first attempt at portrait lighting--suggestions welcome

Started Nov 20, 2012 | Discussions
Steve West
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first attempt at portrait lighting--suggestions welcome
Nov 20, 2012

This is not a request for posing suggestions, but rather a request for how to improve the lighting.  My wife had just woken up, and I got her to sit for my first ever attempt as setting up some portrait lighting.

My setup has 2 umbrellas at about 45-deg to the side, and an overhead flash for hair lighting. Fisheye shot to get it all to show up.

My result:

First I think that the background needs to change to something that doesn't clash with the skin tones.

Second, I initially had a greater ratio between the umbrellas, but I kept cranking the left source up higher to penetrate through her hair. I probably should have had a bit of front lighting to fill her face under her hair or perhaps a reflector from below?

Third, I'm still wondering how to do the hair lighting properly. I went for a straight flash to harden the highlight.

Thoughts on what I should do to improve the lighting are appreciated!

Thanks

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TearsInTheRain
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Re: first attempt at portrait lighting--suggestions welcome
In reply to Steve West, Nov 20, 2012

I would move the camera left light to be on axis with the camera (to use as fill) and drop it's power.

Next I would hang either a black or white (or hell even grey) sheet up to cover that green wall. You are getting a nasty cast from that alone.

Then I would move the hair light more to the camera left and lower (and either grid it or snoot it).

That's just my quick take. I would probably try lowering the fill light to just below the camera height.

I think you are on the right track though.

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Steve West
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Tears in the rain...
In reply to TearsInTheRain, Nov 20, 2012

Thanks so much for the suggestions!  I wondered why I had such a hard time adjusting white balance!  I didn't think about the reflections from that green wall! Your other suggestions are most helpful too, and I will try them.

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Sailor Blue
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Re: first attempt at portrait lighting--suggestions welcome
In reply to Steve West, Nov 20, 2012

See the shadow on the face from the hair? By switching the main light to the model's left side you wouldn't have had that shadow. This is why you position the main light on the same side as the part in the hair.

Notice that the right eye is in shadow? That is because you had your fill light improperly positioned. It should have been closer to the camera. You might even have needed a reflector positioned below the face, just out of camera range, to bounce some more light up into the eyes and onto the neck.

I suggest you check these references out. They should help you get better quickly.

Portrait Lighting - Names for different portrait lighting set-ups in photography

Benji's Studio Lighting and Posing Tutorial

Benji - The Rules Of Good Portraiture in PDF Format for Printing

Benji - PS Technique For Checking Exposure (Portraits)

Ed Shapiro - Facial Analysis in Fine Portraiture- Corrective Techniques

Ed Shapiro - The fabulous fill light...an article

How to Handle HANDS

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TearsInTheRain
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Re: Tears in the rain...
In reply to Steve West, Nov 20, 2012

You are certainly welcome. Shooting in a smallish room can be challenging, as you've noticed. Umbrellas throw lovely, soft light but they throw it EVERYWHERE and it can end up bouncing all over the room and reflecting off things you'd rather it didn't.

Softboxes (and octoboxes) are popular precisely because they are directional soft light. You can produce a good shot with the setup you already have, you'll just need to take measures to control your lights.

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Steve West
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Sailor Blue
In reply to Sailor Blue, Nov 20, 2012

Thanks so much.  I was fighting the hair shadow with changes in illumination when I should have been changing the position of the light too. I see that now.

Thanks also for the references.  I will read them.

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Quantum Help
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Re: first attempt at portrait lighting--suggestions welcome
In reply to Steve West, Nov 20, 2012

Cover the green wall with black felt

Cut down the power on the background. It is too bright in the portrait. Look at the picture of the room and you will see that the background is darker.

Drop down the light on your right. It is too bright.

Bring the light on the left back more and closer to the camera., drop its power also, too bright

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Steve West
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Thanks Quantum Help...
In reply to Quantum Help, Nov 21, 2012

I see the common theme in suggestions for moving the umbrella(s).  Yes, the background is too bright.  I thought it was the color of the background, but as you state--it's too bright.

Thanks again! I'm looking forward to my next attempt.

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proudfather
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Re: first attempt at portrait lighting--suggestions welcome
In reply to Steve West, Nov 21, 2012

Yeah, lighting is a bit skewed.  Rather than cover the wall with black, consider covering it with white and using it as a reflector.  You really don't need two lights for the face for a tight head shot like this.  I virtually always use reflectors instead of second strobes for fill except for groups and occasionally some full length shots.  Anyway, it's just a consideration for you to experiment with.

Also, the lack of catchlight in her right eye is a little disconcerting.  Moving the camera's left umbrella to 45 degrees and using it as the mainlight, and the 'white' wall as a reflector, I think it would've looked better, to my preference at least.

