from the sun behind the subject back onto him/her so that the subject is also lit.  This works the same way in a studio.

The image on the left was taken without a collapsible reflector and the image on the right was taken using a collapsible reflector.

Model: Katie Buell

 

As you can see through the images above, in the image on the right, the reflector helped to fill in the under-eye and under-chin shadows, shine a little more light onto her hair, which in turn, created a little more texture as well as put an extra catchlight in her eyes.

 

Collapsible reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. I try to stick with at least a 5-in-1 reflector, which means that there are five color options in one reflector kit. Below you can see the effect of the different colors in my 32” 5-in-1 reflector: (1) Black – takes away light, (2) Translucent Diffuser – diffuses the light, (3) Silver – creates soft specular highlights, (4) White – creates highlights and (5) Gold – warms the subject.


The effects of a 5-in-1 reflector.

 

You can learn more about collapsible reflectors colors and what the different shapes and sizes do in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 04 – Essential Studio Tools, Props and Odds & Ends.

 

METAL REFLECTORS

Metal reflectors are those circular metal bowls that attach around the bulb or flashtube of your monolight or strobe and light reflects from the bowl directly onto your subject.

Flashpoint 8-1/4″ Reflector to Fit Elinchrom

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Some monolights and strobes come with a metal reflector as a starter modifier. They are generally great for background and rim light use.

The metal reflector helped add depth to my image by lighting the background

while I shot through Saran-wrapped Plexiglas for a dreamy effect.

Model/Dancer: Shoko Fujita

 

While they tend to cast a very harsh light, I have often been able to pull them off as a front light, such as in the first image of this article, a floor light, such as in the image immediately above, and especially for photographing males (where a more harsh light may be desired) by positioning them further away from a subject and setting the light at a lower power, such as in the image below.

Positioning a metal reflector far from a subject and setting the

light at a lower power worked for this shot.

Actor: Patrick Walsh

 

UMBRELLAS

Umbrellas are probably one of the first studio modifiers that are ever purchased by photographers as they are cheap, portable and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

 

Shoot Through Umbrellas

Shoot-Through Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

White shoot-through, or translucent, umbrellas are one of the more common umbrellas used in photography because the shaft of the umbrella is pointed away from a subject when lighting, which means a light source can be moved in as close as desired without poking out their eye! The downside to a shoot through umbrellas is that the light is hard to control because the umbrella is translucent and the light spills everywhere.

Shoot through umbrellas make great beauty lighting modifiers, but the light is hard to control.

Model: Katie Buell

 

In the image above, I used the inexpensive JTL 40-inch White Umbrella w/ Removable Black Cover with the black cover removed.

 

Black/White Umbrellas

Black/White Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Black/white umbrellas are a great choice for when you need to fill in shadows without it affecting the color, quality or quantity of light. In the image below, I used the JTL 40-inch White Umbrella w/ Removable Black Cover, but with the cover on.

Black & white umbrellas are great for filling in shadows without affecting the light.

Model: Katie Buell

 

Black/Silver Umbrellas

Black/Silver Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

A reflective umbrella, a silver umbrella (with a black covering) can be used when you want to bounce in specular highlights without affecting the color of the light. The light will be subtly harsher than a shoot through, depending on your umbrella’s distance from your lightsource and from your subject as well as the size of the umbrella.

Silver umbrellas bounce in specular highlights without affecting the color of the light.

Model: Katie Buell

 

In the image above, I used something similar to the Phottix 40” Two-Layer Silver Reflective Umbrella available at Adorama for $17.95 each.

 

Black/Gold Umbrellas

Black/Gold Umbrella

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

A gold umbrella with black backing can be used to warm the color of an image and your subject. This umbrella color works well when photographing someone in a bathing suit or photographing someone with a very fair skin tone, where a healthy warm glow might be desired.

