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The Art of Portraiture Part 4:  Gear and Equipment for Success

The Art of Portraiture Part 4: Gear and Equipment for Success

A portrait tells a story of someone’s essence – someone’s being. It takes great skill and technique to capture an accurate portrayal of someone. While skills and techniques necessary for shooting a portrait are a large part of successful portraiture, the are not all that is needed. You also will need good tools to make the grade.

Capturing one’s essence.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

In the first part of this series, in my article entitled, The Art of Portraiture Part 1: Composition, Depth of Field and Background, I covered some of the basic necessities that contribute to a good portrait. In the second part, The Art of Portraiture Part 2: Light, I went over how light is an important element in a good portrait. In the third installment, The Art of Portraiture Part 3: Your Subject, we added in the most important element of your portrait, the person you are photographing and how to photograph him or her. In this last and final installment of this series, I will go some of the equipment that will help contribute to a successful portrait.

 

LENSES

The glass you put in front of your camera will determine the quality of the image the camera will help to produce. There is no camera made that will produce a stunning image if a bad quality lens is attached. While you most likely have a budget in mind for your new camera system, factor in the cost investment of a at least one exceptional lens before you buy that high-end camera body with half the features that you will never use.

 

Prime Lenses

Autofocus Prime Lenses. Autofocus prime lenses are great for shooting moving subjects such as when shooting fashion in the studio as you may have your subject continuously moving. Typically great focal lengths for shooting people in general are 85mm or a 100mm/105mm if you have the room. These come in several aperture ranges with the F/1.4 and F/1.8 being the most popular. The Nikon 50mm F/1.4 at $334, is a great compact lens that packs a lot of punch for its size. You can read more about this lens in my review here.

 

Shot with a 50mm F/1.4 lens.

Actor: Patrick Walsh

Manual Prime Lenses. Manual Prime lenses can cost a pretty penny and really work best only if your subject is stationary. These lenses are optimal for portraits and headshots. I found the Zeiss line to be exceptional with the more budget-friendly option of Rokinon right behind it. You can read some of my reviews on the Adorama Learning Center for the Zeiss 50mm F/1.4, Zeiss 85mm F/1.4, Zeiss 100mm F/2.0, Rokinon 50mm F/1.4 and the Rokinon 135mm F/2.0 lenses to determine which might work best for your needs.

Shot with a Zeiss 100mm F2.0 Makro ZF.2.

Model/Actress: Valery Lessard

 

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses can be a great option for shooting portraits as there is a tremendous variety in focal length and they allow for a versatile creative use of shooting while zooming in or out, among other uses. I’ve had the pleasure of using several Nikon zoom lenses in my studio work, most recently the Nikon 24-70mm F/2.8, retailing at Adorama at $1,796.95. While no longer manufactured, but still available used, I currently a Nikon 28-105mm in my space as well as client’s small spaces and have produced some very striking images.

Shot with my Nikon 28-105mm F/3.5-4.5D IF lens.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

For either a close-up option or for shooting subjects from afar, I have found my Nikon 70-200mm F/4G ED AF-S to be the perfect option for producing a high quality photo, which I also use for headshots. Be sure to look for lenses that have have vibration reduction should your camera system itself not have an equivalent function.

 

LIGHT SOURCES

 

Daylight and Reflector. The easiest and most inexpensive way to light an image is through the use of bouncing natural daylight off of a portable collapsible reflector back onto your subject.

Using a portable collapsible reflector with natural daylight at sunset.

Model: Katie Buell

 

Speedlights. Another terrific portable and inexpensive lighting tool is a speedlight. Speedlights can be used indoors or outdoors and are typically used in conjunction with a portable collapsible reflector and/or bounced off of a wall or ceiling.

Using A speedlight in conjunction with natural daylight and a tungsten light.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Continuous Lights. These types of lights are perfect to use when shooting babies or capturing portraits of people who have trouble with blinking because there’s no disturbing flash.


