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Thread: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

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    "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    A bit of a "mixed bag" for lesson three; quite a few little things that I want to cover, but none that are really needing a lesson in their own right.

    Conceptually, all we're really doing is positioning our model/subject in front of an appropriate background - hitting them with some flattering light - and taking the shot, but having just said that, there are a few little things that add up to make quite a difference, and if we think about them both before and during the shoot, we can reduce the number of shots we need, and the quality of those shots.

    So here we go ...

    1. First thing to remember is "the camera captures what's there". Sounds a little obvious I know - but I've also lost count of the number of times I've shot a few dozen frames (or more) and not realised until I'm reviewing the images after the shoot that the kid has tomato sauce in the corner of his mouth, or the mother has a few strands of hair across her face. Things that take just a moment to fix before the shoot -- or a whole bunch of time later in Photoshop. Many will say "we can fix anything in Photoshop"; don't believe it! A couple of hairs that pass through an eyebrow - through an eyelash - across the eye - and continue across the face are actually VERY difficult to remove without a trace in a high-resolution shot of a face. Often I'll be working at 100% - think it looks great - only to discover that it's visible when I zoom out. So before you start shooting, take a moment to give your subject the final "evil eye once-over" - it also helps to have a few supplies in you camera bag such as wet wipes - hair clips - and for the women a bit of powder - small mirror - comb - brush (most of these things can be purchased for just a few dollars, and thrown away afterwards if necessary). Also try to encourage nervous subjects NOT to consume alcohol before the shoot - it dialates blood vessels in the face ... and the camera WILL pick it up; as an alternative relaxant, consider some speakers for their iPod (although personally I draw the line at them playing Justin Bieber!)

    2. People often ask "how close do we put the subject to the background" - in an ideal world, at least a couple of metres (this surprises some people) - but it's going to depend on a number of factors. Basically, the further you can seperate them from the background, the more out of focus the background is going to be (which is generally a good thing) - but - if that means bringing them into direct sunlight, or you backing over a cliff, then obviously that's not going to work. It's also going to depend on the type of shot you're doing, and the focal length you're shooting at; personally I like to shoot head & shoulders with longer lenses - often up to about 200mm outdoors - which often means I'm quite a way back. Often I'll shoot outdoor portraiture at around F5.6 or F8 - but - you have to watch your shutterspeeds; If you're shooting F5.6 or F8 with a 200mm lens - with a subject in the shade - it's likely that you'll only be around 1/60th -- and that just ain't going to cut it unless you're using an IS lens. So don't be afraid to "up the ISO" to 400 or even 800 - you will see the degradation if you pixel peep, but so long as we aren't throwing away too many pixels when we crop, you WON'T see the noise in a normal print - and believe me, compared to camera shake or insufficient depth of field, noise is the least of your worries! Sorry if this section sounds a little vague - the problem is that you're all going to have different focal length lenses at your disposal and assuming that you're not going to buy new ones just for portraits, then the best advice I can give is "use the longest focal length you have" and "watch your shutterspeeds & apertures".

    3. Posing. Unfortunately there are many possibilities here. Fortunately there are many possibilities here! (I know, "always helpful"!). Seriously, it pretty much is a can of worms in terms of the possibilities - but - there are a few rules that help us along the way, and those rules can also be broken -- so long as the shot works. If it doesn't then - well - you should have followed the rules! Some things to keep in mind ...

    - First up, it's all about the eyes. For frontal shots the head is ususally positioned so that the eyes are centered - and getting them to lower their chin a little can also reveal a little more white below the eyes. For 2/3's views it's acceptable for the eyes to have all the whites on one side, but avoid having the far eye either being partially obstructed by the nose or "hanging out in space" (where you can't see the far side of the eye socket). Also, avoid letting the nose break the cheek line -- it make it look much longer, and nobody will thank you for that! For profile shots, get the subject to look slightly towards the camera -- it'll give the impression that the eye is centred, even though it's not, and avoid hair showing under the chin ("billy goat effect") get it out the way using a hairclip or duck tape (I was kidding about using duck tape -- sort of! )

    - Second up, consider the shoulders. Normally you'll want to have them at 30 to 45 degrees to the plane of the face. Often having the shoulder nearest to the camera a bit lower makes for a good look, but if the subject isn't comfortable posed like that then what I normally do is get them to face the other way (not quite 180 degrees, but around 120 degrees), and then get them to turn their waist and shoulders back towards me (keeping their feet in position) - this gives a pleasing "over the shoulder" look, and also naturally tends to drop the near shoulder. But - you need to be a bit flexible with this technique (no pun intended!) - if the feet are at the wrong angle to start with then you may end up with a shot that just doesn't "fly" - so vary the starting angle of the feet a bit to see if things improve; it works for some, doesn't work for all. For others, a simple 3/4 shot across the chest with the head turned toward the camera can work a treat. Be aware too that if you shoot slightly up at them it can often make a big difference - and sometimes shooting down on them helps too! Unfortunately there's no substitute for practice & experimentation in this area; try this - try that - Google images and note the posing in the ones you like, and then replicate them.

