4 Portraits – A Lighting Tutorial by Vladimir Morozov
Learn in this short lighting tutorial quick and easy set-ups to create stunning portraits in under two hours.
Perhaps, it seems a bit old-fashioned, but, working with images, I don’t like to rely on automatics neither choosing exposure parameters, nor choosing focus points, as I got used to having full personal control over the process. I know pretty well that such an approach is not that widely accepted among modern photographers, but least of all I would like to convince anyone of the opposite, for I consider it to be my competitive advantage. Therefore, without imposing my point of view upon anyone, I would like to tell you how I work on my images and what tools I have chosen for this work.
As 85 mm lenses are often applied for shooting portraits, in this article I am going to tell you about several simple and easy ways for any photographer to create a good portrait. We have thought up the concept of this small photo project together with my son Mikhail who has two beloved grandmothers and two great-grandmothers. So we have decided to take four portraits of their beloved grandson. And Misha (Russian diminutive for Mikhail.) will be able to present them the printed and framed images for Christmas. Besides, Mikhail gave his consent to the publication of the photos without retouch, extra thanks to him for that.
//1 A Portrait with One Large Light Source
It is very easy to take such a portrait if there is a large softbox or octabox not less than 150cm (5ft) in size at your disposal. You can also use a window if veiled with diffusing white fabric.Place your model as close to the light source as possible, so that the light source appears at the edge of the frame.
All other parameters in this scheme can be and have to be changed for creation of that very picture you are seeking. Moving your model towards the light source, you will amplify contrast and increase the apparent 3D-volume of the picture due to increase of the modeling light. Moving the model farther, you will get less contrast on his or her face relatively to the background allows you to control the brightness.
And some more words about the source height in relation to the model: in this particular case it is lifted so that the model’s head is at the level of its lower third, to get more lighting from above. If I was to teach portrait photography, I would start with this very exercise, and here is why: first, working with one light source, the photography beginner would be able to focus on the desirable result and on working better with his or her model; second, working with a large light source, it is possible to allow the model more freedom in posing, as this lighting fits many shooting angles; and third, lighting will always remain the most balanced, for if you add some light somewhere, then some is diminished by itself.
//2 A Portrait with One Small Light Source
Working with just one small light source means we will not be able to get the model and the background filled in simultaneously. But we will be able to get much higher microcontrast in our image. This makes your images stand out. In my work I use halogen light by Dedolight. I prefer continuous light to an impulse one for several reasons: first, it is friendly for the model, the photographer and all those who are on the set as there are no flashes that make eyes tired; secondly, using continuous light combined with a mirrorless camera, in the viewfinder and on the LCD I see exactly the light distribution, with which the photograph is going to be exposed; and thirdly, I don’t need to adjust light intensity if I want to change aperture for increased and reduction of the depth of field.
A small 41x56cm softbox with a 300W halogen lamp was the only light source in this shot. The light source is lifted above the model and located on the left. And even such a simple scheme of lighting offers many ways of adjustment. The optimal height is adjusted by the models eyes: the light flecks should be in the top most part of eyes. Just keep an eye on them so that those flecks remained at all times, otherwise the model’s gaze turns expressionless.
Bringing the light source closer to the model you make the light softer; moving it away you get more harsh light. The light-and-shade distribution over the model’s face can be controlled by changing the light angle and moving the light source around the model. This portrait is shot at f/2.8.
//3 A High-Key Portrait with Two Light Sources
For this portrait I used two light sources from the previous shots. It is a large octabox sized 150cm, and a 41x56cm softbox. In this setup the octabox acts as a background, and provides the modeling light on the left and right sides of the model at the same time. Just like in the previous shot, the main light comes from a small softbox that I moved to the right side and lowered a little to get an evenly it face.
In this shot the light adjustment means the correct balance between the two sources, and in the correct placement of the model between them. Start with choosing the model-to-octabox distance, while the main light is switched off. Changing the distance from the source to the model you have to find that way of a flare on the edges, which suits your idea. The closer the model stands to the background, the stronger is the flare, and vice versa. Then you have to set up the drawing main light; and I explained how to make it in the previous chapter. After both the light sources are in place you should properly balance their intensity. Work with continuous light, so that you have to meter and set exposure by the weakest light source, and then to reduce the power of the second one correspondingly.
I conceived a playful plot, so I had to choose a shorter shutter speed to avoid blur. To add some movement, I asked Mikhail to raise his hands and make faces at me. With fully open aperture his hand should be strongly defocused, and that would add some movement to the shot, while the faultless sharpness in the eyes would draw viewers’ attention to the smile. I have to point out that manual focusing is an absolute must for such subjects as the AF would be just unable to perform on the eyes precisely. And I’d like to rate
the new Loxia 2.4/85 pretty highly for a large rotation angle of the focusing ring, which allows to pinpoint superb sharpness, especially shooting closeups.An idea that new Loxia is created only for black and white photography could be misleading, so the two following portraits are in color.
//4 A Low-Key Portrait with Two Light Sources
Before the description of the fourth and final shot I am going to make a small technical digression to explain what else I use in my work, as I consider it important. If I have an opportunity, I always shoot from a reliable steady tripod, here it is a Gitzo Mountaineer. The tripod allows me to keep my consciously selected shooting angle, to keep the selected distance to the model and, oddly enough, it helps me to work with light. This is how it goes. Having placed my camera on the tripod, I connect it with an USB cable to my MacBook Pro and launch Capture One. All this can seem bulky, but this linking of a tripod, a camera and a computer allows me to view and analyze the taken material instantly, and on a large monitor; besides, having started the video mode, one can control light very precisely, watching all changes on the MacBook monitor turned towards the shooting ground. I talk about all this just because photographers who hand hold their camera, are forced to move constantly from the shooting point to lighting equipment and back trying to control light.
Coming back to the description of my fourth shot, I am going to explain its concept. I like it very much when there is a light source in the image, whether it be the sun, a streetlight or just a studio light that gives some strong backlight. It is surely possible to get beautiful backlighting without entering the light source into the shot, but in this case the story loses its authenticity. There is some light, but it is unclear from where it comes. Here, the light sources are placed almost identically to the previous shot, though you won’t guess by the picture. I have only changed the big octabox for a lens device with barn doors and lifted the main light higher to create more dramatic lighting of the face. Having set everything up, I added a white reflector to fill the deep shadow on the right cheek. The only basic difference of this light setup in comparison with the previous shot is the restricted freedom of model’s posing. Just a small lean or turn of the head, and the light is gone. Therefore I had to charge Mikhail with retaining earphones in one point so that to keep him at least relatively motionless.
In conclusion I have to say that shooting all the project took a little more than two hours, and Mikhail stayed on the shooting ground just 20 minutes, using the rest of time for watching his favorite cartoons.
Camera — Sony A7R II
Lens — ZEISS Loxia 2.4/85
Light — Dedolight DLH1X300S + White Dome small, DLH4Х150S + Octodome 5, DLHM4-300
Tripod — Gitzo GK3532-82QD Mountaineer
PC — MacBook Pro
Software — Capture One Pro 8
Model: Mikhail Morozov
Photographer: Vladimir Morozov
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