-proudfather

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Steve West
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Thanks proudfather. Will be giving all these suggestions a try in the near future (nt)
In reply to proudfather, Nov 22, 2012
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Steve West
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Redo with your suggestions
In reply to Steve West, Nov 25, 2012

I put sheets over the 2 walls with green. Moved camera-left umbrella more to center and lowered it a bit. I put a reflector below and angled up to get more neck exposure. I snouted the hair light--it's subtle on the left back of the hair--maybe too subtle?

I reduced the left face and neck shadows, but still not enough. I got reflections in both eyes now, but different reflections in each eye.  The right key light showed up in the right eye--I need to re-position the light so it doesn't show in the right eye. If I zoom up, the low reflector caused a tear-like glint in the eyes, so I need to change its positioning.

Here's the original picture before your comments.  Geez-this one seemed nice at the time, but now seems like a throw-away!

Thanks so much for the suggestions as the result is vastly improved. I may move away from umbrellas to soft boxes just so I don't have to worry so much about the umbrellas reflecting off the walls and messing the white balance up in ways that can't be fixed very well.

I still have some work to do.

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Sailor Blue
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Re: Redo with your suggestions
In reply to Steve West, Nov 26, 2012

Steve West wrote:

I put sheets over the 2 walls with green. Moved camera-left umbrella more to center and lowered it a bit. I put a reflector below and angled up to get more neck exposure. I snouted the hair light--it's subtle on the left back of the hair--maybe too subtle?

I reduced the left face and neck shadows, but still not enough. I got reflections in both eyes now, but different reflections in each eye. The right key light showed up in the right eye--I need to re-position the light so it doesn't show in the right eye. If I zoom up, the low reflector caused a tear-like glint in the eyes, so I need to change its positioning.

Thanks so much for the suggestions as the result is vastly improved. I may move away from umbrellas to soft boxes just so I don't have to worry so much about the umbrellas reflecting off the walls and messing the white balance up in ways that can't be fixed very well.

I still have some work to do.

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It's amazing how helpful good constructive criticism can be, and you certainly got lots of it from the forum members. Your new image is much nicer and the WB looks good, especially when compared to your earlier image. Good work.

One thing I do notice is that the posted image isn't critically sharp. Did you miss the focus or is it an artifact of posting? I always focus on the eye nearest to the camera (single point AF).  I like to be able to count eyelash or eyebrow hairs on a waist up portrait to call it sharp but I usually shoot at f/5.6 - f/11, which is the aperture range that gives me the best resolution.

The hair light is a little too constrained for my taste and I would expand it and bring it upward a bit. The exposure for it doesn't look far off to me.

The shadows on the right side of the face and neck don't look all that bad to me. You need some shadowing to give the image a 3D appearance.

Don't let the catchlights bother you. It is easy to remove a catchlight in post - heck it is easy to add one too. The catchlights are never in identical positions in both eyes since the eyes are separated and point inward to where the subject is looking.

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Steve West
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Sailor Blue...
In reply to Sailor Blue, Nov 26, 2012

Thanks Sailor Blue.  You are right--I missed focus.  The focus was a mid hair plane!  I left all the AF points active, and I should have used a single spot AF.  I guess it will take a few more iterations.  I ordered a proper flash light grid to replace the paper towel tube I used here.

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Sailor Blue
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Re: Sailor Blue...
In reply to Steve West, Nov 27, 2012

Steve West wrote:

Thanks Sailor Blue. You are right--I missed focus. The focus was a mid hair plane! I left all the AF points active, and I should have used a single spot AF. I guess it will take a few more iterations. I ordered a proper flash light grid to replace the paper towel tube I used here.

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The longer the tube, the narrower the beam of light.  Just cut off the tube.  It should be painted flat black for best results.

I use DIY grids on my hot-shoe flash when I use it as an accent or hair light.  You can find some examples here.  I couldn't find black soda straws here in Thailand so I used strips of black Coroplast glued together and it works very well.  A box my coffee comes in plus a bit of Velcro made the holder for the grid.  The calculator will let you calculate how long to make the grid.  There are also commercially available grids.

43 Photography Hacks, Mods And DIY Projects | DIYPhotography.net

Flickr: Discussing Home Depot Gutter Adapter Black Straw Grid in *DIY Photography Equipment

Paulo Rodrigues Photography: Gridspot Design Calculator

Plastic DIY Grids for Sale

ExpoImaging : Rogue Grid: 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid [4]

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Steve West
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Re: Sailor Blue...
In reply to Sailor Blue, Nov 27, 2012

Thanks!  Honey grids look great.

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