In our last post, I talked about using bounce light to make the image pop out of the background. While I think that this image of Haley is better in that regard then the one of Dani from the last post, it does still illustrate a number of mistakes. First, having a dark background would help out immensely. Having that super bright sky and the sun behind her makes it very difficult to create that pop effect I was looking for.
That much is obvious. However, I think that I could have achieved a better effect by moving the reflector. As you can see, the bounce light is coming from image right. This creates the hint of a shadow on the left. We also have a darker element on the left with those trees in the background. Had I moved the reflector so that the bounce light came from the left, I believe that the pop effect would have been magnified.
Of course, this shoot wasn’t about me and my silly experiments. It was about getting good senior portraits. In this regard, having the dark and light elements aligned works well. It provides a certain flow to the image. However, if I had changed the direction of the light, it could have set up a striking contrast that might have aided the striking light idea I was attempting. Of course, it might have also looked really weird. Oh well.
One last thing about this specific image. In this series of images I wanted Haley to project power and might. You know, like some CEO strutting her stuff for a magazine interview or something. Some of the other images have poses which do this better, but this is about the light, not posing. I shot from pretty far down, with the lens below the navel and pointing up. One of the dangers with this is the under chin shadow. As you can see, there ain’t no shadow there. We of course had some incidental bounce light from the light wood of the bridge, but we also positioned the reflector so that it bounced the light up at the subject, rather than straight on.
In a studio this might be achieved by having a fill light aimed at the center of the body, while the key light is slightly above. With just the key light, there would be shadows all over the place. However, with a fill light feathering light under the chin, that shadow gets removed. In this case, our key light, i.e. the Sun, was above and behind. Our bounce light had to act as both fill and key. Again, incidental light from our surroundings helped, but getting the reflector positioned well was key (ha!) to getting the light we wanted while eliminating any shadows that we didn’t want. In future having multiple reflectors could mitigate some of those lighting headaches.
And now onto posing. Sort of. I’m going to show you two different images with similar poses, but radically different approaches to lighting.
In this first one wee see a thoughtful, almost pensive. Since we had time, and the girls were happy to try out anything, I decided to experiment with more than the standard, ‘look at the camera and smile’ image. However, this is again about the light. The bounce is now coming from image left, casting shadows on the right, matching the dark element of the iron bridge supports. This did create some hot spots on the face, and in retrospect I should have cropped out that excessive amount of head room. Oh, and the top support is piercing her head. Oops.
In this second image we have a similar pose, but the lighting was completely different. Having turned 90 degrees, Haley is now facing almost directly towards the sun. Rather than bouncing light at her, we used a diffuser to diminish the light. This certainly evened out the light and eliminated hot spots, but it also left the subject darker than the background. It also left a shadow on the bridge support. Having a second reflector bouncing a small amount of light up at Haley would have helped her face stand out more from the background. There is also a hint of under chin shadow, but luckily the incidental light and the pose hides it pretty well.
Personally, I like the first of these two images better, despite the max headroom issue and the fly away hair. The bounce light and mostly dark background helped create that striking light effect, and the pose feels more natural. The second, while nice, has issues. First, her head is tilted down too much. Second, and cropped out, is her hands. They were clasped gently in front of her stomach, and ultimately looked a little awkward. But her hair looks fantastic. In the first, the super bright light and lack of a brush (my fault, by the way. I had a brush, I just didn’t think to use it) makes her hair look flat. In the second, her hair is almost glowing.
I was going to continue on with a few more images, but this post is getting quite long, and so I will save that for part 3. For now though, I think that the most important lesson is to remember everything. Photography isn’t just about camera settings, subject large enough already. It’s about camera position, and lighting, and framing, and cropping, and posing, and hair brushes. You have to pay attention to every thing. What is in the background, and how will it effect the shot? What pose will best carry across the emotional intent of the image? Where do you place the camera? What will the direction of your light do? Are there bridge beams crashing haphazardly through the subjects head? Did you remember the hair brush?
Photography requires detailed examination of minutia, situational awareness, and experience. On the day of the shoot, I was so excited by the prospect of a paying gig, and you know, practicing my art or whatever, that I lost sight of the details and ended up making mistakes. With practice though, all those little things that you must be aware of while shooting go from a check list in your head to instinctive actions. So, go out and shoot. Shoot often, shoot always. But most importantly, review your images and critically analyze them. Look for mistakes, and look for successes. Remember what you did right, and what you did wrong. Build that checklist, and practice it. Talent only goes so far. You must work hard, physically and mentally, if you are to ever be anything more than what you are now.