Engaging portraits

Engaging portraits

Are the tools of the trade being engaged?

When you talk to somebody about portraits they mention the camera used, the focal length of the lens, and the aperture. Seldom, if ever do they mention the light. Without the light the camera and lens do nothing.

There is more than one kind of light.

Today there is a tendency to use large soft boxes in lighting portraits. A tendency I don’t agree with.

When I first learned to create portraits I was taught the type of light you used set the mood and character of the image. You look at your subject and analyze its character paying attention to shapes, lines, texture, colour, tones and mood of the subject. Armed with this knowledge you chose the tools in your arsenal of lighting to visually illustrate what you see and feel.

 Lighting options include the quantity of the light, the size of the light relative to the subject, the colour temperature, the direction the light comes from and what part of the light is used on the subject. The characteristics of the light can be altered with light modifiers. My arsenal includes 7 inch standard reflectors, parabolic reflectors, a beauty dish, umbrellas and soft boxes. All of these can be further varied by honeycombs, diffusers, filters, and bounce boards.

Last year I photographed staff that deals with clients for a local firm. During the process I asked permission to use their portrait as an example in an article I was working on. Five people graciously agreed to allow me to use their portrait. Like many good intentions that idea simmered on the back burner until the flame went out.

It is time to rekindle the flame.

In the next 3 weeks I will be posting the 5 portraits, explaining what I saw and felt. I will explain what lights were used and why.

In Karsh’s autobiography he talks about going to the Ottawa little theatre and realizing how the lighting crew set the mood for the performance with the lights they used and realizing how he could do that with his portraiture. I believe that today’s portraits are failing to bring out a great deal of the character and personality of the subjects because the tools available to the maker are not being properly engaged.

I invite you to follow along.


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