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Tag Archives: head shots
WINDOW LIGHT PORTRAITS
One of the most common subjects and one of the most challenging for in-experienced photographers is portraits. Photographing people requires communication skills and photographic techniques that can be intricate and hard to manage. Lighting for portrait photography can be infinitely complex but I want to suggest a simpler method that can produce fantastic results and make your portraits look great.
Window light is an exceptionally useful lighting source for your portrait photography. By using available light (the window) you avoid the complexity of using flash – artificial light-and the exposure control issues that it presents. We often over complicate the photographic creation process to the detriment of the results we get. The mantra “keep it simple stupid” (the KISS rule) should come to mind for your next portrait session. By simplifying the lighting you will be less stressed and can concentrate on developing a positive connection with your subject.
Ambient window light provides a large, even light source that provides a gradual transition from highlight to shadow. That quality of the lighting is soft and natural and can be very flattering for your portrait subjects. Electronic flash tends to be direct, contrasty and destroys the subtle transition between that highlight and shadow which is unflattering for portraiture.
When I refer to “window lighting” I have some particular features and qualities in mind. Direct noon time sun glaring through your window is equally harsh and unflattering as direct flash. What I am describing is the soft, diffuse lighting that you get from a cloudy day. North facing windows on an overcast day provide the best representation for this light source. This lighting has been used effectively in traditional painting for portraits and still life studies for centuries and should be a standard in your photographic inventory.
How does this old school (some would say original source of lighting) help in the digital camera era? The ability for film or digital sensors to record a range of lighting intensities in your photographic scene is limited. The dynamic range of the scene is the ratio between the minimum (shadow) and maximum (highlight) recordable light intensities. The human eye has an amazing ability to distinguish luminance difference, something in the order of 20 stops (20 EV) of exposure range. Your digital camera sensor has a recording range of somewhere between 6 to 10 stops of exposure depending on size and quality).
The diffused light from a window is lower in contrast and easily falls in the dynamic range and recording capability of your camera. Having a dynamic range of 5 to 7 stops of exposure means that camera is readily able to record detail in all the tones from shadow to highlight. Your results more closely match the natural range of tone we perceive with our eyes and creating a favorable response from the viewer of your photograph. Simply said the portraits that you can achieve with window lighting closely match what we can see with the natural eye.
By using window light illumination we reduce contrast, the severity of the tonal transition from highlight to shadow. Having a gradual transition in brightness adds dimension to portraits that is favorable to your subject’s appearance. How we position the transition zone, the arrangement of our subject to the direction of light, is how we control this effect. Learning how to “read” light and using it to improve your images is a fundamental skill. Using this source with your people photography is great way to build those abilities.
Another advantage of window lighting is that is a constant light source. Studio flash heads have a “modeling” light to provide an approximation of the changes in illumination and position make. You can observe those changes directly with window light. As you move your subject closer or further from the light or rotate them you will observe the changes in exposure levels and shadows. You can have side lighting, backlighting or full frontal lighting depending on the position of the subject and the camera location. Widow light is a very versatile light source that can be adapted for multiple lighting effects.
The ironic thing about all of the studio lighting equipment and modifiers that I have purchased for my inventory of photographic tools is that they are primarily used to replicate the qualities of window light. Granted the inventory gives me absolute control and the ability for creating predictable photographic results on demand. For a photographer building their skills as a portrait photographer I would recommend mastering using this available light source and learning about the qualities of light it produces, before I would recommend investing a dime in any advance lighting equipment.
I often extol my students in my photography workshops and tours about the importance of practice in becoming a better photographer. Giving yourself regular photo assignments to be accomplished is great way to help your performance with your digital camera. Window light is readily available so why not include it in your next practice session. Go makes some images!
How do you get an editor’s attention?
The single most important element that will improve your company’s odds of gaining free column inches in print and online is simply to provide quality photography. By supplying an editor good illustration with your press releases you will dramatically increase your publication rates. What do I mean by “good” photography – what sort of images are editors seeking?
Business portraits and headshots are basic requirements for any entrepreneur or professional and they are most useful for building your personal online identity and for marketing materials. Publications will use this type of imagery when the format allows for it but these are not the shots that will be prominently featured. They are great to have for straight news articles but are of limited appeal for editorial feature articles. Provide the publications you are targeting in your media campaign a reason to display your content prominently and in return you will gain free public notice.
Types of PR photos that get the editors attention:
- Show your subject in action- have them actively doing something
- Use photos that relate to your narrative tell your story
- Environmental portraits that show the subject in context
- Provide a good variety of views and a selection of different photos to choose from
- Shots that are well-lit, well exposed and properly focused
- Good product and facility shots
- Unusual perspectives and compositions
- Horizontal and vertically shot choices
Types of public relations photographic clichés that you should avoid:
- The award presentation hand-off and handshake
- Shots that are poorly exposed framed and focused. Technical flaws are a non-starter
- Image files that do not match the publications submission specifications
- Images that include people and property without proper photography release
- Group shots that are arranged for a firing squad – up against the wall!
- Amateur quality, low resolution unprofessional quality
Making photographs that get published rather than end up in the trash requires some skill and expertise. Although digital camera technology is readily available, the results you get yourself may not enhance your professional image. I would encourage you to consider hiring a professional photographer like myself to produce your PR photography. Not only do I have the creative skills to make images that editors want, I also understand the formatting, technical standards and release issues that you will encounter.
You wouldn’t consider someone who watches court room TV shows qualified to defend you in court, that would be crazy.. Why would you trust your public identity and the perception of you and your company to a casual snap shooter?
I have been producing editorial grade, public relations photos for clients, which have been published thousands of times during my career. My objective is to create photography for my clients that enhance their image and provide a maximum return on investment. Not only do my images make you look good- they add value to your brand. For more information on my public relations photography services please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org