Engaging portraits – Sample One

Engaging portraits – Sample One

 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.

Engaging portrait one


This beautiful young business lady has a face I consider somewhat square featuring a strong jaw line. She has nice skin texture, smooth but with texture that comes with maturity. I noticed the eyes appeared to be different in colour; the left brown and right green. The brown eye appeared to be just slightly lower than the green one and maybe just a little larger. There was no crook or bend to the nose. Those were the features that I decided to work with.

I wanted strong directional lighting that wrapped around the face to give it shape. It had to wrap around the subject in a gentle manner. I didn’t want a hard light. The light had to illustrate the luster and smooth skin texture, but I had to be careful not to go to large of too soft in order to avoid unwanted glare in her glasses.

Fill light

I decided on a parabolic light with barn doors bounced off the ceiling for a fill light, utilizing the barn doors to control light directly striking the subject and creating any reflection in the glasses.

Main light

To get the soft yet directional light I  went with a 24 in beauty dish to the subjects left (camera right). The beauty dish was not diffused but was feathered in front of the subject.  The lighting pattern is known as a “Broadside Rembrandt” and I carefully positioned the light so that it just caught and highlighted the right cheek of the subject. Bringing the light forward this much also left me with a beautiful low ratio Rembrandt shadow on the right side of the subjects nose. This light was still a little to harsh for this subject and did not wrap around the face the way I wanted.


In order to wrap the light around the face a reflector was added on the camera right, between the camera and the main light. It was positioned close to the main light to catch the main light and then twisted until it reflected into the mask of the face creating the wrap-around effect.

Pose and expression

The subject was turned slightly away from the main light, throwing the chest in shadow. I had her lean slightly and tilt her head to her right shoulder. The diagonal line in the head position gives dynamics to the composition. I asked her to think of something pleasant but not give me a big smile.  (A big smile can be nice to look at for a second but is difficult to study or look at for a period of time.)

Post Processing

The usual methods of conversion from RAW file to a PSD file were used. In post processing minor blemishes were retouched and a very minor skin softening was applied.

The result

The combination of the pose and the lighting gives the head dimension and brings out the cheek bones. The expression is inviting and caring, and it is pulled together by the uniformity between the mouth and the eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul and the expression there is even more important than the one on the lips. A big smile on the lips with dead eyes will only create the impression of a fake smile.

I analyze each face and determine what mood and features I want to emphasize. I pick the lighting equipment that creates that mood and feeling, telling the story of the subject as I see it.

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