Professional Portrait Lighting. You see it everywhere. Every magazine cover, adds on billboards, television etc. Those images can look amazing, otherworldly, and tough to replicate. But if you understand how light works, and how to use light to shape the human form, it's really easy, and fun. I think people have a hard time with studio lighting because of the mystery with how a shot is set up, and perhaps the expense of the equipment involved. But it's not all that difficult, and all it takes is a little experimentation, an empty space, and some lights. Our Studio Lighting Class explores how to create awesome portrait images in the highly controlled environment of an empty studio. We literally have a blank slate to create anything under the sun! Mary Cheung and I embarked on this adventure of studio portraits with a small group of enthusiastic photographers. Our job, simple; guide the class through the basics of understanding how to shape a person with light, and capture it.
We begin our session with a presentation going over the basics. Studio lighting photography is VERY different than any other type of photography, and that can be frustrating to someone trying to figure it out on their own. We break down the basics of camera settings, and how aperture, shutter speed and ISO control the image differently using strobe light versus sunlight. We explain what different focal lengths do to the shape of a persons face, and what focal lengths are appropriate for studio portrait photography. You see, the camera settings and lens choices are pretty much locked in while in the studio, meaning we can be more focused on other things, like shaping the light to create an interesting look. Our presentation continued with examples of using different light modifiers and how each of those shaped the model in unique ways. Everyone was beginning to understand that this studio lighting thing isn't that hard after all, it just works a little differently than traditional photography. Throughout the presentation we had our class take a close look at the eyes of the subject in the images, and how by looking there, you could tell almost everything about how that picture was taken. Some even commented that they'd never be able to look at a photo the same way, always searching for the catchlight!
After the presentation, it was time for the practical lesson. We had our class help in setting up our monolights, placing modifiers, stands, wireless transceivers, choosing the backdrop, and placement of our lovely model. And then the fun began! We utilized a lighting diagram mockup to assist us the proper setup and experimented with the different modifiers to get the shots we wanted to create. There are so many different ways to modify the light coming out of the strobes, you could use softboxes, stripboxes, reflectors, beauty dishes, octoboxes, and umbrellas. The only way to fully know what happens with these modifiers is to try them out! It's like a puzzle. Mary and I guided our class through using as many different traditional lighting setups as we had time for; split lighting, Rembrandt lighting, rim lighting, glamour lighting and clamshell lighting, just to name a few! We experimented with moving the lights closer, further away, changing the aperture, using v-flats, and flags. We had our class learn the proper way to guide a shoot, by talking to the model, using music to lighten the mood and keep the energy high. Then after filling their cards with tons of beautiful images, we all went out for a lunch break to discuss the morning's shoot.
After we returned to the studio, we took our group shot, always goofy, and settled in for some post processing techniques to take these images to the next level. Shooting the portraits is one thing, we strive to teach our students to capture the image as close to completion in the camera, so we don't have to do very much post-processing. Studio photography, for the most part, is so controlled before the camera is actually used, that there often is very little that needs to be done in post. Using Lightroom, we had our class do some minor edits to the images, like adjusting the white balance to the skin tones near perfect, adjusting the whites and blacks to control contrast, and some minor cropping. Then it off to Photoshop to learn the techniques the pros use to get the skin looking perfect. We taught our class how to perform a technique called frequency separation. It basically takes the texture and color tone of the image and splits them into two different layers so you can adjust them independently. With this technique, one can smooth out the shadows and color inconsistencies in the skin, while keeping the texture of the skin intact, so the final image doesn't look plastic. With some blemish removal techniques on top of that, it was a wrap! We had some killer images of our model that could go up against anything used in the advertising industry! That wasn't so hard!
Until next time...Scott, Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!