Left to right: Lowel LC88EX1 Rifa

1000 Watt Light, Westcott TD6 Spiderlite, and the Fiilex P180E 40-Watt LED Light

Individual images courtesy of Adorama

 

Strobe/Monolight. Most photographers use strobes or monolights when shooting in a studio as the instant flash lends to capturing a sharper image and the numerous modifiers available for use allows the photographer to get more creative with their lighting.

Portrait shot using monolights.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

I have found the Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight with Built-In R2 2.4GHz Radio Remote System to be a great budget monolight for shooting portraits or any other type of subject in a studio environment. For more information on this terrific option, you can read my review on it here.

 

I’ve also had the privilege of using the delicious Profoto B-1 500 Air TTL Battery-Powered 2-Light Location Kit. No matter where you are shooting, these battery-powered lights are lightweight and store conveniently in a backpack.

 

LIGHTING NECESSITIES

 

Light Meter

Cameras see differently than we do. While we have the ability to see everything in color, the camera’s meter sees and measures only how light or dark a scene is. It sees only tonality: black, white and a bunch of shades of gray in between. The shade in the middle of the gray scale is what is called middle gray. Middle gray is achieved when it reflects only 18% of the light that falls on it.

My Sekonic Flash Master L-358 with its younger sister, the Sekonic LiteMaster Pro L-478DR.

 

The largest goal in photography is to capture your images with accurate exposure or in better terms: for the camera to record your scene or subject as you see it. How can this be achieved if your camera or handheld meter only measures in tonality and brightness? In the same lighting scenario, every shade or color reflects a different amount of light and this is where a light meter can come in handy. Sekonic pretty much rocks the market on light meters.

A light meter in use.

 

If you shoot video, a color temperature meter like the Sekonic C-700 SpectroMaster Spectrometer would be an ideal tool for you. If you are looking for the percentages of where your exposure is coming from (ambient, LED, fluorescent and/or tungsten continuous lighting vs. flash or strobe lighting), Sekonic meters are known to possess this feature. My current light meter, the Sekonic L-358 Flash Master, along with the Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478DR has this feature. Those folks that work in studios may find the need for a meter to be able to fire their strobe – “wirelessly” being a bonus. Some Sekonics such as the Sekonic L-758DR Digital Master have this feature.

 

Tripod

Obtaining a stable support system for your camera is one of the most important things you should do right after you buy any camera and lens. I’m always amazed at the number of students I’ve seen in the past who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars between a camera and lens (and maybe a flash too) along with other necessary and unnecessary equipment, but they were unwilling to spend enough on the support mechanism for their major investment.

Gitzo GK1545T-82QD Series 1 Traveler Tripod-4 Section- with GH1382QD Ball Head

 

This is almost like being too cheap and unwilling to put a good UV filter on your lens, which can help protect the front element from breaking if dropped. Not obtaining a proper tripod to support your camera and lens unit can result in the unit falling and getting damaged – sometimes beyond repair. How much did you spend on that camera and lens again? For more on tripods, check out my article, Tripods: Choosing the Right Support for Your Investment.

 

Lightstands

As you begin to add expensive pieces of equipment like lights to your home studio, you’ll want to make sure you buy proper light stands to support those lights. Regardless of the type of lighting  you may use now or in the future, light stands are a piece of equipment that you will want to think a little more long-term about as there are so many types, sizes and options available.


Just a few of the light stands in my studio.

 

For more on considerations for choosing the right light stands, check out my article, Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights and Light Stands.

 

LIGHTING ACCESSORIES

 

Collapsible Reflector

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 outdoors as well.

A good collapsible reflector is a “must” in portrait work.

 

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 your subject so that he or she is also lit.  This works the same way in a studio. 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.

 

Umbrellas

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

 

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 your subject’s 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. However, they guarantee your subject to be well lit.


A shoot-through umbrella in use.

 

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.

 

A reflective umbrella such as 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.