    4. Lighting. We covered lighting (or more specifially "introduction to reflectors") last lesson - so all I'll add here is for the need to reflect sunlight back at our subject in such a way as to pass it ACROSS the face. If you do it right you'll notice a light shadow to the left of and slightly below the nose (then you'll have used what's called LOOP lighting - the most popular lighting technique). So what you're aiming for here is the loop lighting shadow (so you need to have the reflector off to the side) - but - not so far around that the nose stops the far eye being illuminated (avoiding "dead eye"). Additionally, we don't want to illuminate the area BEHIND the subject (hence another reason we like to bring the subject forward of the background), but sometimes you just won't have a choice. Typically we like to have around a 3 to 1 contrast ratio meaning the parts of the face being illuminated by the reflected light are around 1.5 stops brighter than the parts illuminated by the ambiant light - so it's important not to have the subject too close to sunlight on one side.

    5. Finally, give some thought to rotating your cameras as you take the shots - it adds a lot more energy to the shot. Sure, it's something you can do later in post-processing but (a) you'll have to throw away more pixels when you have to re-crop after the rotate, and (b) if you do it "in camera" you''ll get a much better feel for whether or the image is "going to fly" when you look at it on the review screen.

    More to it than many of you though eh? (I've got a feeing that good portraiture might just do a little better in monthly competitions from now on!)


    Plenty to think about here - I hope your brains aren't in overload! It does sound like a lot, but the best thing to do now is GO TAKE SOME SHOTS. You won't get many of the above things right to start with - but I'm hoping to get you to the stage where you can see your own faults - and then start correcting your own faults - and then "rinse and repeat". I'm hoping too that you'll all also post a few shots here so we can all comment on "rules observed" and "rules broken". It may be bloody - it may be brutal, but remember ...

    ... what doesn't kill us makes us stronger!

    This will be the last lesson on the shooting side of things for now - next time we'll start to look at the processing side of things (and I'll introduce the grey card at that time too).
    max and XSR800 found this helpful.

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Colin, I have read, but brain is too tired after a long day to take much in, so will respond, hopefully with a portrait, tomorrow(ish). Just want you to know that I very much appreciate the time and effort you are going to here for us all and with no thought of reward. Mate, you are a gem of the highest order!

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Thanks Kit,

    Easier to show you than to type it all out -- so look forward to a practical lesson if/when you ever get down this way!

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    Colin, I have read, but brain is too tired after a long day to take much in, so will respond, hopefully with a portrait, tomorrow(ish). Just want you to know that I very much appreciate the time and effort you are going to here for us all and with no thought of reward. Mate, you are a gem of the highest order!
    I agree with Kit- this is such a kind thing to do for others & I would love to come 'home' for a practical lesson, but fear Mum & Dad wouldn't let us out of Rangiora

    Also Kit let me know if you're heading down that far - My Parents love a visitor & Dad does a great BBQ Breakfast

    So thanks again Colin - am looking forward to reading lesson 3 after work.

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by wilgk View Post
    I agree with Kit- this is such a kind thing to do for others & I would love to come 'home' for a practical lesson, but fear Mum & Dad wouldn't let us out of Rangiora

    Also Kit let me know if you're heading down that far - My Parents love a visitor & Dad does a great BBQ Breakfast

    So thanks again Colin - am looking forward to reading lesson 3 after work.
    Thanks Kay,

    Looking forward to seeing some portraiture for "brutal, harsh, and blistering" critique

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    In fact, I reckon we could probably come up with a "portraiture scorecard" where we rate the image on a scale of 1 to 5 for ...

    1. Background

    2. Lighting

    3. Pose

    4. Eyes

    5. Hair

    6. Processing

    etc.
    nimitzbenedicto found this helpful.

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    A bit of a "mixed bag" for lesson three; quite a few little things that I want to cover, but none that are really needing a lesson in their own right.

