Project: Commercial Portrait Photography

Exercise: A Studio Portrait

The main point of this exercise is to get to grips with studio lighting, so experiment with your lighting setups and make notes in your learning log.

Imagine you have been asked by a client to make a fairly formal portrait, for instance a graduation portrait.

As this exercise says, it is an excuse to start and get to grips with studio lighting (if you have any) and not necessarily about the subject matter, in other words it doesn’t have to have someone in fancy dress to make it a formal portrait.

A formal studio portrait, as opposed to an informal  studio portrait, is the former is a carefully posed and effectively lit scene, whilst the latter is what it says, an image made whilst the subject is allowed to comport themselves as they wish and could even be whilst they are in motion.  As a result the lighting has to be very general to allow for the fact that the pose cannot be frozen whilst the lighting is arranged to make it appear at its very best.

I my case I have three flash units, of which I can mount two on lighting columns, two diffusing photographic umbrellas, a good tripod, several electronic triggers and cable release and a 1 metre reflector.  It’s not the most impressive studio lighting set-up, but it does have the advantage of being easily put together and dismantled, it’s portable and most of all it’s reasonably cheap.  I haven’t had much practice with this equipment to date as I purchased it just before I had to take a 3 month sabbatical from photography, but the ease of use, simplicity of movement to get the optimum position, and learning curve are all well within my capability without giving any trepidation.

It can be seen from the images I made (below) that it took a while to not only get to grips with the equipment but also to get the model to pose in the positions I requested without him wanting to act the goat (as teenagers do) although I was unable to coax a winning smile from him.  I did have some equipment problems inasmuch as I found that the electronic triggers needed to be reset every time I changed a setting on the camera, which I’ve not been able to fathom a reason for yet, and I also had problems with recycling times of the flash units on occasions due to slightly flat batteries, these are the images which are quite a bit darker than the rest.  Other than that the rest of the session was about getting the flash levels and the distances of the lights from the subject correct.  Trial and error is the way I managed it in the end, although I have tried the way that I’d read about on Strobist: Lighting 101 and this helped cut the trial and error time enormously.  Unfortunately I don’t yet have my own background equipment and so I initially tried to use the wall behind the subject for this purpose, however it’s too badly pockmarked with screw holes, black marks and scratches to be of any use.  Instead I dropped the video screen that hangs there and used the slightly silvered surface, which I found very acceptable, a little work on Photoshop afterwards to remove the black borders and it was quite good, but I really do need to get my own specialised backgrounds.

Camera Layout

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