Lighting the way to perfect portraits

Alberni photo columnist Norman Silverstone talks about lighting portraits.

Off-camera flashes and strobes were used to create a pleasing lighting situation for this portrait shot.

Off-camera flashes and strobes were used to create a pleasing lighting situation for this portrait shot.

Before Christmas, I had a portrait session with a freshly married couple. I shot (slang for photographed) them at their home in lovely Port Alberni.

The first series of photos were shot in the living room with the couple sitting on the fireplace hearth with their trusty canine companion. Using my good ‘ol Sekonic light/flash meter I set the “main”  and the “fill” strobes so that the camera aperture would be f6.3.

I had one f-stop difference between the main and the fill lights (of course the camera was mounted on a tripod and set on manual mode). This would give me enough depth of field to cover part of the Christmas tree in the foreground as well as the fireplace with the three hanging stockings behind them and create a gorgeous masterpiece.

I set the Nikon shutter speed at 1/30 of a second; that let me see the room well lit and show the lights on the Christmas tree. I would not recommend shooting people hand-held at 1/30 of a second unless you know that you will never blow the photos up to posters or they have an iron rod rammed up their back to prevent movement.

The camera sensor was set to 200 ISO, low enough so that large poster or murals could be printed. I set the zoom lens to 40mm (60mm in 35mm film cameras); this would give me a slight compressing effect while allowing me to capture key points in the room.

Never, never use a wide angle lens to shoot someone unless you are forced to. The results are disastrous: their forehead, lips, nose, chin or whatever body part is closest to the camera lens becomes garishly huge. The ideal lens focal length to shoot one person would be 70mm (105mm in 35mm film camera).

(There is a photograph of me floating around somewhere, taken with a fish-eye lens and I look alien and distorted).

We went to another room where I set up only one strobe/umbrella, took a reading with the Sekonic meter, set the camera aperture to a very nice f5.6 and started shooting. They sat as still as newlyweds can on the white couch in the off-white room. I moved and zoomed in to shoot half bodies and got nice tight shots of the three.

Most of the shots were taken in landscape mode, a few in portrait mode. They were all taken with the idea of making them into enlargements.

This couple ended up with 26 enlargeable photographs, hand-crafted in Photoshop, burnt onto a permanent DVD. With the DVD in hand they are able to view the photos through their DVD player or go to the place of their choice and have the photos printed.

Any questions?  E-mail me at      nsilverstone@telus.net.

 

Norman Silverstone teaches photography through North Island College and Eldercollege in Port

Alberni.

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