    2. .....Often I'll shoot outdoor portraiture at around F5.6 or F8 - but - you have to watch your shutterspeeds; If you're shooting F5.6 or F8 with a 200mm lens - with a subject in the shade - it's likely that you'll only be around 1/60th -- and that just ain't going to cut it unless you're using an IS lens. So don't be afraid to "up the ISO" to 400 or even 800 - you will see the degradation if you pixel peep, but so long as we aren't throwing away too many pixels when we crop, you WON'T see the noise in a normal print - and believe me, compared to camera shake or insufficient depth of field, noise is the least of your worries! ......
    I am interested to read this Colin. I know you print a lot of your work. I also print a lot of mine and often will use ISO 400 and occasionally ISO 800 when required. There is often a lot of close inspection of on screen images and criticism of the level of noise.

    I find too much noise reduction reduces the contrast in an image and when printed the noise does not translate onto the printed page but the contrast and sharpness does.

    I would be interested in your thoughts.

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Ryan View Post
    I am interested to read this Colin. I know you print a lot of your work. I also print a lot of mine and often will use ISO 400 and occasionally ISO 800 when required. There is often a lot of close inspection of on screen images and criticism of the level of noise.

    I find too much noise reduction reduces the contrast in an image and when printed the noise does not translate onto the printed page but the contrast and sharpness does.

    I would be interested in your thoughts.
    Hi Peter,

    Noise is only ever apparent in 3 situations ...

    1. When viewing any high-iso capture at high magnifications on a monitor

    2. When any shot (but especially high-iso shots) has been severely under-exposed at the time of capture, and has subsequently had a big adjustment in post-processing, or

    3. When an image has been severely cropped so in effect the final image is essentially a "100% crop"

    So ... #3 can be eliminated simply by framing the shot correctly, #2 can be eliminated by ensuring correct exposure, and #1 just isn't an issue in a real-world print with ANY modern & 1/2 decent DSLR camera because the noise is too small to see (unless you're printing 3 feet wide and 2 feet high and ispecting with a magnifying glass from 4 inches away ... any why would we want to do that?)

    I think that approx 100% for the problem comes from people pixel peeping; question - when your wife vacuumes the carpets and asks "how do they look", do you first check them with a microscope? - of course not - and yet only photographers blow up images to 200% and pronounce them noisy. So what's the alternative? A much lover ISO and a truckload of motion blur because the shutterspeed is now 1/25th with a 200mm lens on a crop factor camera instead of the 1/400th that it would have been at ISO 1600 - or perhaps only millimeters of depth of field because someone with a fast lens shot it at F1.2 instead of F5.6?

    Honestly - for all intents and purposes, noise just isn't an issue with a competant capture in a real-world print - In fact, these days some even pay good money for filters that ADD grain - go figure that one out

    My best advice to anyone worried about noise is "don't ruin the image trying to save the pixels"!

    Hope this helps
    nimitzbenedicto found this helpful.

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Hi Colin,

    I note these small comments from time to time when I read posts on this site and what you wrote corresponded with the way I had observed things. I tend to make sure I get the shot without camera shake rather than worry about noise (as you stated). I had never really worried about/noticed noise in images that much, particularly when printing them, but it is good discuss it herewith someone who has technically looked at these things closer than I.

    Thanks.

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Thanks, Colin for taking the time to putting together these lessons. Great information.

    Just wanted to say, I am following and enjoying

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Alis View Post
    Thanks, Colin for taking the time to putting together these lessons. Great information.

    Just wanted to say, I am following and enjoying
    Thanks Ali,

    I'm happiest though when I see people getting great results from what I've taught them. That's the underlying reason I'm encouraging people to "do the assignments" in that one only learns by doing, not just reading (not meaning you though, of course).

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Thanks Ali,

    I'm happiest though when I see people getting great results from what I've taught them. That's the underlying reason I'm encouraging people to "do the assignments" in that one only learns by doing, not just reading (not meaning you though, of course).
    You are absolutely right. But the only place we have lighting equipment in the hospital is the OR and I am not allowed in

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    ...Question - when your wife vacuumes the carpets and asks "how do they look", do you first check them with a microscope?
    ...
    My best advice to anyone worried about noise is "don't ruin the image trying to save the pixels"!
    My wife never asks me about how the carpet looks after she vacuums them. If she does, she always tells me I should be doing this not her...

    But seriously, I have been following your advice for a while (based on a different recent post you commented on) and I have to say it is very reassuring and liberating

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Alis View Post
    You are absolutely right. But the only place we have lighting equipment in the hospital is the OR and I am not allowed in
    So go buy a reflector scrooge!

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Klickit View Post
    ...Just want you to know that I very much appreciate the time and effort you are going to here for us all and with no thought of reward. Mate, you are a gem of the highest order!
    And so do I

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Antonio Correia View Post
    And so do I
    Thanks Antonio,

    Although I doubt that there's anything I can teach you about portraiture!