Clockwise from the top: White (shoot-through), silver reflective, gold reflective and black/white umbrellas.

Single images 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.

 

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 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.

Variety of softbox shapes.

Single images courtesy of Adorama

 

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!

Use of a square softbox with a triangular collapsible reflector.

Model: Xavier Lujan

 

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. 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.

Use of strip softboxes behind the subject.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Strip softboxes are great for lighting the full body when placed parallel with a subject. They also work well as hair lights. Depending on the distance from the subject, strip softboxes can create a very subtle or a very harsh transitioning in shadows.

 

You can read more on softboxes in my article, Softboxes: Containing, Directing and Diffusing the Light.

 

Beauty Dish

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.

My 16” beauty dish, bare.

 

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. Beauty dishes have two different companion modifiers that can be used along with them: a diffuser, sometimes called a “sock”, and a grid. 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.

 

Grid

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.

My beauty dish grid.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

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

My barndoor setup.

 

What’s versatile about this modifier is that each of 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.

 

Snoot

Snoots 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 serve kind of like a spotlight on a choice subject.

 

Snoot used on my model’s face only.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

Snoots also a great tool for lighting particular things for an interior shoot or even products because the light is so concentrated and direct. Snoots can also have complimentary modifiers of attachable gels and grids.

My snoot setup.

 

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”x24” Color Effect Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama

 

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.

Red gel was used for background and blue and yellow gels were used to color the light.

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.

 

WHEN YOU’VE CAPTURED THE ESSENCE OF BEING

When you’ve captured a true portrait of someone, you have captured the very essence of their being. As you can see, there is much involved to achieve this and many techniques available to do this successfully. This is what makes capturing a portrait – an art.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Lino Manfrotto: A Legacy of Support to Photographers Around the Globe

Lino Manfrotto: A Legacy of Support to Photographers Around the Globe

On Sunday, February 5, 2017, we lost a “pillar” in the photography world: Lino Manfrotto – a man whose last name is well-known to almost every photographer, if for nothing else, the support he provided to photographers around the globe.

Lino Manfrotto (right)

Image courtesy of Manfrotto website

 

In the Beginning…

Toward the end of the 1960’s, Lino Manfrotto worked as a photojournalist in Bassano del Grappa for Il Gazzettino and Giornale di Vicenza while also pursuing gigs in industrial and advertising photography. While there were many options for studio flash at the time, little advancement was offered in the way of support and clamps.

Manfrotto BeFree 4-Section Carbon Travel Tripod

Image courtesy of the Manfrotto website.

 

Frustrated by heavy, cumbersome camera and lighting support, Lino took to designing and creating what he needed to get the job done including a more lightweight, portable tripod and lightweight light stands that allowed flexibility of light placement. He started this for himself, which then expanded to his circle of photographer friends.

Today’s innovation of the Manfrotto tripod: Manfrotto MT190CXPRO4 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Tripod

Image courtesy of the Manfrotto China website.

 

After meeting Gilberto Battocchio in 1972, a technician for a mechanical company in Bassano, Manfrotto and Battocchio, introduced the first Manfrotto tripod. Other equipment that soon followed that have not – to this day – found any remarkable competition are the Superboom, Autopole and the Superclamp, the latter two of which are found on display on the Museum of Modern Art’s website.

The Autopole.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC

 

The Superclamp.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC

 

A Growing Empire…

In the late 1980’s, the Avenger brand was established, support built for photographers and videographers for high load capacities extreme use in rough conditions.

Image courtesy of Manfrotto Poland

 

In 1989, Manfrotto became part of the Vitec Group, a British multinational company operating in the photo and broadcasting sector with American, English, French and German subsidiaries of which it still operates today.

 

Image courtesy of the Manfrotto School of Excellence website.

