An afternoon portrait photography session
I love portrait photography, and of all the types of portraiture that you can do my absolute favorite is the headshot. There is so much beauty and emotion in the human face that I find myself looking more and more at portraits. I didn’t really realize how much I enjoyed headshot photography until I looked at the photos that I had made favorites on Flick, a popular photography sharing web site. As I looked at all of my favorite photographs it dawned on me that close to 90% of them were headshots. Men, women, children, it did not matter. It was the photos of peoples faces, and the emotions they conveyed that I was drawn to. It was this realization over the past year that has drawn me to do more portrait photography going forward. My recent portrait session with Sam is just a step on that journey!
All of the portrait photographs that I took were done right at her house, in the middle of her living room. We used a space that was about 8 feet by 10 feet. It is always nice to have a ton of space to work in, but it is not necessary when only doing headshot portraits. You can get by with a small space just fine. The background was a role of white seamless paper setup on a background stand. My subject sat on a drummers stool about 4 feet in front of the background, and I was a few feet in front of the model the subject with my camera. This would not have been nearly enough space for full length portrait photography, but for what we were looking to do it was more then enough!
For this shoot we did two different portrait lighting setups. In the majority of the photographs is what is called a clamshell lighting setup. It gets it name from what it looks like from the side view – an open clamshell, with each half of the shell being a light source. The hinge of the clamshell is where the camera is. A Canon 580EXII flash was mounted on a stand aimed into a Westcott 43″ convertible umbrella
in shoot through mode. This flash was placed directly in front of the subject, above the models head and angled down so that it pointed at her face. If you look closely at the image at the top of the page you will see the telltale shadow under the subjects nose. To complete the clamshell, a large white 5-in-1 reflector is placed directly in the models lap, catching a bunch of the light from the umbrella and sending it right back up to fill in the shadows. The camera is located right in the middle of the two sources – the umbrella is directly above the camera, and the reflector is directly below. This lighting setup creates big, soft light that really wraps Sams face in a gentle, even way. It is for this reason that clamshell lighting is extremely popular in portrait photography
The second portrait setup that I used involved a much smaller modifier that allows for a more controlled, directional light. I replaced the umbrella with a LumiQuest SoftBox III,
which is a small softbox that mounts directly onto the strobe head with a few strips of velcro. Small, collapsible and easy to travel with. But the real beauty of this modifier? The light that it creates! While a small source is usually associated with hard light, you can get this little sofbox in crazy close, meaning it isn’t that small when you have it only a few inches from your subjects face. I love that you can create interesting shadows with this modifier – it is like a little soft spotlight that I can place exactly where I want it! The 5-in-1 reflector moves to the opposite side of the model as the flash, and again its purpose is to catch a little of the softbox light and send it back onto her face to open the shadows up just a little bit. Like with the softbox itself, the reflector is in super close to Sam, literally only inches away and just outside of the camera frame.
With both lighting setups, the background strobe setup is the same. I used a Canon 430EXII flash on a stand directly behind Sam and aimed at the white background. The flash power setting was dialed down, and the flash head was zoomed in to provide a white spot behind the model that quickly transitions to a darker grey at the edges. I set this up while Sam was finishing with hair and makeup, and used the Histogram and the LCD on the back of the camera to set the exposure, and the diameter of the spotlight. Once this was dialed in the way I liked it I did not touch it again til it was time to pack up and leave. I often like this look better then a pure white, or solid black background, but it really depends on the image I have in my head.
In all cases the flashes were triggered by CyberSynch radio triggers from Paul C. Buff. Using the radio triggers means that I have to manually control the strobe power manually, which can honestly be a bit of a pain in the ass. In hindsight, the setup I ended up using could probably have been done using the Canon built in system. I need to experiment more with the Canon system, as when I have used it I have been happy with the results. I am just not confident and comfortable enough with it to depend on it at a shoot.
Whenever I do a portrait photography session, the first 15-20 images are throwaways, as I talk to the subject and build up a rapport. At that point I usually ask them to make some goofy, silly faces for me. I show them the photographs that I have taken so far on the LCD screen, and we usually have a laugh of two. This tends to relax the model a bit and the session goes on and the real photographs come out. I normally toss the silly images, but this session was a little different. Sam was a blast to work with, and a real natural in front of the camera. Even the silly shots look pretty sweet to me!
Photography is all about telling a story and conveying an emotional response with the viewer, and portrait photography is no different. You try to create a connection with your subject, and to pull some of their personality out in the photographs.
You can see all of the photographs that Sam and I created that day in a nice little slideshow format over on my Flickr site. If you are interested in working with me on a portrait session you can contact me by email at mike@MikeDooleyPhotography.com or through Mike’s Facebook page!