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post

    GO TAKE SOME SHOTS. You won't get many of the above things right to start with - but I'm hoping to get you to the stage where you can see your own faults - and then start correcting your own faults - and then "rinse and repeat". I'm hoping too that you'll all also post a few shots here so we can all comment on "rules observed" and "rules broken". It may be bloody - it may be brutal, but remember ...

    ... what doesn't kill us makes us stronger!

    This will be the last lesson on the shooting side of things for now - next time we'll start to look at the processing side of things (and I'll introduce the grey card at that time too).

    ...Gulp.....I bravely go where no classmate has gone before......

    A losing team shouldn't make excuses...BUT I will anyway....it has rained and blown a howling gale all w/e plus the Fashionista was at work 9-3 both days.
    But I didn't want to wait until next w/e so grabbed her & the brother and made use of a very quick break in the weather.

    Th lesson I have learned from this w/e efforts is don't try to change too much at once! - Introduce 1 new variable/technique get that under control then move on.

    I tried to change/improve her posture and at the same time as introduce an angle with the camera...most of them looked like she was falling over backwards off the screen!
    Also the fence palings running horizontally probably don't work as well for angling as vertical ones.
    The lens length is also not good - but that was a factor of the weather, I had no space to step back with 85mm in the backyard that included shade/background etc.
    The hair is blowing everywhere as well

    So now enough of the moaning & excuses - what worked out ok?
    Well I was pleased that the actual posing/positioning seemed better and on some I could see her face nicely but with 2 different body positions & could see the differences and comparative benefits of 1 over the other.

    Also my handy assistant got the reflector up a lot higher, and again I could see the changes the position of it made to the overall light on her face, but the catchlight in her eyes is missing - which maybe was partially due to the dull day.
    Being 15 he could not however stand still & hold it - he had to keep flipping it from white to silver to see the change - held it right under her chin, in the middle of an exposure & when I moaned about her hair out of place - he improvised and used it as a fan!..

    So these exercises are giving my family no end of entertainment!
    The other really good bit is child #1 likes having her picture taken - so more practice should be easy

    anyway to quote another sporting cliche - "No Pain No Gain", so here they are...

    "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Hi Kay,

    Excellent work I could print any of these onto canvas - hang them on your wall - and I'll bet that everyone who saw them would say WOW.

    I think you're learning the most important lessons of all too - the one where you're self-aware of many more factors and can now make informed decisions regarding those factors. I'm reminded of the old saying "if you buy a man a fish you feed him for a day, but teach him HOW to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" -- and I suspect that from what I'm seeing here, you'll never have to pay to have anyone shoot family portraits for you ever again (but others may well end up paying you). The other point I think you're helping to make for both of us is that one can't learn the rules of portraiture shooting only by reading; one HAS to apply what they're learned ... and when one does, then one QUICKLY reaps the rewards of their efforts.

    Some minor feedback on the individual images ...

    First one:

    - I think you're possibly flirting a little with the lighting around the (camera) left side of fashionist's face; in essence you've ended up with a touch of whats called rim lighting - which in itself can be very nice lighting - but it can also be dangerous - and I suspect that it's bitten you on the bum a bit at the top where it looks like the highlights are blown.

    - Possibly a small vignette would help draw the eye towards the face

    Second one:

    - Image is great - the only thing I'm finding a little distracting is the white border (I'd suggest making it gray and thinner so as not to compete against the image)

    Third one:

    - Again, fine - although it does demonstrate that the camera only captures what's there

    Processing wise (all three) - yeah - quite a bit we can do to these to take them up a notch, but we haven't covered any retouching lessons yet. If you like, pick one image and send me the RAW file and I'll give it a full retouch for you.

    Go pat yourself on the back -- well done -- I hope this inspires some of the others to stop making excuses and go get their cameras out!

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Thanks Antonio, Although I doubt that there's anything I can teach you about portraiture!
    Wrong Colin. I have been following with attention your lessons and I have been learning.
    There is always something we don't know.

    Indeed this is not the kind of portraits I usually make. I shoot more un-posed, un-prepared. Snap shots is the name for them isn't it ?
    My great problem is at the moment, the lack of a model.

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    Re: "School of Portraiture" - Lesson 03 - "Positioning - Lighting - Taking the Shot"

    Having been unsuccessful in finding a human model, my homemade reflector and I are far behind, but I've been avidly reading and looking at the results. Wow! Kay, your portraits are just humming along! Colin, this is just such a great thread, thank you!

    Myra

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