 

Several company acquisitions soon followed: in 1992, the French company, Gitzo, which specialized in tripods and ballheads and in 1993, American company, Bogen, which specialized in American photographic distribution. In 2004, distribution company Bogen Imaging GmbH began in Germany. National Geographic photography bags began distribution in 2005 under license through the acquisition of Israeli company, Kata.


Manfrotto Lifestyle Windsor Messenger Bag – Small

Image courtesy of the Manfrotto website

 

In 2010, Bogen Imaging changed its name to Manfrotto Distribution which included distribution companies in the United States, the UK, Germany, France and Japan. New distribution companies were launched in Shanghai and Hong Kong that same year. The company acquired the Lastolite brand in 2011, the premium manufacturer of photography light modifiers (such as portable collapsible reflectors) and backgrounds.

 

Fast Forward to Today…

Since 2010, the Manfrotto brand has taken a firm grasp of the future of technology with its mission and slogan “Imagine More” as it builds for the new generation of photography gear. This mission brings with it products designed for cameras (as they get smaller and smaller), smartphones and their use in the social realm.

Manfrotto Lumie Muse LED Light

Image courtesy of the Manfrotto website.

 

In recent years, Manfrotto has catered to the surge of this new technology allowing the average everyday person photographic capabilities through creating accessories and support for use with iPhone. New products such as mini LED lights for smaller recording devices have been introduced providing more innovative solutions for those shooting both stills and video.


Catering to today’s camera technology: Manfrotto TwistGrip Universal SmartPhone Clamp

withManfrotto Lumie Muse LED Light  on a  Manfrotto PIXI Evo 2 Section mini Tripod

Image courtesy of the Manfrotto website.

 

May His Legacy of Innovation Never Rest…

The man behind the Manfrotto brand was innovative and every product he produced in his lifetime has come with the highest satisfaction ratings in quality and performance. From a photojournalist to an entrepreneurship stemming from the drive of wanting better convenience and performance from the equipment he needed to use, we hope that his legacy of innovation will live on continuing to help support photographer and videographers around the globe.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Getting More Creative With Professional Self-Portraits

Getting More Creative With Professional Self-Portraits

Self-portraits have been a form of portraying oneself that goes very far back in time through not only photography, but sculpture and paintings as well. It has only been recently that it has morphed into an arms-length version called a “selfie”. The more classic version of a self-portrait, allows endless possibilities of how you tell your own story. In general, a self-portrait should be a reflection of you, your ideas, your tastes, your interests and your personality. How you communicate these things is where the fun begins.

A simple pensive self-portrait.

 

Why Self-Portraits?

 

It fuels creativity. When you have all the time in the world to create a portrait without the pressure inconveniencing someone else’s time to create it, and no boundaries set by a subject other than yourself the possibilities are endless with how creative you can get with your self-portraits. The less pressures that inhibit you, the more creative you can become.

 

Perspective In Front of the Camera. Self-portraits gives you a sense of feeling of what it’s like to be in front of a camera – rather than behind it – making you more aware of how your subjects feel in front of your lens.

Self-portraits give you perspective in front of the camera.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Gil Aldrin

 

Giving Direction and Posing. This form of photography can also help you learn how to direct your next subject or model as oftentimes you need to mimic the pose to translate to the subject/model what you want them to do.

Giving direction for posing.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Rachel Endoso

 

Self-expression.   Self portraits are also a good form of personal self-expression. Yes, we can put a personal touch on a portrait of someone else, but using yourself as a subject adds a whole new level personal expression.

 

Ideas & Experimentation.  It’s difficult to find friends and family who are patient enough to sit for you when you are only beginning learn lighting techniques or you want to experiment with a new idea. I resorted to using a mannequin when learning lighting but I found that using myself as a subject also worked and improved my photography tenfold.

 

You Can’t Find a Model. You know what they often say, “you can only depend on yourself…”. Sometimes you fall short of time and end up without a model and sometimes your model is late or just doesn’t show up at all. No one is more available than you.

