Portrait Lighting and Posing

Here are a couple images from a model portfolio shoot over the weekend. Same model, similar poses, but very different looks. Let’s start with the lighting – can you describe the differences between the two of them? Hint: click on the images for the larger versions, then look at her eyes. If you look really carefully, you should be able to see the reflections of the lights I was using in her pupils. This is a standard photographer’s trick for reverse engineering lighting…

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The image on the left is a standard portrait lighting. A large softbox provides the key light, coming in from the left, and a less bright softbox comes in from the right, providing the fill light. A small softbox on a boom stand shines down from above, providing a hairlight for separation from the background (which is black paper, not lit). Because her face is more towards the darker fill light, we see more of the bright side of her face, which is considered “broad lighting”. If her face were pointed more towards the key light, we would see more of her darker side, and it would be short lighting.

The second image is a standard “beauty lighting”, also called “butterfly lighting”. There is a single light shining down from above and in front. In this case a large rectangular softbox turned sideways (and I am shooting from underneath it). There are also two lights shining on the white paper to overexpose it (see my previous posts on high key lighting). In this case there is quite a bit of shadow under her chin and back towards her ears. I could have added a fill light to shoot up from near the ground, or had her hold a reflector out flat in front of her out of the frame, either of which would have filled in those shadows more.

However, what I think really makes these shots look so different from each other is not the lighting at all, but the fact that the first is shot from slightly above her face level, and the second is shot from slightly below. A slight change in your perspective can make a huge difference.

This is probably my favorite shot from the day…


The lighting is a combination of the above two – key and fill softboxes on the sides like the first image (though in this case the lighting ratio is more even, so it is not really broad or short lighting), with two lights on the background. A fifth light for the hair would not have hurt.

I am following three basic rules for posing women here:

  1. Never let the shoulders be in a perfectly horizontal line.
  2. Never let the spine be in a perfectly vertical line.
  3. Always pay attention to where the hands are.

Of course rules are meant to be broken, but nevertheless it is worth knowing what they are so you can decide when to break them.

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Burning Man in Burien

This weekend was the opening of the Burien Interim Art Space, a year long experiment in temporary art. A developer has lent a piece of land in downtown Burien Washington (just south of Seattle) to be used as a public sculpture park for a year, until it gets built on. The centerpiece of the park is The Passage, a phenomenal sculpture by Dan Das Mann, first created for Burning Man 2005. This is one of my all time favorite pieces of Burning Man art.

My full set of images can be seen at http://imageevent.com/pmattf/misc/burieninterimart, but here are a few highlights. Click on any images to see a larger version…

Firepod doing its thing with The Passage in the background…


The Spinergy fire performance group. To get fire trails like this and still see the performer you need to shoot with slow synchro flash mode. Shutter priority mode can be a good way to go here, so you can vary the length of the exposure to get the amount of trails you want. This one is 1.3 seconds, which is definitely on the long side…


Detail from The Passage…


Burning Man in Burien…


Just to give some context, this is The Passage being installed at Burning Man 2005…


And my favorite shot of The Passage from 2005. A 60″x40″ print of this one was hung at the 21 Days of Black Rock City show last summer in Marin County…


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High Key Kids

After doing quite a few extremely dark shadowy images for La Figa, lately I have been on a bit of a high key kick. As I mentioned in my last blog post, when shooting with white seamless paper as a background you have two basic choices as to how to light it – leave the paper visible (i.e. it appears as off white or even very light grey), or blast it with enough light so that it blows out to pure white. There is no “right” way – just a matter of taste.

In terms of shooting, visible is harder in a way, because it can be challenging to get an even shade of white across the entire background. With pure white you don’t have to worry so much about evening it out, once it is overexposed it doesn’t much matter by how far. On the other hand, it makes judging the exposure by the histogram on your camera trickier – most of your image is one big blown highlight.

Recently I have been liking the pure white effect better. This lighting – which is typically used in fashion photography – is also a lot of fun to use with kids (it is not just fine art erotica around here). Here are some recent samples:







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