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Today, I decided to try out something a little different. I always post some of my favorite images and talk about the person, their story, or how things went during a shoot.

Yet today, I would like to dedicate this article to my fellow photographers who are still brand new in this field and want to learn. After receiving another email with a question on how to light something, I decided to write this blog post to address some important things that I think should be considered to creating a great image, whether it’s for a portrait session, a pet shoot, or a wedding.

Here are some headshots I did for Jessica in Katy, TX for her acting career before she heads out to Los Angeles, California. Headshots are truly a whole different field in photography, so I’ve decided to talk about the various techniques we use to light our scenes.

There are several important factors to creating a great image-the weather, the location, the lenses, the clothes, the strobes, etc. Yet any great photographer can create a beautiful image in any situation with almost any background. Did I say “any” too much? 🙂 If you spend too much time on the technical aspects, like the newest camera and the absolute best, most amazing lens you could afford to buy this year, you will lose focus! During a wedding, we are often faced with various lighting scenarios where we have to think quick and take what we can and all that in as little time as possible too! We usually do not get the kind of time to set up our studio lights because a beautiful couple is about to get married in less than 30 minutes! But one thing is for sure: no matter what, posing a person is key, even if it’s supposed to be a natural “non-posed” shot. Why you ask? The answer is below, so you have read on 😉

In these images, you will find that I used my favorite type of lighting: natural. You have to find the light or as one of my favorite teachers put it: “let the rivers of light form the person.” I think she said it much better, but at this point I don’t remember how exactly 🙂 I’m also a huge fan of strobes and the kind of images they can create! Below you can view some more examples of each!

1)   Positioning

I say that posing in an image is key and here is why…if a person looks awkward, whether it’s their expression, or how they’re sitting, for example, and things just don’t look right, there is no way to fix that in post-production. You may be able to fix underexposures or not having removed a chair from the background, but once a person looks funny in the image, there’s no way to take care of something like that very efficiently. Besides, you don’t want to spend hours behind the computer fixing things that you could have taken care of during the actual shoot, right? I believe that retouching should be used to enhance an image, not fix things 🙂

a. Posing

Posing Jessica in image 1 is the most common form of having someone look at the camera. The body never faces the camera completely, and by angling her face towards the light, the shadows fall perfectly on her face and not into her eyes. Because her body is not facing directly towards the camera, her figure forms angles all over the image, or as most photographers like to call “leading Z’s” back towards her. In image 2, Jessica is not facing the camera and is looking back at me. Again, finding the light is absolutely important. Because the house is behind her and I’m shooting in front of it, it allows the light to fall upon her face acting like a reflector (there’s a roof above her), which is why I positioned her looking back at me. See the lighting diagram below for a better feel of what I meant here:

Here you can see how the ambient light is coming right onto her face because of the roof above (which is blocking direct sunlight). This pose also places focus on her face, because it is in the center and also the lightest object in the entire image.

b. Angling

In image 1, Jessica is looking at the camera straight on. Notice that her body is still facing away from the camera, and it’s only her face that is looking directly at me. I am also shooting down on her, which is a great way to create a different angle on her face.

In image 2, I asked her to look away from me and then brought her eyes back to the camera, producing a more angled look. You can see the features to her face where it is outlined much more than the first image. Also, all of us have a “good side,” meaning that one side of our face, usually the eye, is always a little bit bigger than the other. Please don’t freak out, this is actually very normal for most of us! 🙂 When dealing with a case like this, always make sure the person is facing the camera with the smallest eye and you can take care of this little situation very quickly. By angling a person’s face just slightly differently in an image, you can turn any pose into 2 different poses to create variety.

2)    Lighting:

Although I did an ambient light shoot for this entire session, I have included some images that use a flash. For this shoot, we started around 12PM and finished around 1PM, which is usually not considered the ideal lighting time for us, but when you take it into the shades and shoot under roofs or trees, it’s perfect for creating images with direction (see image 1 below). In these upcoming images, you will notice the vast difference in each and how using a flash at a specific angle with the sun can serve as a second light source as well!

a. Natural Lighting

I took the liberty to include the 2 images that are a little bit different than most. Image 1 shows Jessica facing away from the shadow and into the light. This causes the shadows to fall where her cheeks are, giving her a lighting ratio of about 1:3 on her face, providing for more dimension in the picture. Also, notice that the background is exposed for as well. In image 2, Jessica is backlit. The way to create this, is to overexpose for the background. Most people who take pictures with their phones, always wonder why the person comes out so dark with the sunset behind them, for example. The reason is because most automatic cameras expose for the background. Here, you can shoot into the light and although you overexpose it, it creates an entire different look if that is what you’re going for.

b. Flash

When you use strobes in a natural environment, you have 2 options: expose for the background or blow it out (See overexposed example above). In image 1, we are exposing for the background and using the sun as our 2nd light source. It’s giving her a beautiful hair light and I made sure to pose her directly away from it (the sun is 160 degrees behind her) so that none of the sunlight would spill onto her face (you can see it coming off of her shoulder to the right).

Also, note that the light is placed about 45 degrees to her left (we are using a regular flash, the SB 800 with an umbrella, bouncing).

Image 2 in this example, is also exposing for the background, but because there is no sunlight, it is definitely looking darker behind her and there is no hair light as in the first image. Everything is just about exactly the same in terms of light, although the background has completely changed here. You have the option of working with the sun or without it in your images, as shown in this example. With actual strobes like Normans that sync faster than 1/250th of a second, the background can go very dark and can produce an entire different kind of look if that’s what you’re going for!

3)    Post Production:

Retouching can be quite a touchy subject for most photographers and clients. Yet in a profession like ours, it is our duty to make our clients look as best as possible, without them losing their identity by over-doing this process! I have had some older clients in the past request that all their wrinkles be retouched; and then, I have had some that have asked for minimal retouching because they were proud of these “lines of wisdom” 🙂 so all is fair and should really be communicated with the client before retouching something they may value. Usually in portraiture, whether they’re family images or single person headshots, a little bit of retouching is necessary to take care of the strands of hair or small objects that may have gone unnoticed during the shoot.

a. Retouching

Personally, I don’t really like to retouch my client’s faces very much, with the exception of boudoir images, but that’s a subject I will touch on later. Here, you can see that the basics mostly include a little touch up on the hair strands in her face, a little lightening of the eye rings, and taking away a few blemishes that even the most perfect person has. I also brought a little more focus on her eyes by brightening the highlights in them. A fellow photographer gave me that tip and I absolutely love the results in some of my other images!

b. Cropping, Horizontal Vs. Vertical

When it comes to cropping an image, this little technique can truly set you apart from other photographers and create a style all of your own! If you view some of the images I posted above, they were all cropped a little bit differently than these original images posted here. In most of these images I have cropped vertically because they are all for headshot purposes. Depending on the kind of feel you’re trying to create, sometimes it’s important to show more of the ambient in a horizontal crop than in a vertical shot, where you’re trying to show more of a person as a whole (that is of course all subjective, since most shots all vary quite a bit from each other).

c. Different Sizes

Remember, cropping is also important to consider when you sell an image to a client. For example, most professional cameras at this time shoot an image that is approximately 12×18 inches (or 18×12, same thing). So when your client wants an 8×10 inch image or a 16×20, etc, make sure you account for the space that will be cropped out in the final print.

I hope these small tips have helped you gain some more techniques you may find useful in the future. As always, emails with questions or comments below are truly welcome! Jessica was an absolute pleasure to shoot by the way. Not only is she absolutely beautiful in every way, but she was also eager to have me try all kinds of things for this shoot. Much success to her future career!

And a happy weekend to all! 😀