 

Coming Up With Ideas

Inspiration for self-portraits is all around you, you just have to open your eyes, be aware and seek it out. It’s also important to reach deep within for inspiration that is unique to only you. Some things that can be considered to inspire ideas are:

 

Hobbies

You are a photographer, so there is a theme right there! Let your hobby be expressed in your self-portrait through the use of locations and props. For example, as a photographer, be sure to include your camera as a prop for a self-portrait.

A quick self-portrait of me in my home studio using a remote.

 

Profession

What you do for a living can also be expressed in a self-portrait. It is usually successfully portrayed only if it is something you love and enjoy doing for a living. For some, your hobby and your profession might be one in the same. In my case, while photography has only more recently become a profession for me, my long-time career has always been as a paralegal. For this, I might shoot a self-portrait of myself researching and writing in a library or maybe just a classic headshot in front of law books.

 

Location

Tripods will always be your best friend when shooting self-portraits. They are mandatory. They are also a portable tool to take with you to shoot yourself on location. Including your favorite hangouts and/or quiet spots in your self-portraits can sometimes add to the ambiance of the photograph and reflect part of your personality.

My favorite graffiti location.

 

Physical Abilities

Play sports or a musical instrument? Including something you are able to do in your self-portrait is a great way to convey your personal interests and extracurricular activities.

I don’t play enough, but when I have time, I love to play guitar.

 

Your Actual Physical Features

If there’s a part of you that you favor more than the rest or perhaps have been the topic of others’ conversations (in my case, it’s my long hair), focusing on this can make for an interesting self-portrait.

I consider my long hair one of my prominent features.

 

Wardrobe

If you a fashionable person, photographing yourself in your best rags can also reflect your tastes – especially in fashion.

 

Objects of Your Affection

We’re taught as portrait photographers that the best way to get a great personal image of a disinterested teenager is to include an object of their affection in the picture. You are no different. For me, not much comes before my cat and my guitars.

My other dream, as a rockstar.

 

Theme

Like any photoshoot, sometimes it is good to conjure up a theme and let it go from there. Have a favorite color? Create a monochromatic image using only that color around you. Maybe you are into cosplay? Dress up in your favorite costume, find a good location, set up your tripod, grab your remote and shoot. If you can create a theme for a party, you can certainly create and shoot a theme for you.

 

Capturing “You”

 

The Classic Headshot. We’ve already discussed how to create a classic headshot in my last article, 4 Ways to Create a Professional Self-Portrait (Not a “Selfie”) – Part I, so we’ll move onto other fun ways to get more creative with your professional self-portrait.

Here is a classic headshot I took as a self-portrait using the Lightroom capture button.

 

Your Reflection. You’ve probably tried this before in your own bathroom, in museums where there are mirrors present or even in Chicago at “The Bean” statue, but since you are a photographer, using a mirror to shoot your reflection showcases you engaging in your personal hobby or profession.

Shooting yourself in front of a mirror is an easy way to create a self-portrait.

Just make sure you don’t have your flash on and watch your borders!

 

A good tip for a better self-portrait using a mirror: be mindful of your background. Check out every inch of your frame before taking the shot to make sure anything unwanted is not in the image. Also, if desired, be sure to flip your camera’s logo in post. 🙂

 

A creative tip: place a mirror behind you to add a repeating effect.

 

Without a Face. Shoot only part of you – instead of all of you – and I don’t mean a headshot only. I’m sure you’ve seen images of expectant mothers that creative photographers shoot that include only the chest and down to emphasize the beauty in a mother’s body during pregnancy. We might not all be able to be pregnant right now (if at all) so try shooting only your feet, only your waist-down or only your neck to waist.

Most people know I am a world traveler and love this image entitled “I am here” taken in Madrid, Spain.

 

Location! Location! Location! Switch it up and take your shoot outdoors, to a garden, to a zoo, to a library – anywhere but the plain four walls of your home.

Under train tracks right down the street from my apartment.

