Wk 8 – Portrait Photography

Week 8: Portrait Photography
Posted on: Wednesday, 28 October 2015 15:00:00 o’clock EST
HI all,

Below is a summary of this week’s class!

You can view the slide show presentation here: https://www.zeetings.com/lachlanpayne/9731-0001


Nationality: American

Born: October 2, 1949

Profile: Celebrity portrait photographer whose work has featured in Rolling Stone, Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Known for: Iconic portraits of celebrities such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.

Quote: “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.”


What makes a good portrait?

Aside from the many technical aspects that make up a good photograph — and the fact that what is ‘good’ is an entirely subjective matter! — a successful portrait should tell a story and evoke emotion in the viewer.

As the photographer approaching a portrait session, you should ask yourself “What is the story that I want to tell?”

“Great portraits are not mere likenesses. In the best portraits a spark flies from sitter to maker to viewer, a synapse firing between us. We can try to describe it, but its real effects are subcutaneous. The photographs that I treasure most, I struggle to explain. That’s how I know they’re good.”

— Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery

Which lens(es) should I use for portraits?

There is no right or wrong lens to use. Rather, it’s up to you, the photographer, to decide what is the most appropriate focal length for the subject and location.

Wide-angle lenses (e.g. 20mm, 35mm) may distort subjects’ faces and features (especially if you get too close) but allow you to include a greater amount of background details
Standard lenses (e.g. 50mm) and short telephoto lenses (e.g. 85mm, 105mm) give you the best combination of DOF, background blur, and proximity to your subject
Long telephoto lenses (e.g. 135mm, 200mm, 300mm) provide excellent background blur but require to you to be further from your subject
Generally, a focal length of between 50-100mm is the most effective and widely used in portraiture.

Which aperture setting is best for portraiture?

To draw the viewer in to the subject and eliminate background distractions a shallow depth-of-field is preferred.

For that reason it’s best to use a wide aperture. This will be around f/2.8-5.6 on a zoom lens, or as wide as f/1.4 if shooting with a fast prime lens.

For group shots, a narrower aperture is required (e.g. f/5.6-11).

Which shutter speed do I need for portrait photography?

As your subject will most likely be static, your main consideration when choosing shutter speed will be avoiding camera shake.

Thus, you should use the reciprocal rule, to determine what your minimum shutter speed is (e.g. 100mm lens = 1/125 or faster).

Are there are any other settings I need to remember for portraits?

Here are a few things worth remembering:

Be prepared to increase your ISO in order to get your desired aperture and shutter speed
Shoot in Aperture priority mode (Av/A) to be sure you get the right DOF
Consider exposure compensation (i.e. overexposing by up to one stop) when shooting subjects with light or fair skin
Don’t forget to focus on the subject’s eyes!

What’s the difference between continuous lights and strobes?

Strobes range from small, highly portable battery-powered Speedlites to mains-powered monolight units commonly used in studio shoots.

Advantages of strobes:

More powerful
Good power-to-size ratio (especially in Speedlites)
Daylight balanced
Disadvantages of strobes:

More complicated to use
There are three main types of continuous lights: fluorescent, tungsten & LED.

Advantages of continuous lights:

More affordable
Easier to use, quicker to set up
DIY friendly
Can be used for video
Disadvantages of continuous lights:

Not as powerful
Won’t freeze movement
Colour temperature varies
Hotter than the sun
In today’s activities we’ll be using continuous LED lights.

What is a lighting modifier?

Modifiers are lighting accessories that modify the shape, strength and direction of your light source by bouncing, reflecting, diffusing and/or blocking it.

Common modifiers include:

Barn doors
Beauty dish
What are the main types of light used in photographic lighting setups?

Main/key light
Fill light
Hair light
Background light
Accent light(s)
What do those lights do?

The main/key light is the strongest and largest light, and is used the give the subject form and shape. It commonly sits between front on and 45º to the subject, and can be raised above the subject up to 45º.

The fill light is smaller, farther away and not as bright as the main/key light. It fills in the shadow areas. It is often placed asymmetrically to your main/key light, usually at the same height as the subject.

The hair light adds detail to the subject’s hair and separates their head from the background. It is usually placed above and behind the subject.

A background light, as the name suggests, lights the background. This adds a sense of depth to the photograph and can be positioned to draw attention to the subject. It’s common to use a background light to create a vignette around the subject.

Accent lights add just extra illumination to emphasise a small area of the subject or to show texture. These are normally placed behind or to the side of the subject. A hair light is a type of accent light.

What are some common lighting setups used in portrait photography?

Butterfly lighting
Loop lighting
Rembrandt lighting
Broad lighting
Short lighting
Split lighting
Back lighting
Clamshell lighting
Wraparound lighting
I’m confused. Can we start with something simpler?


A basic studio lighting setup to use is the three point lighting setup.

