Fear of portrait lighting

Portraiture photography can be difficult. 286918_01 Picture: ROB CAREW

By Noel Bunce

Pakenham Camera Club members were treated to a Mark Teague workshop focusing on the joint fears of cost and application in Portraiture lighting at their July meeting last Wednesday.

Mark, a qualified photographic judge and one of Victoria’s most sought after wedding photographers, stressed these fears are easily overcome while also giving many simple insights and tips along the way.

Using a lighting set up that included a flash, trigger, reflective umbrella and light stand that was purchased for under $100 [prior to Covid lockdowns] especially for this workshop eliminated the fear of equipment cost immediately.

The fear of operating off camera flash equipment being overly complicated was addressed with the following simple steps.

Firstly, erect the backdrop (if required) and then the light stand.

The flash mounted on top of the light stand, facing away from the model, should be pointing into the umbrella.

This will allow the light to be reflected back on to the subject when the flash is triggered.

The bigger the umbrella and the closer it is to the subject, the softer and more appealing the light will be.

Now with the backdrop and model in place, the light stand comprising the flash and umbrella should be placed roughly 1.5m from the model/s and at approximately 45 degrees to them.

The umbrella should be placed above the models and angled down in their direction to mimic soft shadows caused by naturally diffused sunlight.

Place the flash trigger on the camera hot shoe, which is where an on-camera flash might normally sit.

The camera settings Mark started with were – ISO set to 1600, aperture to 5.6 and the shutter speed to 1/100 of a second.

Note, these base settings are for what is termed a Hi Key shot, meaning that the model is evenly lit against commonly a white backdrop.

Take a test shot [without flash] to ascertain the ambient light of the room. Fine tune shutter speed slightly if required to achieve this requirement.

Finally, turn on the flash and take further test shots, adjusting the flash power up or down to achieve the correct exposure of your model.

Adjust the flash/umbrella angle as required to gain accurate light direction.

Try to aim for a well-exposed shot without overexposing your image. If required, adjust the position of the light stand.

Accepting that proper focus doesn’t always mean a “tac sharp image”, pay attention to your camera and lens functions.

If shooting handheld, make sure “image stabilisation” is activated. If using a tripod, make sure these functions are turned off to avoid confusing the camera.

When focusing on your model, try to always focus on the eye closest to your camera.

As most modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras have multiple focus points available, Mark suggested composing first, then using a single focus point, lock onto the selected eye and focus. Check your camera’s operation manual for directions on how to complete this task.

Although all the personal cameras used during the hands-on workshop were using the same settings, it was intriguing to note the differences in exposure achieved using the different brands and models.

Similarly, using different lenses on the same camera often resulted in different exposures being realised.

Another great tip offered up was to make sure you fill your viewfinder with the head and shoulders of your subject. This avoids the need to crop the image to obtain balance when editing, losing valuable pixels as a result.