Help with studio portraits

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by john_ashby|2, Dec 6, 2009.

  1. I took this picture in a recent studio shoot. I was hoping for some suggestions on my technique, posing the model seems to give me the post trouble, but I'd like to hear comments on any aspect.
  2. Her clothing shouldn't be together, because one is warm and one is cool. The blue on gray would have looked better. It looks like your lighting is accurate, but maybe lacks a hairlight on the left side? I'd darken the corners with the burn tool to make the vingette effect of having had a background light behind her on the floor...
  3. Here's another shot after she took off the sweater. I also added a fill light. I didn't use a hairlight at all for the shoot, but I agree it would have helped. In this picture I don't like her expression as much.
    I have another model and studio time this week, so something else I'd like to try is finding sample poses and lighting to try and duplicate. Do you have any suggestions of good contemporary studio portraits.
  4. Using a wider stop or moving the model further from the background might eliminate or at least downplat the creases in the backdrop.
  5. Vick, I had considered that and I did see the creases while I was shooting, but I'm using the strobes at minimum power and still have to shoot around f11-f16 to get a good exposure. It's a decent sized studio space and she actually is about 10 feet from the background. I'm hoping to use muslin next time to eliminate the problem. For that shoot, I had no control over the background that was used though.
    What do you think of the composition, tone, etc?
  6. Theresa,
    She is a pretty girl. You have focused well on her eyes. Her skin tone is good. The background is nicely neutral. Her make-up is not bad, but she could use mascara on her bottom eyelashes and a little eyeliner under her eyes to make them stand out more. You have posed her at more of an angle to the camera in the bottom photograph. This is good. It makes her figure look thinner, more feminine and more graceful.
    I agree with others that the red sweater does not work. For one thing bright clothing draws attention away from your subject's face. You do need to throw the background out of focus or retouch the creases. You did the right thing to have her remove the necklace for the bottom shot. You don't want a necklace that hangs into the opening of her top. She could use a choker or short necklace to go with the rather "office looking" top. Have her tuck her top into the back of her skirt (or pants?).
    You do want to do a little more retouching on her face to hide imperfections on her skin.
    It really doesn't look good to crop into her hands. Her left arm looks a little awkward -- out to the side at her elbow and pushing up her left shoulder. There is a lot of space between her left arm and her body. I would not place one hand on top of the other. Try not to have the flat of the hand towards the camera. The edge (side) of the hand towards the camera is thinning, feminine and graceful.
    It looks like your fill must be a little to the right of the camera -- dark (not filled in) shadow on the left (her right) side of her nose. I would place your fill above your camera to fill in all visible shadows. You have nice modeling on her face, but I prefer the main light a little higher to cast the nose shadow further towards the side of her mouth.
    I would either move in closer to do more of a head and shoulders shot or back up a little to give her hands some room around them.
    I agree with you that in the top portrait her expression is nicer looking (more friendly). Her hair at her side also looks better in the top shot. The bottom "boyish" hair style look doesn't do much for her face. I think she would look better with her hair at least partially framing her face.
    Nice shot,
  7. Sorry John, I put Theresa's name on a response to you. My bad!
  8. I think all the above comments are apt. But, I think what is more important is to relax your model. Talk to her, tell some jokes, get away from the camera with a remote and take lots of pictures. I just went on site with my lights, including main, fill, and backdrop light setting up a temporary studio in a spacious home. We shot corporate head shots, and 200 portrait pictures of members of the family. The best pictures were when they were relating to each other or to me as the photographer. I like subjects to move some as there arms and hands get used in a more natural manner. The hardest thing to capture is some sign of emotion or feeling. Your attractive subjects look a little awkward and posed, IMO. I have always taken a lot of pictures. I have to be careful to let my power pack recharge and not overheat when the subject and I get on a roll. My technique is no better than yours but we achieved a lot of good smiles, gestures and we almost got their cats to smile this past weekend. I just do my best to keep people centered but I know I can crop afterwards. I like to, with kids, especially, to get the camera off the tripod and shoot from different angles which helps the variety of pictures and helps me to communicate with the subject. I'd show some pictures except I can't really with customers.