The three lights are:

Main/key light
Fill light
Accent light (i.e. hair light)
What’s the most important thing I need to remember when lighting subjects?

Remember the golden rule of lighting:

The larger the light source (relative to your subject), the softer the light.


As usual, let’s start with some basics:

Set the image quality on your camera to RAW
On your mode dial, select Aperture priority (A/Av)
Locate your white balance settings so you can adjust accordingly for the LED lights, if required
Next, get in to groups of 2-3 and capture a series of portraits using various combinations of a three-point light set-up.

Main/key only
Main/key with fill
Main/key with fill and hair light
Experiment with modifiers to soften the light and/or fill in shadow areas
Return to class and share your results!


Post your summary of today’s lesson, along with your images, results and thoughts to your blog.
Post your Assessment 2 Work in Progress to your blog next week.
Remember that your commitment to your weekly blog entries forms part of your assessment grades!



Annie Leibovitz Biography http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/annie-leibovitz-life-through-a-lens/16/

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/annie-leibovitz-life-through-a-lens/16/

Annie Leibovitz – Vogue http://www.vogue.com/tag/photographer/annie-leibovitz/

7 Times Annie Leibovitz Took Groundbreaking Photos http://www.bustle.com/articles/87180-7-times-annie-leibovitz-took-groundbreaking-photos-because-her-stunning-shots-of-caitlyn-jenner-are-pretty

Annie Leibovitz’s iconic magazine covers http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-annieleibovitz-pg-photogallery.html

Annie Leibovitz on Nine Assignments that Shaped Her Career http://www.racked.com/2014/5/7/7601443/annie-leibovitz


What Makes A Great Portrait Photograph? http://photoworks.org.uk/makes-great-portrait-photograph/

What makes a great portrait? http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2008/02/what_makes_a_great_portrait/

14 portrait photography tips you’ll never want to forget http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/09/06/14-portrait-photography-tips-youll-never-want-to-forget/

22 Portrait Photography Tips http://digital-photography-school.com/portrait-photography-tips/

7 Tips Your Camera Manual Never Told You About Portrait Photography https://fstoppers.com/education/7-tips-your-camera-manual-never-told-you-about-portrait-photography-45422

5 Camera Setting Tips for Shooting Great Portraits http://www.digital-photo-secrets.com/tip/3314/5-camera-setting-tips-for-shooting-great-portraits/

20 Fast Tips for Portrait Photography http://photography.tutsplus.com/articles/20-fast-tips-for-portrait-photography–photo-9511

10 TIPS & TRICKS FOR BETTER PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/tips-and-tricks-for-better-portrait-photography/

Portrait and Wedding Photography Tips https://photographylife.com/portrait-and-wedding-photography-tips

Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture http://www.lynda.com/Photography-Photo-Assignments-tutorials/Narrative-Portraiture-Foundations-of-Portraiture/73663-2.html


Five Portraiture Lighting Patterns https://youtu.be/UPSIayKdO7I

How to Light an Amazing Portrait with a Low Cost DIY Lighting Kit https://youtu.be/gXv5WPoT1_E

Lighting Ratios to Make or Break your Portrait http://digital-photography-school.com/lighting-ratios-to-make-or-break-your-portrait/

6 Portrait Lighting Patterns Every Photographer Should Know http://digital-photography-school.com/6-portrait-lighting-patterns-every-photographer-should-know

10 Ways to Shoot Stunning Portraits With Only One Light http://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/10-ways-to-shoot-stunning-portraits-with-only-one-light–photo-3313

Five Basic Lighting Techniques for Studio Portraiture https://youtu.be/gmmZECtP3oM

Lighting Equipment 101: Why to Invest and What to Buy http://www.pixelz.com/blog/lighting-equipment-101/

Lighting 101* http://strobist.blogspot.com.au/2006/03/lighting-101.html

Strobes or Continuous Lighting? What’s the Better Choice for You http://photography.tutsplus.com/tutorials/strobes-or-continuous-lighting-whats-the-better-choice-for-you–photo-14549

Constant Lighting vs Strobes: Which is Better? http://www.thephoblographer.com/2015/01/12/constant-lighting-vs-strobes-better/#.Vi8YShArIk8

The Best Budget Off-Camera Flashes and Constant Lights http://www.thephoblographer.com/2012/01/20/the-best-budget-off-camera-flashes-and-constant-lights/#.VbiZFBOqpBc

Up and Running with Lighting: Studio Lights and Flash http://www.lynda.com/Photography-tutorials/Up-Running-Lighting-Studio-Lights-Flash/122452-2.html

Lighting for Photographers: Portraiture http://www.lynda.com/Photography-Cameras-Gear-tutorials/Lighting-Photographers-Portraiture/103265-2.html

*If learning about working with off-camera flash interests you, and you have a weekend to spare…


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