In a previous blog “Engaging Portraits” I talked about unique lighting for each portrait. In the beginning, near everyone starts out with the same body parts, but that’s where the similarity ends. We are not made from the same mold and each of us has features and characteristics that make us, well us. To set up a style of light and use it for everyone makes a statement about the photographer, not the subject being photographed. Our characteristics, personality and physical features are what make us who we are. We are all pieces of art worthy of being celebrated.
A sculptor said the sculpture was already in the rock and he just chipped away the unnecessary parts to reveal the beauty that was within the rock. As a photographer I sculpt with light to emphasize the highlights of each subject, but just as each subject is different each subject requires a different light.
Five subjects from a business portrait session last year have given me permission to use their portrait to illustrate what I mean. Some have asked that I not use their name, so none of the five names will be used.
The comments and observations expressed are my opinion only, but the lighting described is based on sound photographic training and practices.
What I saw was a well proportioned face of a young male with strong lines, good texture, and engaging eyes. His smile showed the cheeks and brought out the three dimensional features of the face. This individual has a wonderful smile and that combined with the colour of the eyes meant that I had to capture the precise moment when twinkle in the eyes matched the sincerity and intensity of the twinkle in the smile. Anything else would result in an obvious fake or forced looking smile.
I turned the subject slightly off camera so that I wasn’t getting a full face view.
I selected a loop light (just short of becoming a Rembrandt light) highlighting the broadside, or the side closest to the camera. To feature the texture of the skin and the beard I decided to go with a hard light to suggest strength in the character. Wanting the light to be strong meant I had to be careful that the shadows didn’t block up and lose detail.
Because I wanted a hard light with sharp shadows that still contained detail it was necessary there be contrast between the fill and the main light, both in ratio and in type or quality of light. I chose a very soft and large light for the fill. In this case a 72 inch umbrella on the subject to camera axis.
To accomplish the hard lighting with distinct shadows and to emphasize the skin and beard texture I again chose a 7 inch silver reflector. This light was feathered so that I was using the penumbra of the beam to illuminate the mask of the subjects face.
To give the light a wrap around effect and maintain the shadow detail I wanted I employed a bounce board or reflector. This time I positioned the bounce on the highlight side between the main light and the subject. Positioning the bounce on the highlight side is much more difficult than putting it on the shadow side but when done properly it wraps the light around the face bringing out the three dimensional facial features. In addition when it has been mastered the highlight bounce will cause the skin tone radiate and come alive.
I added an accent light camera right (same side as the main) and placed 45 degrees above the subject. This accents the subject, wrapping the light around him and highlights the hair, providing separation from the background.
The post processing work was done on the raw file before output. It included a lightening of lines under the eyes and in the forehead, highlighting the teeth, and a slight brightening of the highlights. No skin softening was done as I wanted to feature the character and personality of the subject’s face.
Movie makers and performing theatres use lighting to create a mood that tells the story. I believe the same applies in photography. Analyzing the face and knowing the personality of the subject determines the best light for the portrait.