  9. No problem, Mark. I always find your critiques useful. The fill is to the left of the camera, the key light is to the right. How do you keep track of so many things while you're shooting? For example, I'd missed that she'd put up her hair when she was taking off the sweater and jewellery which is a pretty big thing but there's so many details. Hand placement is a huge problem for me, I can never get it to look natural. At the end of the shoot, I was doing more playful shots, and while I was focused on her hands (which I know still aren't well placed), I missed that she'd taken a very wide stance which eliminated the feminine grace of the images. Here's an example of that, it's one of the best from that sequence, but I know it's still not that good.
  10. I think her head tilt should be the other way a little, or straighter... thats one comment that you can use to improve... I think the second shot should be framed or cropped more like the first too, which is a common trick I use... it eliminates awkward hands.
    The bigger problem, to me, is her clothing. I think it kind of sabotaged the shoot and that a lot of the frustration with these images is the lack of shape in the clothing, or the wrong shapes that are introduced.
  11. Dick, I have some shots while she was talking with the person holding the reflector, they do look more natural and I see what you mean. In this case, the problem is she's looking off to camera left too much to be a decent shot. It's hard in this situation because it is a practice shoot where there's about 5 of us taking turns with the model and nobody would want to wait their turn while I strike up a conversation. This model seemed to prefer to look more serious than smile, I think she was getting annoyed that I kept telling her to smile. She had a great "sexy" look, but I didn't capture it.
  12. I wonder, if you introduced a translucent light panel (bed sheet) tween subject and main light you could accomplish two important things. One - open up two or even three stops as discussed earlier and second - soften the light quality to wrap around and embrace your subject. I recommend LOOKing at examples that appeal to your asthethic and emulating those qualities in your effort. If you were to double the diffusion you could effectively reach f4 or 5.6 pretty easily while stepping closer to emphasize your vision.
  13. I also took two softboxes with me and I get the main light quite close to the subject to soften the picture. The closer you get the main softbox the more the light diffuses and softens the skin. John, it is impossible to really do well in the conditions you were working under where you can't really establish rapport with the subject. I don't tell my subjects to "smile" because they usually look like they were frozen in the snow storm we had here last night. I give little directions like "bring your eyes to me", "lower your chin just a bit" etc., but this comes in the middle of other dialogue. I have a stool I carry with me so I can get a good sitting height and I don't like three quarter body shots. I don't much care for the hard shadows on her face in pictures one and three. I have an old flash meter that I use. I do lighting ratios between the main and fill lights and for women I usually use a fill light exposure just one stop darker than the main light which allows nice soft detail on the least exposed side of the face. Use a meter. Chimping is not very accurate. Get a book on portaiture and learn about broad side and short side lighting. Except for certain PR head and shoulders shots I don't often use direct head on facial shots like you did above. I suggest things like "turn your head a little to the right and bring your eyes back to me". But I generally let the subject place their hands and arms where they are comfortable and then say something like "why don't you move your right hand a little more across your lap". The hands in your second picture are forward of her face making them look overly large. They need to be on the same plane as her face. I use a Canon 70-200 2.8L lens on a full frame body at about 120mm when I encounder sharp features as the shorter the lens the more it emphasizes sharp features. The only problem with the lens is it is very sharp and i usually have to do a little softening in post processing..
  14. "I'm using the strobes at minimum power and still have to shoot around f11-f16 to get a good exposure. It's a decent sized studio space and she actually is about 10 feet from the background."