Just an example of the warming effect of a gold umbrella…

Model: Katie Buell

 

Above,  I used something similar to the Phottix 40” Two-Layer Gold Reflective Umbrella available at Adorama for around $21.95 each.

 

Parabolic Umbrellas

The use of a 7-foot parabolic umbrella.

 

The larger your umbrella is, the more your light will be spread out. Larger umbrellas, like parabolic umbrellas, are great for full body shots, group shots and portraits, where smaller umbrellas project a more narrow focus, therefore, better for some portraits and headshots. For the image below, I used a Westcott 7-foot Silver Parabolic Umbrella.

Parabolic umbrellas can make for beautiful full body shots, group shots and portraits.

Model: Katie Buell

 

SOFTBOXES

Whether using continuous lighting, speedlights or strobes, softboxes prove to be one of the best light shaping tools for any professional photographer’s to have in their toolbox.

 

Round

43” Westcott Apollo Orb

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Round softboxes, called octaboxes or octabanks, make for wonderful key lights. Their round shape is similar to the sun and the catchlights produced by round softboxes can be much more pleasing to some as they cast a more natural round catchlight into a subject’s eyes to match the roundness of the pupils.

Light is wrapped around my model here and the octabox creates round catchlights in the eyes.

Model: James Campbell

 

An octabox also tends to wrap light around its subject. I find a larger octabox placed close to my subjects face serves close to what a beauty dish would do for me when placed straight in front of my subject. When placed anywhere else, shadows can vary from subtle to harsh depending on its proximity to the subject. I’m personally a huge fan of the 43” Westcott Apollo Orb because it’s easy to set up and break down – much like an umbrella!

 

Squares and Rectangles

Profoto 2×2′ RFi Softbox

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Squares and rectangles work well as main light sources as well as a fill lights. Depending on their size, they tend to throw out a more defined light complete with a nice and soft transitioning of shadows.

Square softboxes create soft shadow transitioning and leave square catchlights in the eyes.

Model: Xavier Lujan

 

Contrary to some preferences, I find squares to make interesting and dynamic catchlights in the eyes when used in conjunction with a circular or triangular reflector as shown above. In this image, I used a Glow 24” x 24” Square Softbox which has a large variety of speed ring adapters available, sold separately.

 

Strips

Interfit Photographic Strip Light Softbox for Strobes, 28×75″

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Strip softboxes are great for lighting the full body when placed parallel with a subject. They also work well as hair lights. I used a softbox similar to the Westcott 12”x36” Strip Bank for the image below.


Strip softboxes are good for full length images and create long narrow catchlights in the eyes.

Model: Katie Buell

 

Depending on the distance from the subject, strip softboxes can create a very subtle or a very harsh transitioning in shadows.

 

BEAUTY DISHES

Beauty dishes are beautiful! If you are into portrait or beauty photography, a beauty dish is a “must”. A beauty dish is a circular reflector or bowl with an opening in the center that attaches to a monolight or strobe. The bulb or flash is hidden by a raised plate in the center that forces light to disburse into bowl and onto a subject rather than the light source directly hitting the subject.

A silver and a white beauty dish (left to right).

Images courtesy of Adorama

 

Beauty dishes come as white or silver coated on the inside. White coated dishes make for a softer light whereas silver coated dishes make for slightly more contrast.

Image taken using a 16-inch white beauty dish with a diffuser as a main light.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Beauty dishes have two different companion modifiers that can be used along with them: a diffuser, sometimes called a “sock”, and a grid. The image above was taken using a diffuser while the image below was taken using a grid.

Image taken using a 16-inch white beauty dish with a grid.

Model: Xavier Lujan

 

I’ve always had a regret of buying such a small beauty dish – at 16 inches. If you can swing it, get something at least 22 inches in diameter or more. Which beauty dish you should get will depend on the monolight or strobe that you have. Brands like Glow make a variety of mount options to work for more than one single brand.

 

GRIDS

If you need the direction of light from your light source to be more concise, a grid is your best bet. Grids are useful when you want to light something specific with little to no spill, such as when you want to light your subject but you want to keep the background dark.

Grid on a beauty dish.

Image by Yann Bizeul

 

Grids are typically made to work with beauty dishes and softboxes, but I’ve also found them as companion modifiers for barndoors and snoots too. They come in different sizes, the hole width determining the width of the light beam emitted.

The use of a grid on a beauty dish.

Model: Tara Virada

 

Grids come in a variety of types, brands, sizes and hole widths and which you get will depend on the type and brand of main modifier you use it with.

 

BARNDOORS

Barndoors are one of the most versatile and inexpensive lighting modifiers one could own. This modifier is basically four doors that attach to a base which can be attached to a monolight or strobe.

Flashpoint Universal Barn Door Kit with Grid and Gels

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

What’s versatile about this modifier is that these 4 doors can be opened as little or as much as desired allowing for numerous lighting results. Many barn doors are sold as kits that also include companion modifiers of four gels and a grid, such as Flashpoint’s Universal Barn Door Kit featured above.

A quick example of the use of barn doors bare on a subject.

Model: Matt Chamberlain

 

Above I used the barn doors bare with each door opened halfway, which produced a very harsh light on my subject whereas below, I popped a grid onto the barndoors and while the light is still a bit harsh, notice that the background goes dark. As noted previously, grids help direct light in a specific direction leaving little spill, if any. The light doesn’t wrap around my subject and hit the background in this case. The light only hits my subject.

A quick example of the use of barn doors with a grid.

Model: Matt Chamberlain

 

SNOOTS

Flashpoint Snoot Kit for Bowens Mount Strobes

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

Snoots are serious business. They allow you to focus in specifically on one small thing on a subject, such as just the face, just the hands or for baby photography, just the feet. They are also a great tool for lighting particular things for an interior shoot or even products because the light is so concentrated and direct.

A snoot used bare in the front with a beauty dish and grid used as a rim light behind my subject.

Model: Celeste Smith

 

Snoots can also have complimentary modifiers of attachable gels and grids. In the image above, I used a snoot bare and in the image below, I used a snoot with a grid.

Example of a snoot with a grid for a front light and a beauty dish with a grid as a rim light.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

Snoots are generally brand specific or universal as long as they have the specific speed ring adapter that matches the brand of monolight or strobe you are using.

 

GELS

Gels are not only a practical tool but they are also a fun, creative modifier to use for lighting a subject. In situations where white balance is an issue (such as incandescent bulbs adding a warm orange cast to an image and fluorescent bulbs typically generating a green cast, gels can be used to match the light’s color in order produce an image with light color closer to white.

Rosco 20×24 Color Effects Kit

 

For a more creative touch, gels can also be used to color backgrounds or to color the light hitting a subject. In the image below, I used a Rosco 20”x24” Color Effect Kit which contains 15 different color gel sheets and is sold at Adorama for around $97.65 for the whole kit. These gels can be bent or folded and are still reuseable. This particular kit contains the larger-sized sheets, which also allows me enough available to be able to also cut swatches of the gels for use too.

Gels can be used to color backgrounds or your subject (or in this case smoke too!)

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

I used a red gel on a background light aimed at a Savage Smoke Gray Seamless background. I also used a yellow and blue gel on two separate lights on each side behind my model aimed back toward the camera to give her an interesting rim light color on her skin and hair. As a bonus, because I used a fog machine for special effect, the gels colored the smoke as well.

 

A LAST WORD ON MODIFIERS…

Lighting gets a whole lot more fun when you begin introducing modifiers into the equation. It brings endless possibilities as to how to light a subject. If you are on a budget, start with umbrellas and/or a barn door kit. When you can swing it, launch into softboxes, beauty dishes and more, building them up as you find that you need them. While each has a place in the studio, all allow lighting a subject to be a much more creative process.

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