In the last few weeks I have had an opportunity during a few portfolio shoots as well as a weekend Beauty and Glamour Photography Workshop to do some more advanced studio lighting setups, something that I usually avoid because when I am shooting a modeling portfolio it is important that the photos don’t sell my lighting setup or cool makeup – they have to sell the model.
In this article I am going to share a four light setup that let’s you create lots of drama and makes a bold statement as you can see in the included images. As always I have included a lighting diagram and I am also going to show you some simple variations on this setup.
For these arrangements, I am using 4 Paul C. Buff AlienBee 800’s. Each of the shots uses either a white WalMart reflector or a zebra gold California Sunbounce Micro-Mini reflector just out of frame under the subjects face to fill the dramatic shadows that are created by the light source being directly above the subject.. The background lights and rim lights are gelled and the main light is modified with either a 22” white beauty dish or a medium sized (24”x36”) Photoflex Softbox . Don’t worry – I will point out the variations and last but not least for you strobists… YES – you could do this with speedlights.
Both of the images below use the same lighting setup however the white Walmart Reflector was replaced with a zebra gold California Sunbounce Micro-Mini reflector to enhance the reflection from the gold colored makeup that was applied to the models body and face.
Yes – The backgrounds have been altered in post production – more about that later in the article. The top image uses blue gels on the rim lights as well as a blue gel on the background light which is aimed at a black background. The bottom image uses magenta colored gels on the rims and background light.
The remaining two images use the same four light arrangement with a Medium Softbox taking the place of the beauty dish.
The top image uses orange gels on the two rim lights and a magenta gel on the background light which is aimed at a black background. The bottom image also uses orange gels on the rim lights with a dark turquoise colored gel on the background light.
A few additional things that should be pointed out… The rim lights are set at approximately 45 degrees from the subject. The key to making the rims work is to be sure they are back far enough so that the light doesn’t spill onto the subjects nose. (Notice in image 3 that the models face is turned to camera left and a small amount of pink hits the tip of her nose.) I am not telling you this as a rule – just that it can be distracting if too much of the colored light hits the nose.
You may notice that in each of the shots the models face is tilted up slightly. This is done to insure that the eyes don’t fall completely into shadow and to pick up nice highlights on the cheeks and nose, especially with the darker skin models.
Here is the same 4 light setup without the bottom reflector. The models face has been lifted towards the beauty dish to provide even lighting on her face and a very dramatic pose. The camera angle adds to the drama by shooting low and aiming up towards the model.
Below is the same four light set-up using a gray background and a backlight with an orange gel aimed low so that the light creates a gradient that gets darker at the top of the frame. Also the reflector under the face has been eliminated in the shot to get the dramatic shadow under the models face. The model has her chin lifted slightly to avoid heavy shadows under the eyebrows and nose.
I mentioned that the backgrounds in the first four images had been digitally altered in post production. Here is the before and after from Image #1. In the image on the left, the background light with a dark turquoise gel is aimed at a matte black vinyl background. In post production, I masked the subject and added a texture to the background. Stay tuned for a future tutorial on my technique for doing this. It is super simple.
The moral is… there are TONS of variations. You are only limited by your own imagination. Experiment – Explore – Take Chances – Don’t Be Afraid To SUCK!
Until next time – keep shooting!
If you like these images – you may be interested in these two videos about hand and eye placement.
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This is the fourth (and last) in a series of articles and accompanying videos that detail my approach to fine art nude photography. In this installment I will show you why I don’t use a light meter when shooting fine art nudes. I will talk about the “value of gray” and why you should ALWAYS shoot RAW when doing this type of work. Special emphasis will be given to the techniques that you see in the images displayed here as well as on my web site www.JoeEdelman.com
Exposing the Fine Art Nude
The metering systems in todays DSLR cameras are micro-computers that are capable of making amazing calculations in real time. No matter how good we would like to think this technology is, the simple fact is that a light meter makes its calculations based upon its sensitivity to light and mathematical equations – which means it is incapable of seeing a scene the way a human sees it.
