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The traditional portrait photographers had a similar style to the portrait painters before 1900 very posed and static. This was of course because exposures were very long, some times up to 30 seconds, this left little room for spontaneity in portrait photography. As magnesium flash came along, the advent of studio lighting and the increase in film speed (iso or asa) the exposures got shorter, allowing both the model and photographer more freedom.
Today there are 5 types of studio light, daylight through a window, flash units, tungsten bulbs, energy saving bulbs, and the latest florescent tubes.
daylight through a skylight is nice but difficult to control and very limiting although often used in portrait photography.
No doubt the best is the flash unit with a built in modelling light but it is also the most expensive, the great advantage is your model doesn’t have to be too static, also the flash produces very little heat, also there are a great number of accessories for this type of light.
Tungsten lights are less expensive to buy, or can be made at home at very little cost, the disadvantage is the heat they give out and the short bulb life.
The third type, ideal for portrait photography seems to me to be a good compromise, if you are stuck for cash, the energy saving light bulb, cool, powerful, when left to warm up, very long lasting and sturdy. Anyone a little handy can turn some into a good studio lights, by using lightweight materials, even a couple of the old photoflood reflectors shining through tracing paper is fine to start.
Tip. Buy a wide roll of tracing paper hang it about 2ft in front of the lights close in a sheet of polystyrene each side ,top and bottom if you want. Et voila! there you have the cheapest light box ever made.
The newest florescent tubes exist and are very good but a more expensive solution than the energy saver.
Whatever you choose soften the light with tracing paper or similar.
Even stands can be made very cheaply for example oil cans, paint cans or flower pots etc. filled with cement and a metal rod or wooden pole inserted, leave to set and you will have a sturdy way of supporting lamps and reflectors.
You will need clamps of different sizes, to hold reflectors to the stands, a large sheet of polystyrene makes a great full-length reflector, and white card makes good small ones. Other interesting effects can be made by using mirrors, gold or silver card etc.
a comfy chair will allow more movement even a setee
a fan used when shooting a close up to blow the models hair around. Or simply to keep you cool.
Clothing It’s a strange thing but models never have the right clothing with them so always have available a selection of lightweight clothes that will move around easily and keep the model cool. I would always have a selection of net curtains and silks around. All this is very handy with portrait photography.
Different diffusers. very important.
Makeup she probably has forgotten hers!
Think about cropping as you see the smaller image has been cropped and rotated, the rotation in photographic and cinema terms is called dutching, why? well frankly I've no idea! but dutch it a bit is often heard in a studio. Anyway think about Dutching as it can give a more relaxed feel to a portrait.
Compare the two portraits the top one bright eyes crisp a touch of innocence and youth for a subject like her, no diffuser was necessary Whilst the photo below of an woman in her thirties has warm and a romantic look as the result of a diffuser on the lens
The two photographs were taken with practically the same light the lighting used was a light box. From about ¾ angle vertically and front to back. Some photographers refer to this as the Rembrandt angle, also added to this a silver card reflector not from the side but ¾ rear.
As in any photography it is vital that no light falls on the lens while shooting, you may not realise it’s happening and it’s one of the amateurs major faults.
lens diffusers are readily available from most shops but they have the disadvantage of being of different sizes so they might fit some lenses but not all. Sometimes we will use Vaseline on a glass filter just in front of the lens a tiny amount is required for incredible effects.
The best diffuser is in fact a sheer black nylon stocking of excellent quality.
These exist in different thicknesses, if you buy the thinnest you will be amazed at the result, don’t forget I am not talking about an old pair of grannies tights but top quality stockings Dior etc. Using lighter colour ones can also make hi-key effects.
I stretch them over the front of the lens hold them in place with an elastic band then stretch again. The result will change as you stretch and also when you change the aperture.
As in most cases when working at portrait photography ,the subject can be little afraid and timid towards the camera so make sure that both you and your model have the time available to chat a little about the photos you want to achieve. This will put the person at ease, as well as the photographer.
This is the best time to take notes on those particular little expressions that make such a difference, if you manage to get these on the photos everyone will say you have done a great job and really captured his or her personality which is the key to good portrait photography.
Opening the door and saying sit down there and immediately start shooting is a recipe for disaster.
Talk to the model over a cup of coffee or maybe a glass of wine, put them at ease discuss clothing for the shoot, try to choose something summery, light and fun, make sure that they have absolute confidence in you.
Try to choose a neutral background that you can keep soft focus.
For a high key effect, paint the background white and light it strongly, add 2 polystyrene sheets as reflectors in the front of the model just leaving enough space for the camera to see through don’t forget top and bottom ( see my lesson,"lens flare"), shoot a test to achieve a result where the edges of the models face are being affected by the background lights, This will be your final exposure add light to the front of the reflectors until you are happy with the result, normally it will be around 2-3 f stops difference between background and the models face. This is not a golden rule it depends on the size of studio etc,
I would in all circumstances have one side of the reflectors painted mat black as then they become usefull for cutting light acting like a reverse reflector.
Tip: I once had a very difficult client, a company director, I shot her portrait for their annual report she didn’t like anything I did, well after a second session she still wasn’t happy, she said it just wasn’t her, I then fell back to the old photographers trick of printing a portrait of her in reverse she loved it after all, that’s what she saw in the mirror every day!