Friday, September 24, 2010

Beautiful Portraits with One Flash

This portrait of my son was taken a few years ago. The first image is okay. It's from a single flash bounced from the ceiling.

The second image has a lot more sizzle but still uses only one flash.

The difference? Foamcore.

I had Adam hold a piece of white Foamcore under his chin just out of view of the camera. The light from the flash was diffused twice—once when hitting the ceiling and again when bouncing up from the Foamcore. This fills in a lot of shadows under the nose, chin and around the eyes. It gives the whole image more of a bright glow. By comparison, the shot without the fill looks downright gloomy.

Could it be even better? Yes. A second light to produce a catchlight in his eye would have added just a little more life to his face. In post production, a subtle vignette could be added to draw more attention to his face. We're not really interested in his orange shirt.

Timing is Everything

I love architectural photography. Buildings never blink or have bad hair.

Anyone who's ever shot a building knows that the best images are usually found during early morning or just as the sun is setting. With the sun below the horizon, the sky acts as a giant reflector, giving you smooth tones without harsh shadows.

You also get a number of other benefits from shooting at this time. While there's still some light (and color) in the sky, building and street lights are on, too.

This image is from the series "36 Views of the IDS Center" and features Peavey Plaza in the foreground. These locations are in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. The long exposure made necessary by the time of day also provides for some really nice imagery of the water flowing from the fountain.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Making the Most of Natural Light

Portraits can be tricky. Too sunny and you'll have harsh shadows and lots of squinting. Too cloudy and the image can be a bit gray--but your expressions will look natural and terrific.

There are two good ways to add a little "pop" to an outdoor portrait. First, you can use a flash for fill. Second you can use reflectors.

For this sunny-day portrait, we avoided squinting by positioning our subjects so the sun was behind them. This allowed the sun to work as a rim light, adding highlights to the hair and shoulders. This also separated the subject from the background. However, without a reflector, the faces would be too dark--almost silhouettes. Add the reflector and you get beautiful lighting, making the sun do double-duty. We used a gold foil for our reflector to add warmth to the skin tones.

By using a telephoto lens and a special filter ("neutral density" for you technical types) to limit the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor, we're able to create a creamy-smooth out-of-focus background, drawing more attention to the subject.