portraits

photography tip: available light portraits – finding that sweet spot of light

A regular theme on Tangents, is using interesting found light sources while shooting portraits on location. For example: using sunlight reflected off a traffic sign.

With this straight-forward portrait of Irene, a photographer friend in New York, I want to show a neat little trick here – helping your subject understand exactly where you want them to stand.

Here we had random reflections of glass structures in Manhattan, giving random spots of lights.  I wanted to use one of these spots of lights here as naturally found light for Irene, and another splash of light to give a high-light behind her, as I framed her against it.

Instead of giving your subject incremental instructions – “a little to the left, a little to the left, no, come back” – the simple trick to have your subject turn around so they can see this highlight, and have them move a little until they can see their own shadow in the splash of light …

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business headshots in the studio, with a contemporary / modern look

When Matt Sweetwood, the owner of the largest Camera Store in New Jersey, discussed doing new new business headshots for him, we agreed that a more contemporary look suited him. There’s a large dynamic personality at work here … and using an 85mm f/1.4 lens wide open would place attention on his eyes and his expression. Nothing else is really in focus aside from his eyes, and this really makes for a compelling portrait that grabs your attention.

We shot various sequences, with the background brighter and darker. In the end we settled on a sequence of images with the lighting shown in the top photograph – it has an airy brightness to it, and looks modern. With the colors muted like that, it draws attention to his expression even more. No bright colors to distract.

We also had fun with various expressions just to mix it up a bit.

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feminine portraiture – Pure: the authentic beauty project

Since 2012, Stacie Frazier, owner of Haute Shots Beauty and Boudoir Photography in Las Vegas, has been on an interesting mission – one to help women relinquish the control of cosmetics and see their own authentic beauty in the form of beauty and/or boudoir portraiture. Recently Stacie invited others to join her in this mission by announcing the PURE: authentic beauty project on the Business of Boudoir website.

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dramatic lighting with fresnel lights – photo session w/ Jen Rozenbaum

For the portrait session of Jennifer Rozenbaum, I wanted to show her in her “office” – the studio where she shoots boudoir images of her clients. But instead of photographing Jennifer in a boudoir style, I wanted this to be portraits of her, the boudoir photographer, where she works. Her office as such. Still, it needed to be sexy, a little feral, yet sweet, and very much her.

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Using your lens’ bokeh as a design element

In previous articles we could see how a fast 85mm can be used for shallow depth-of-field to shoot nearly anywhere by melting away the background. There’s another aspect to this – the bokeh of the lens. The bokeh is a reference to how the quality of the background blur is rendered by a lens. It can be smooth, or have “jittery” patterns to the edges of objects, and the highlights.

Do note though that bokeh and shallow depth-of-field are not quite the same thing. While the DoF / choice of aperture does affect the appearance of the bokeh of a lens, the shallow depth-of-field look isn’t “bokeh”. Similarly, you can’t do something like “add more bokeh”. Bokeh is the quality of that background blur. It’s mostly an aspect of the lens design.

Now, very often, when a fast prime lens is used wide open, there’s a kind of swirly feel to the background blur – and if you’re aware of this, and find an appropriate background, it can really accentuate the portrait.

The image at the top of Jen & Corby, was shot at f/1.4 and you can see how the background behind them has a distinctive circular swirl to the out of focus high-lights.

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on-location portraits – speedway racer, Courtney Lefcourt

When Courtney’s mom first contacted me, she told me that Courtney is a race-car driver and that the camera loves her. Intrigued, I met up with her family at the Bethel Motor Speedway for on-location portraits of Courtney. To find out more about Courtney, check out her Facebook page, Courtney Taylor Racing.

So the challenge here was two-part. The sun was very bright since it was 3:30pm in the afternoon. The other challenge is that while speedway racing might be an exhilarating sport to watch, the speedway race-track isn’t exactly a visual feast. The race-track is a barren oval strip of tarmac at an angle. I had to accentuate her more, and the race-track less – but still keep it relevant as an environmental portrait.

Courtney’s fire-retardant suit was fortunately a vivid blue and black. This neatly matched the blue sky and black top. This especially helped with the wider images.

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85mm – the first lens that could change your portrait photography

If that hat seems familiar, yes,  Elle was the model in the series of photographs for the Nikon Df review article. For some of the sequences of photos that we shot, I used the 85mm lens, wide open. This had the effect of just melting the background. You can pretty much shoot anywhere, and make the background look good and non-intrusive.

While a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens can be even more effective in controlling the background, the shorter focal length, an 85mm lens can make this somewhat easier in some respects. Specifically, it’s a smaller lens and less intrusive when you photograph portraits. It’s less “threatening” to the person you’re photographing, and easier to carry around.

Just how well can you blur the background when shooting wide open with an 85mm prime lens? Compare the photo above with the pull-back shot, taken with an iPhone from the same spot …

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photography: the progression of an idea – Regal Portrait with a Ferret

While on a trip to Denver, I had some time free to meet up with my friend, Lynn Clark, one of the best boudoir photographers in Denver. I had asked her to be a subject for my next book, 60 Portraits, and she indulged me. I want each portrait to reveal something of the person I am photographing, and also have some interesting snippets of info for anyone who dips in the book, and of course, for anyone who follows the Tangents blog.

So while Lynn is an accomplished boudoir photographer, I didn’t want to go with the obvious idea of doing a boudoir photo session of her. I met up with Lynn, and our mutual friend, Petra Herrmann in Lynn’s studio. (You may remember Petra as a recent guest on Tangents – increase your sales in boudoir photo sessions.) Lynn’s boudoir studio is home-based, with two large rooms that had been converted in shooting space. I spent some time looking around, and figuring out angles and lighting and backgrounds. The usual things we need to juggle when we consider the setting for portraits.

I liked the one direction where I knew I’d be able to compress the perspective with a 70-200mm lens, and shoot from the adjoining room. Then I could use the red drapes in the background, and throw the chandelier and the rest of the room out of focus. So far, so good. This would be good for a basic portrait. Solid, but not engaging yet. Lynn and Petra and I bounced some ideas around.

Lynn and her husband runs a Ferret B&B in Denver, CO. They take care of ferrets when their owners are on vacation. Lynn and her family also keeps 6 ferrets. So there are ferrets … and they are adorable. In chatting with Lynn and Petra, they mentioned that Queen Elizabeth had been fond of ferrets, and there was a portrait of her with a ferret. And then the idea clicked!

Throwing the chandelier out of focus and keeping it in frame, we’d have a glowing halo of light above Lynn. The red drapes worked too. Then … the costume. We didn’t have anything nearly as ostentatious so we went for a tiara and some bling jewelry.

And then we added Elliott, the energetically curious ferret you see in the photo.

The final portrait of Lynn is whimsical. There’s an absurdity about it. Hopefully the portrait is also quite cute and amusing. I do think it shows that playful aspect of Lynn, though she insists she’s actually a serious person. This impromptu homage to the portrait of Royalty with a pet ferret, was certainly fun to shoot.

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photographing a vintage motorbike on location, with Profoto lighting gear

I’m getting to meet so many people while photographing interesting subjects for my next book, 60 Portraits, that I was bound to meet some truly interesting characters. John collects vintage … oh, everything. His entire house filled with collectibles – it is like stepping out of a time-machine into a different era. I joked with him that the only two things in his house from the 21st century is his fridge and his dog!

Most impressive in a way, is John’s workshop where he maintains his two vintage era motorbikes and a Model A Ford. The tools in his workshop are all authentic to the era … and they work. The way John describes it, it actually makes sense in the way he maintains  everything with hand-tools and lathes and such.

His one motorbike is from WW1 era, and the other is this 1928 German-built Triumph. The sidecar was made by Hindenburg Metalworks. Yup, the zeppelin guys. John’s friend, Barbara, frequently accompanies him to shows and rallies, and came along for this photo shoot. After all, there is a side-car!

I photographed a few sequences of John and Barbara with this motorbike, using different setups. I liked this dramatic series the most, with the light from behind casting a shadow in front of them. I wanted the light to etch the frame of the motorbike and side-car, without revealing too much detail – I wanted this to be a portrait of John and Barbara. However, I took a number of other images, where the motorbike is better lit. Just to have the variety. Such a unique opportunity doesn’t come along that often, so I had to make sure I got variety in the images.

Now, the techie details about the photograph:
camera settings were 1/250 @ f/14 @ 200 ISO

As always, the pull-back shot to show the lighting setup …

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lighting a vintage styled boudoir photo session, using LED fresnel lights

Working with the ever-delightful Olena in my studio, we went for a mix of outfits and looks. We started off the photo session with straight-forward headshots, but then when Olena showed me this outfit, it just begged for something with a more vintage feel in lighting. So, drawing on the classic Hollywood glamor lighting for inspiration, I used the Litepanels Sola 4 LED Fresnel Lights to create that dramatic light on her, and on the background.

I’ve used the same lights before for Hollywood Glamor style portraits, and loved the effect. The lights, being a smaller light source than a softbox, need more careful placement, and more careful posing. So using lights like these, need to be more controlled. The end result though retains that air of mystery and that certain allure than boudoir photography needs to exude.

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