 

Capture Your Dark Side. Create a silhouette of yourself by using backlighting without any front or side lighting.

Here I’ve created a quick silhouette example in the studio using red background paper.

 

Get a Move On! Incorporate motion into your self-portrait. Dance around, shadowbox – get into a groove and set your camera’s shutter speed on a slightly slower speed to capture a range of motion.

While I can’t say that I can really dance anymore, this self-portrait of me twirling in song did turn out pretty cool.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Own Shadow. Your shadow in the morning and midday sun can make for an interesting, unique image. Shadows can also elongate your body depending on the position of the sun.

Shot around 3pm.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Gil Aldrin

 

Work Your Angles. Shoot yourself from different angles. Set your tripod low and shoot up. Stick your camera on a lightstand via your tripod ballhead and position it up above you and shoot down on yourself.


Shot from below. I love the shadows on one of my favorite shooting backgrounds in my neighborhood.

 

I secured my camera to a light stand and used a remote to shoot from above.

 

Creating a Mirage. So this may take a little bit of Photoshop skills, but combining two images into a double exposure can make for a pretty spectacular image. Here, I took the initial profile image in this article and combined it with an image of one of two of my favorite flowers – cherry blossoms.


Here I combined a self-portrait with one of two of my favorite flowers – the cherry blossom.

 

Create Enough of You to Go Around. A fun self-portrait to create, which also takes a little bit of Photoshopping skills, is to composite several images of you together to create a “multiple-you” image. Here, I took advantage of my most used space in my home (aka. my “woman cave”) and created four separate images leaving the tripod in the exact same place for each shot. Each image was of things I pretty much do daily, creating a pretty accurate representation of me.

Here is a composite image of everything I like to do in my woman-cave.

 

The Honest Truth. Capture yourself doing an everyday task around the house or outdoors. You don’t even have to be looking at the camera. In this image, I captured a natural image of myself on my front doorstep in the industrial area of the SE Bronx.


Just be yourself.

 

Equipment Needed for Self-Portraiture

The Basics

 

  • Camera (DSLR preferred). I prefer a DSLR camera because I can generate RAW images to work with, I can tether to a computer or laptop, I have a lot more lens choices and because if I shot with film – this project could get very expensive! I have a few suggestions on DSLR cameras in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 1: Space and Essential Shooting Gear.

 

  • Tripod. A tripod is a must for self-portraits otherwise you will be very limited by using any available level surfaces. Imagine, if you had a tripod (with a ballhead), you have a choice of all available surfaces plus a decent height and just about any angle. I have several suggestions for choosing the right tripods in my article: Tripods: Choosing the Right Support for Your Investment.

A tripod is pretty much vital to creating a self-portrait.

 

  • Camera Remote. It just makes things much more simpler than running back and forth to the camera to set the timer over and over again…

A simple remote for my Nikon D750.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

 

  • Light Source. A light source can consist of available light, a speedlight, a continuous light, a monolight or strobe. You can really get by with any of these, though you can create an endless variety of results and achieve them much faster with the use of some sort of flash light source (speedlight/monolight/strobe) due to positioning, brightness and modifier used.

 

To start, a speedlight can work just fine. This is my old Nikon SB-700 Speedlight.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

The Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight is a good choice for a monolight.

 

  • Light Stand(s). If you are using any light source other than available light, you’ll need light stands for your lights. Don’t skimp on these. They are what are supporting your $300-500 flash or $500-3,000 monolight or strobe. I have a few recommendations for light stands in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights and Light Stands.

Light stand(s) and sandbag(s) for support.