    Are you pointing the strobes directly at her? Shooting (bouncing) into an umbrella would soften and decrease the power of the light. Pull the lights back about 4-5 feet will drop the power as well....try to shoot closer to f/8 or 5.6. The images with fill are better. Aim to keep your fill one stop less than the key light (this will typically happen automatically when you use a reflector for fill placed about 18 inches from your subject). The hairlight if you use one should be 2 stops hotter for a dark-haired model and one plus a half hotter for a blond. Abby, below is actually in a four light set-up. I had forgotten the kicker to the far right of the camera for some rim lighting.
  15. David, I'm using the strobes with softboxes for the key and background. The key light is about 8 feet from the model and pointed at her from a few feet to my right so it's at about a 45 degree angle. The reflector is being held about 18-24 inches from her, except in the first one where there is no fill light. I don't really have any way to bounce the light. To get 2 stops wider, I'd have to have the light another 8 feet away. I guess ND filters are an option but that strikes me as strange to need in the studio. In your shot, I like the almost surreal effect of the main image. I can see 2 catch-lights in her eyes, is the second one the kick light? You have the flats of her hands to the camera which Mark said I should avoid.
  16. Get Mary DuPrie's DVDs on model posing. I got these after adjusting background brightness, adding a ND and crop:
  17. one more..
  18. Although I'm not the most quilified to critique portraits the third image seems to have the main light a bit too low casting a weird upwards shadow on the left side of her nose. I feel that the shadows should fall downwards as supposed of the other way arround to get a more pleasant natural looking lighting.
    Congrats on your efforts.
  19. Key light from right, I would turn her body 45 degrees left for more flattering light for body. Would have face slightly turned away from camera to camera left and then be shooting on short side. For both, would like light slightly higher to form a loop or rembrandt nose shadow. In standing poses, nose shadow too high for me, would raise light. One min adjust shot body seems too linear, move weight to front foot to move hip closer to camera and form s curve. Front Shoulder rounded or hunched could be minimized moving it further back. Would consider a gridded or softbox hair/shoulder light. I like the eye color/bg match, would do a tight head shot. With this fair skinned model, might consider a beauty dish or reflector that might add some warmth. I would like to get away from the staight on face, go to some 3/4, just keep nose inside cheek line. Second shot has chin up that strengthens chin just a shade. Second picture hands not only forward, but showing the backs of hands. They are a large element and distract from face. Show edge of hands. Also placing a large white area in lower corner is distracting and leads eye out of frame. Vignette or crop higher. Most folks dont know what makes a smile, tell them to smile and they will curl up their lips. Fake. A true smile requires a squint of the eyes as well. Better to make them laugh and be ready to shoot when the smile forms. I know, there's a lot going on, but isnt that what makes portraiture so much fun? But it's your job to light, pose and elicit a great expression. Getting back to the blue eyes, I would consider a gridded, blue gelled light slicing at a 45 from upper left down the bg. You indicate the key is 8 feet away. The shadow transitions are hard. I would move it closer and/or go with a larger sbox. Are these the small soft boxes for speedlights? Catchlights in these shots arent prominent so an umbrella in bounce or shoot through mode would help to soften the shadow transitions. Or, if the reflector is a 5 way, hold it between subject and light for diffusion. Heres a shot with hard, gridded lights (xray machine with blue gel) and unmodified speedlight as kicker. Reflector fill.
  20. Try here:
  21. For my taste, a portrait should have more of the face, and less of dressed fashion. My 2 cents.
  22. Your model has a thin oval shaped face.
    Broad lighting or Butterfly would be far more complimentary.
    IMO, the lighting ratio is too extreme & hard to the point of almost burning out the facial hi-lites.
    At this point, I would not worry about the backdrop.
    I wish I could be more specific, other than Broad and butterfly lighting; but there is so much going on with this photo, it's hard to know where to begin...Perhaps try ONE light and a reflector for starters.
  23. Alex, I do agree the light is too low, especially when I had her standing.
    Bob, you have a very good point about the 3/4 face, I want to try that in my next shoot, as well as a hair light.
    Kevin, in the first image I was deliberately not using a reflector to create the harsh shadow, do you find it too harsh in the others as well? Not counting the background lights (which I was very careful to keep off the model), I do only have one light and the reflector.
  24. John, have you tried a shot of her as a big face, cropping inside the ears, chin and hair? With a slight turn of the head and eye a bit more out of center, and perhaps more eye makeup, will make already large eyes even larger and really riveting. They are the feature I would emphasize.
  25. Bob, I have one where I got a lot closer to her face, not as close as you describe, but just outside the ears, chin, and hair. She is still facing the camera though and the makeup is the same.
    I have a few shots of a different model from last night I can post if anyone's interested once I have a chance to process the raw files, but I don't think my efforts at experimenting went that well and my first impression is I didn't get any great images from the shoot.
  26. John, I'm a bit late in comming in on this thread, but I wanted to make one quick comment: the model's body language, both upper body and head, give the impression that she is pulling away from you and/or unbalanced to her rear. Try getting her to lean slightly forward instead of backward and incline her head in the direction of the will give a more balanced and comfortable look.
  27. John, keep shooting and reviewing, you are on the right path and you have the courage to try using those light things most folks just leave in the bag. That will separate your images from so many others. Your are learning a craft, enjoy the journey. Plenty of folks here to help.
  28. A few things here, but first the photo shoot is not that bad. So be happy with the results and learn a bit from the advice from these good photographers.

