Photography News | Issue 36 | absolutephoto.com
right kind of light is all around us, even in the brightest part of the day. You just need to know where to look and how to control it,” he explains. This means thinking about finding good light well before notions of exposure come into play, so keep that in mind; the light is always the foundation of the shot. Lighting style and influence In terms of lighting style, Neil mentions classic black & white Hollywood movies as an inspiration, albeit often a subliminal one. If you’re an aspiring portrait shooter, it’s well worth examining those looks, or the styles used in films and photography you like. Look at what sort of set-up created those shots and you’ll begin to replicate it, even if it’s subconsciously. “That type of idealised portrayal of the leading women was something I must have really bought into when watching them as a teen,” confesses Neil, “because that type of ‘heroine’ shot keeps coming out in my work, however much I try to focus on new ways of making pictures!” The easiest way to produce flattering portraits on location is to seek out exactly the kind of diffused light that Neil mentions, and whether it’s in feature films or shooting stills, it always comes from correctly positioning the subject. On cloudy days there’s lots of soft light about, but if the sun is out look for shade to shoot in, particularly if you can position the subject near a light-coloured wall to spread and diffuse the available light nicely. The shadows of buildings are perfect for this, and the dappled shade under trees works well, too. Alternatively, just turn your subject away from the sun (or whatever the brightest light source is), and they’ll create their own shadow.
The light is always the foundation of the shot
Top This was shot on the New York subway using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 and 17mm f/1.8 lens. At f/4.5 and 1/30sec, ISO 1600, Neil used +0.3EV of exposure compensation to make sure the skin tones were spot on. Right Taken in Venice on a workshop run by Neil and Steve Gosling using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Leica DG 25mm f/1.4 ASPH. This was shot wide open at f/1.4 and 1/1000sec, ISO 200 and a reflector was used to give the shot a luminous quality. Below This beach scene, shot at f/1.4 and 1/1250sec, ISO 200 using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Leica DG 25mm f/1.4 ASPH used +0.7EV exposure compensation to prevent the subject’s face falling into shadow.
Time to reflect One of the simplest pieces of kit you can use to help in this regard is a reflector. These inexpensive devices can be used in almost any location to improve lighting, bouncing illumination onto the subject exactly as their name suggests. So, even if the light isn’t great on its own, reflecting it can help matters enormously. Unless he knows he won’t need one, because, for example, there are a lot of reflective surfaces already in the location (or if he’s intending to use flash), a reflector is something that Neil always brings along. In use, you can balance the reflector at the right angle by placing it in the scene or use a dedicated stand; you can even have the subject hold it themselves if your framing is tight enough, but having another person on hand to help is even better. “Even if it’s just a member of the family, having someone helping to position the reflector is best of all,” says Neil. “It’s a real time saver and an assistant can often spot things you’re too focused to notice like wardrobe malfunctions.” According to Neil, spots like “dark shaded areas within a very bright location” are perfect for portrait lighting, but as available light is never 100% predictable he usually brings some portable flash. “I’ve been using a lot of hand-held off-camera flash recently and the Olympus system I use offers some great options as all the controls are based on the LCD,” he explains. “Flash is supremely helpful for shooting in dusky conditions, too. I’m still learning new tricks with flash, but my default modification is a big octabox for the ultimate soft, diffuse lighting.”
Exposed to the light When you’ve found or created your own good light, you can move onto thinking about exposure modes and settings. Like many subjects, the easiest way to make creative decisions in portraiture is to shoot in aperture-priority mode (A or Av). In this mode you’ll have full control over the amount of the scene that’s kept in focus. Mostofthetime,portraitphotographerstry to separate the subject from the background by keeping the former sharp and blurring the latter. This keeps the subject very clear, hides distracting elements and places the face – the focal point – at the heart of things. Shooting in this way is most applicable when the background isn’t important, so if that’s the look you want, blur it all out by using a very low f/number. This could be anything from f/0.95 to f/4 depending on your lens. However, sometimes the background is important, so if you want to retain some greater sense of the location as well as the subject, use a higher f/number, giving a middling aperture like f/5.6 or f/8. This should still give your subject some separation, while the background remains at least partly recognisable. Having decided on the depth-of-field you want, it’s important to realise that, in portraits, it’s the exposure on the subject that’s paramount. This is what Neil aims for: “getting the exposure on my subject as ideal as possible”. In practice, this might mean over- or underexposing the background, but so long as the subject is well exposed, that’s fine. So, if you’re shooting against a very light background, find the exposure compensation function on your camera (usually marked by a +/- symbol), and try adding a positive
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