It is my intent in this short article to show you some lighting effects from different studio equipment and setups so it might help you create your perfect portrait. Natural light is very beautiful but not always available, so I am discussing a method of creating great portraits anytime at any place, by one photographer without an assistant. 4 out of 5 of the below images were taken with one to three Nikon SB800 speedlights, and a reflector. The last image was taken with high end strobes.
Creating a great portrait usually is a process. The first image below can be created with one speedlight and no reflectors. The white background goes to a slight grey when not lit. The 80’s hair light is not needed. The straight on angle of the light minimize the need for fill. The shadows are around the edges of the face giving a nice fall off of light and yields attractive lighting.
The camera and light settings were set deliberately to over power overhead fluorescent lights so this light is not much of a factor. So basically I didn’t take in much ambient light because I didn’t want it. It’s nice to know how to get this kind of a portrait easily and quickly on location with minimal equipment and no help.
In this 2nd image, please disregard the expression, this is the same one light setup above with the addition of my special reflector under the face which illuminates the face from below and adds a circular catch-light in the iris.
This reflector fills much of the shadow and creates a rather flat beauty light effect. If she had a nice expression, with a little photoshopping we would have a nice portrait here. I would use this type of lighting mainly for women.
In the below image, again sorry for the expression but that wasnt the point, no reflector has been used and you can see all the shadow on the face. We have the Rembrandt style of lighting going on here. I did add one more speedlight to illuminate the white background a little bit. If I wanted to go pure white on the background it could have been easily accomplished by bumping up the power on the background light.
So you can now see from the images discussed so far what a white background looks like without a separate background light, and with a little light added. I like both background shades, and I like the pure white background as well. It is easy to get all these different shades of grey with just one white background. Keep it simple!
In the below image, I just put my special reflector back in under the face, so we now have a separate speed light for the background, a speedlight lighting the subject, and a reflector. The eyes are lit well, the shadows are minimal similar to beauty lighting, and she has a cute expression. I do like to use a long focal length lens because it is very flattering to the face. Here I am at about 140mm, which is pretty amazing because Im in a tight space with low ceilings too!
In this last image below, I used the same set up as above, two lights and a reflector. Notice Im bagging the hair light, Just trying to keep it simple and I dont miss it at all. I used two Profoto 600R monolight strobes in this image, which is basically the only difference between this image and the one above. The strobes, of course, have the benefit of a strong modelling light which helps a great deal in the placement of the lights. They can also be shot with rapid fire without concern, and there are no batteries to go dead, but they need power, unlike the AA battery powered speedlights. The mono lights are very expensive as well.
There are many pros and cons between these strobes and the speedlights, and it’s nice to know how to get great results with either. Sometimes I just dont want to drag out the big guns ! The below image was re-touched in a manner that looks good when viewed small online, on web sites, in thumbnail form etc.. If the image were going to be seen in a larger file I would reduce the retouch considerably.
Knowing how to guide the subject into good positioning and engaging the subject into natural, and interesting expression is critical to success of the portrait as well. It usually takes a little bit of time to pull all of the elements together. Keep in mind that the look of the portrait that Im going for will vary depending on the purpose.
For example, the above portrait has a rather large smile and an engaging approachable spirit perfect for a business person in marketing or management. I don’t know about you, but if I was looking for a good Realtor, or marketing manager or sales person, or something along those lines, I would hire her on the spot from the connection I get from the photo. On the other hand, if I am creating a portrait for a model, actor, doctor or another profession I would probably go for an entirely different kind of look.
In my portrait and figurative oil paintings at Mark Lovett Studio, that I paint for clients who commission my work, as well as for Rehs Gallery in NY,NY who take them to shows throughout the country and sell them to their clients, this is NOT the kind of portrait that I paint. This is a whole different topic that I may discuss some other time.
Group headshots and corporate group portraits are much more involved. If you would like detailed info visit Group Headshots.
In any case, I hope you got something from my brief tutorial here, and if you would like some personal instruction to take your work to the next level, give me a shout.
Thanks for visiting and leave a comment if you like.
Mark Lovett Photography