    The lights are too hot and at the lowest power settings - That's a real easy fix. Use a 2 stop or 3 stop ND filter for the lens and also plastic ND filters that can be placed in front of your lights. You will be able to knock down the Fstop to F4 or so.

    Light control - Pick up barn doors to help direct the light tighter. Raise the lights higher. You can also get grids to soften the light a lot.

    You are shooting in a slightly upward angle. By looking up at her nose the photos usually result in black spots on the nose. By shooting higher you will never get that look.

    Sharpness - Your photos are actually too sharp! Check out soft filters. My favorite soft filter is called a Softar 1 Filter. Sometimes photogrphers want those really sharp expenive lenses, which is great, but they are too shap for most portrait work and even working with profesional models. I'm shot my share of models including Miss America.

    Cropping - Look at a few portrait books at your local bookstore. In your images you've cut off the hands and at the knees. Most, if not all portrait books, suggest cropping at the 3/4 mark for the closeups and don't crop at the joints, such as the knees, the ankles, and hips.

    Bob Bill has a wonderful image showing softness, shooting downwards, and control of light.
  29. Slight adjustment using some softness, yet keeping the sparkling eyes. A person can go wild using photoshop! I darken the image, cropped, smoothed out the hard edges using Layer, then the blur tool, and then erasing the dullness of the eyes to bring out the sharpness. Any better?
  30. Yes, the red was wrong, but seeing past that, and erasing the flawed background, I have chosen a tighter crop as suggested by Wolf.
    Her expression in this first frame you show us is the most relaxed. This display of her character is more important than any other technical aspects. So I have reshaped the final product to remove all of the distracting elements and let that lovely smile command the attention it deserves.
    Working in those group-shoot situations is pretty awful. Portraits depend on a rapport between subject and photographer/artist. It is a dialogue.
  31. I also like what Bob Bernardo's approach.
  32. Sorry, I meant to say: "I also like Bob Bernardo's approach"
    ... with some skilled manipulation to simulate a classic portrait. Very nice.
  33. Thanks, Bob, I have been learning from you for some time, so some of your instruction is probably in that photo. So many great posters here. John has come to the right place. He might also might want to check the lighting and wedding/event forums. More pros like Bob there. Nadine also makes a living doing this, so she's someone to listen to as well. Dont miss Matt either. Too many to name. We amateurs here have the privilege of the insight gleaned by pros through their daily work. How did that ad go, when they talk, we listen.
  34. Thanks Bob Bill and Kevin. Bob Bill, you are so right, there are amazing pros on the wedding forum. Some of the people there have been shooting weddings and portraits for 30 plus years.Nadine and Matt, along with some others such as Marc Williams are true masters.
  35. You can try to compensate for the harsh specularity with PS. I only see one example of good solid pro lighting in this thread........
  36. BTW, out of curiosity, what are you setting the ISO on for those first two portraits.....I couldn't see the EXIF data. You may be able to reduce the light power by upping your ISO.
  37. David says: "I only see one example of good solid pro lighting in this thread........"
    No, what you see is a Photoshop simulation of solid pro lighting.
  38. David Schilling is a top photographer. He gets the portraits right the first time, with and without the use of Photoshop. David is also one of the few people that have a very keen understanding of photoshop techiques, so his wedding and portrait results are excellent. He's a great artist that uses all of the tools together to get amazing results.
  39. I don't question David's expertise as a photographer at all, and both of you are no doubt more skilled in Photoshop than I could ever hope to be. This is certainly clear from your very instructive, manipulated simulation of pro lighting. But that's what it is, a simulation .
    Or did you, via some time warp, attend John Ashby's studio on the day of the shoot, set up your professional lighting and make an exposure in a camera?
  40. Thanks Bob.
    Kevin, I wasn't talking about the PS photo that Bob reworked. I was actually referring to my shot of Abby that I posted above. To be honest it's something of a "ringer", although I posed the model and did the after capture work on the image, the lighting is credited to Art Ketchum: It was taken in his studio during a portrait lighting workshop. The lighting ratios that I gave I first learned from Art and in later workshops with Frank Cricchio. Initially, I was surprised that the information and the image I posted could slip by completely unnoticed in this thread so easily.
  41. Keven, point taken, I understand your comment now.
  42. If I were to rework any of the images above in PS, I'd go with this one:
  43. And if you simulate a background light on the white backdrop, I think I like it better yet.
  44. Thank you for your comments, and sorry I didn't reply sooner, I've done a couple of shoots since and been playing with the images.
    Bob, I understand what you mean about it being too sharp, but my preference would be to shoot as sharp as my gear allows and then I always have the option to reduce sharpness in photoshop. You're right about the angle reacting with her nose, since then I'm trying to remember to look for it and have the model angle her head down a bit. I was using barn doors, so if there was a problem it was how I was using them and not that I wasn't. Can you give me more detail on what the problem is though, I'm not seeing it in the image. The light was too low though, I agree with that. And I do use a grid on my hair light, I just didn't use a hair light that shoot. Even on the next shoot I did, I have the same hand and croping problem, I really need to work on that aspect. I do like your edited version, there's a lot more focus on her. It seems a bit dark and a bit red, but both could be my uncalibrated monitor.
    Kevin, I posted that one first because I thought I captured her the best in it.
    David, I'm shooting at ISO 200 on a Nikon D90. I like the version with the lightened background too. It was actually grey paper lit with 2 lights. I did check the ratio at the time, but I forget it now (I should start taking notes of my setup). I think it was a stop brighter than on the model. In my most recent shoot I used white paper and lights 2 stops brighter so it was completely blown. I kind of like that effect too, though I've show the pics to some people who hate the effect.

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