 

The Superstar Setup

 

  • Laptop or Desktop. The bare essentials are completely fine for creating self-portraits, but you’ll eventually need a laptop or computer to edit those images. One or the other is also key if you plan to tether while you shoot. I do have an old 27” iMac but if you are considering going the iMac route (which I highly recommend for any graphics or photography-related use), don’t skimp here – like I did, or you’ll be sorry – like I am. If you can’t afford what you really want – wait and save for it, otherwise you’ll be stuck with a computer that doesn’t run fast enough or have enough memory for your needs. For photography-related work – especially if you shoot RAW (which you should!), be sure to choose an iMac with the latest processor (currently the Intel Core i7), at least 1TB of memory, but more if you can swing it, and at least 8GB of RAM. My heart is currently set on upgrading to the Apple 27″ iMac with Retina 5K Display, 5120×2880, Intel Core i7 Quad-Core 4.0GHz, 16GB RAM, 3TB Fusion Drive + 128GB Flash, AMD Radeon M295X which is currently available at Adorama for $2,900.

My iMac and my Dell 17” XPS Inspiron laptop.

 

  • Tethering Cable. If you choose to use a computer and tether, you’ll need a good tethering cable – one that does not lose connection a lot or fall out of your camera port more times than the number of frames you’ve shot thus far. The Tether Tools Starter Kit is a pretty useful and reliable tool for tethering.

Tether Tools makes a great line of custom tether cords.

Image courtesy of Tether Tools

 

I wrote a pretty lengthy article on tethering a little while back called: Preview While You Shoot: The What, Why, When, Who and How on Tethered Shooting that you might find useful on this topic.

 

  • Adobe Lightroom or Other Tether-N-Edit Software. Using software that allows you to tether so that you can review and edit your images as you shoot on the big screen saves a lot of time and incorrect assumptions that might happen if you rely only on the LCD screen on the back of your camera. Adobe Lightroom is probably one of the best all-inclusive tools out there for both tethering and editing and is the first tool I use before exporting it for fine tuning to anything else, if even needed. If you plan to use it for tethering, be sure to check to see if your camera is compatible for tethering to the software first. If for anything, it is “magic” and easy to use for organizing and editing your images during and after a shoot. You can get in on the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes both Adobe Lightroom AND Adobe Photoshop for one low annual price of $119 and you will always be up to date on the version you use.

There are several programs available out there for tethering, some of which also allow you to edit in post.

 

  • Adobe Photoshop. You may need Adobe Photoshop to do some finer adjustments or to just do some completely creative edits to your images. Again, you can get in on the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes both Adobe Lightroom AND Adobe Photoshop for one low annual price of $119 and you will always be up to date on the version you use.

 

Other Stuff

The number of things you can use to help create your self-portrait is endless, but here are a few obvious choices.

 

  • Background. Whether it’s seamless, your living room, your backyard or down the street in the park, you will need some sort of non-distracting background to put yourself in front of.

I sometimes use creative art papers for backgrounds.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

  • Unique Wardrobe. What you’re wearing, or not, can sometimes be the center of the intention for the image.

It helps to have some unique pieces in your closet.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

  • Props. Adding in a wig, facial hair, a baseball bat, baton, bicycle, car or other prop can only lend to telling the viewer more about you and things that interest you.

Just a small fraction of the props I’ve collected over the last few years.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

  • Additional Light Sources and Stands. You can do a lot with one light source but your options can open up even more with added monolights, strobes or speedlights to create multiple light setups.

 

  • Patience. If you are aiming for things like your eyes to be perfectly sharp, you will be shooting the same shot, let’s just say… A LOT, before you get it just right.

 

Creating a Picture Perfect You

Creating a self-portrait, whether for business purposes and/or for fun can be a great release of self-expression and showcasing the real (or not so real) you. Creating self-portraits of ANY kind will take a lot of time and practice, even for a skilled photographer. The images in this article took a great deal of time and effort to create. Whatever you do, don’t get frustrated if you are shooting and not getting exactly what you want. Number one, your frustration show in your images and number two, it will happen – just keep shooting and shooting and shooting until you get exactly what you are looking for. Using some of the ideas and tools above, you can come up with an endless number of ways to reinvent yourself digitally, and most ideas without the need for heavy photo editing.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments