to use available light is not a random thing

Since I often use flash or additional light, there was some surprise in the (favorable) comments in the Facebook album when I mentioned this photo was shot without any flash. Not even fill-flash. Just the available light. But where I posed the bride, was a specific decision. It wasn’t just random.

Now, I often get the feeling that when someone boasts they only use available light, that it is meant to disguise that they don’t know how to use additional lighting. My thought here is that unless you find yourself in great light, or alternately position your subject so that the light works in your favor … you’re very likely to find that the available light just isn’t as flattering as it could be. Ultimately, this comes down to the point that using light – whether found (ambient) light, or light added by the photographer – is best as a conscious decision by the photographer.

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wedding photography – light, lighting, posing & direction  - making the decisions

The title of this article is quite ambitious. To cover all of that, it would be a 50,000 word book. But in editing this wedding at the moment, I noticed this photograph, and I love the look of it. So in the context of that one single image, let’s look how it all came together. While the photograph itself isn’t complicated, a lot of quick decisions went into making this image work … and easy to edit. A number of things had to be considered, but instead of being overwhelmed by juggling all the decisions and thought-processes simultaneously, there’s a way to break it all down to simple elements which will help the photo session come together naturally.

Now even if you’re not that interested in wedding photography per se, hang in for a while, for the thinking here is applicable to just about any other field of photography …

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the next step – going beyond just posing people

With the recent post on a few guidelines on posing people, I wanted to add the reminder that when photographing people, our final destination isn’t just the posed photograph, but that we should try and capture something about our subject. Something about their personality, or showing some facet of who they are and their lives.

When photographing couples in particular, my accent is on photographing their relationship as well. In addition to the portraits of the couple, I want to show how they interact with each other – playfulness and intimacy. We need to create images which have emotional impact – images that have some resonance with their friends and family when they view them.

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how to pose normal, everyday people for portraits

When you work with models, or subjects who are used to presenting themselves to the camera or an audience, it is much easier for the photographer to pose them. The challenge though is how to pose people who aren’t used to pose in front of the camera. Then it is up to the photographer to guide them, and give clear instruction how they should pose for the camera. The question just came up in the Tangents forum - how to pose everyday normal people.

The photograph above is of me as I was showing a model at the After Dark photography workshops how I wanted her to pose. Now you may well say that I was showing a model how to pose, and not an inexperienced subject … and some may even say that I am hardly ‘everyday’ or ‘normal’. However that may be, this image neatly underlines my advice on posing.

You need to be able to show your subjects how you want them to pose.

If you’re working with subjects who aren’t used to the camera, then you absolutely need to be able to show them what you want them to do – how to position their feet, their hands, their body and head. Just vaguely pointing, with vague verbal instructions just won’t get you as far as physically showing them.

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random found available light as portrait lighting

With the recent trip to California for the workshops, I was also keen to meet up with another favorite model, Bethany. We were allowed to shoot in a night-club on a Sunday afternoon when it was all quiet with no one there. It’s an interesting place to work with a beautiful model, finding interesting spots and then figuring out how I might adapt my flash setup. I had 4 speedlights with me and 2 softboxes and a slew of the new PocketWizards.

The first series of photos of Bethany however, was shot with just the available light there. But first I had to recognize the light as being interesting light for a portrait. I had to “see” it first. As it happened, I only saw that this might be useful light for a portrait when I did a few test shots while Bethany was having her hair and make-up done.

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finding something to bounce your flash off

One of the frequent questions that come up, is what to do when there is nothing to bounce your flash off.  When working indoors and there are bounce-able surfaces around me, my first instinct is to use on-camera bounce flash. It is easy to use, and the results can look surprisingly good, especially if you consider the minimal effort that went into it. No extra gear to carry around and set up. But when there is nothing to bounce flash off, you have to adapt your technique …

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tips for posing people / working with a model

So you have a great camera and lens; and someone who is willing to be photographed and willing to work with you; and you have a great idea for a setting or backdrop … but now what? Posing your subject is something that can be quite intimidating to a newer photographer.  The pressure is now on YOU to create magic .. or at least an arresting image. Leaving everything up to the model or your subject to do, or for them to come up with ideas … while you just click the shutter, makes you just an owner of a camera, and not a photographer.

When photographing portraits of people then, at some level you need to be able to pre-visualize what you want.  Or, recognize when you actually have something in front of your camera that makes a good subject.  The point I’m aiming at here, is that if you want to photograph portraits of people, you can’t be passive.  At some level you have to exercise control, whether it is the location or the light, or some element that you add or make a decision about.  You have to be active in creating the portrait.  And this often means directing your subject or posing them.

In my experience, the best models aren’t necessarily the more beautiful women, but rather those who can project some personality. No shyness. I think the best models are actresses at some level. You really have to act a little .. whether expression or body posture.

The photo above is of Jessica who isn’t a professional model. But what she lacks in experience, is made up for in the attitude that she projects. And it works. She was one of the best models I’ve had. Simply because of her personality. The best models have great personalities and are quite comfortable in front of the camera. I think it comes down again to them being able to project ‘something’ towards the eventual viewer. It need not be something dramatic … it can be something as cute as a wrinkle of the nose; a half smile; a small gesture.

Okay, so that’s great if you have a model or subject who is somehow a natural at it, and needs little direction.  What if you have a subject who has little or no experience? Well, this is where YOU have to step in as the photographer. 


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favorite image from the weekend – romantic bridal portrait

When possible during a lull in the wedding reception, I like to sneak the bride and groom away for a few minutes to do romantic portraits. Since time is usually tight, and the couple wants to enjoy as much of their reception as possible, I like to work efficiently. Jessica and Michael had their reception at a venue where I hadn’t worked before, so during dinner time, I quickly went around the venue with my assistant, to scout a few places to photograph the couple.

In the basement of this venue, I noticed the light shining through gates … casting interesting shadows on the wall. I thought this might be ideal to pose the couple, and then light them beautifully with a hand-held video light.

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photographing the bride and bridesmaids – location and direction

One of the series of photographs that I like to “have in my pocket” are the individual photos of the bride with each bridesmaid.  This is the kind of photograph you can hammer out very quickly, one after the other. The bride with a bridesmaid, hugging each other.  I always make time for this. One stumbling block might be a lack of place to do this.  But there is usually somewhere to do this, by isolating your subject with a long lens against an out-of-focus background …

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influences & inspiration

September 6, 2010

influences and inspiration

Triggered by the most recent post on the pin-up photo session, I thought that an on-going theme about influences and inspiration in photography would make a good topic.

The photo above was taken during an engagement photo session. In posing Melissa and Dennis for the one sequence, I wanted to use an idea that I saw on the cover of the disc of a movie I had watched just a few days before – An Education. (Amazon)

The young actress, Carey Mulligan was nominated for an Oscar for her role in this touching coming-of-age story. Beautifully told and acted and filmed. It was based on a book written by Nick Hornby. He was also the author of ‘High Fidelity’, a book dear to my heart.

The cover image of the DVD / Blu-Ray disc caught my attention – the two actors, elegantly posed. When I saw it, I immediately knew I would reference this image some time during upcoming photo session.

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