As I teach my workshops and give lectures across the country I find that one of the most common obstacles for new and emerging photographers is that they want to be RIGHT. It is a common human desire to be right and to receive the praise of others for your efforts.
The problem here is that a creative image is NOT a mathematical equation – there is NO right or wrong. What makes it right is that you like it. It sparks a pleasurable emotion when you view it and hopefully others will feel the same way. Just remember… no matter how right it is – there will always be those who think it is wrong. Who cares?
It is impossible to say definitively what a right or wrong exposure is if you are interested in creativity. This is why it pays to ignore your light meter. Besides… remember the lesson – AUTO is a 4-letter word!
The image below is lit from behind. (The first lighting arrangement I discussed in Naked Part III)
The version on the left is my preferred exposure. The image to the right is what my camera gave me when I used the built in light meter.
The examples below show a variety of variations all shot at different exposures. You may very well prefer one of the versions below to my preferred version above.
Similarly, the shot on the left below is my preferred exposure for this subject on a dark background. The example to the right shows you the results when exposed at the settings recommended by my light meter. Notice because the majority of the image is dark, the meter tells you to open the lens up (use a larger aperture) and as a result you lose all detail in the highlighted areas.
Remember… photography is a visual medium. Now don’t get me wrong – I am all about the technology (A good friend just called me a nerd because I have a crush on Siri – the voice assistant in my new iPhone4s), but you have to understand it’s limitations and realize that at the end of the day it is the visual that counts – not what settings you used to get it.
Experiment! Remember the Egg from Naked Part II
The Value of Gray
Ansel Adams and Fred Archer understood the value of gray when they developed the Zone System back in 1940. When it comes to fine art nudes, I like gray as a background because it also gives me a lot of latitude both from a lighting perspective and a post production perspective.
With regards to lighting… the subject below is posed in front the same Thunder gray seamless backdrop for all three shots.
In the first example on the left, the subject is place immediately in front of the gray background, so the amount of light hitting the subject is almost the same amount of light that is hitting the gray background.
In the middle example using the same lighting arrangement, the subject and the lights are moved about 5 feet further from the background. Now we have a completely different background shade. In the last example on the right, the subject and lights have been moved even further away and the gray background turns black. All of this has been done without having to change backgrounds. That I show you KISS it!
Always Shoot RAW
I am really not sure why but I still hear people debating the values of shooting Camera RAW or jpeg. Honestly I just don’t get it. If you are serious about your work and want to allow yourself the most room for creativity – there is NO debate – RAW is the answer.
I am giving you these examples just to spark your creative juices and remind you that as photographers we “create images” – we don’t take them (unless of course you stole it from someone else).
Each of the images below is a variation of the same RAW file. They were all created in a 10-minute time frame using only the Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop (That’s the same set of controls as the Develop Panel in Lightroom). No other special effects, no plug-ins or additional post processing – just adjustments to the same RAW file.
The bottom line… Camera RAW files give you more range to experiment and experiment is exactly what you need to do if you want to broaden your creative horizons.
Here is the header image at the beginning of this article. On the left in it’s original form – on the right with a simple Hue / Saturation Layer and a -180 setting on the master Hue.
Some Simple 1 Light Fine Art Nudes
So there you have it. That’s how I do it… now go and make it your own!
This is the third in a series of articles and accompanying videos that detail my approach to fine art nude photography. In this installment I will show you some of my favorite lighting arrangements, complete with diagrams for shooting the female nude. Special emphasis will be given to the specific lighting techniques that you see in the images displayed on my web site.
I think I made it pretty clear in Naked Part I and Naked Part II that I am a fan of the KISS IT (Keep It Simple Stupid) method of lighting and shooting. So with that in mind let’s jump right in and look at a few lighting set-ups that I routinely use for shooting fine art nudes. (If you haven’t read the previous two articles and watched the videos – trust me – read them first!)
Backlit – Silhouette With Some Spill
Backlighting is a favorite of mine when shooting fine art nudes in my studio. Since I frequently choose to not show the identity of my subjects (I like my images to be about the beauty of the female form and NOT who is naked) I find that the purity of the white background combined with the mood created by the backlighting helps to isolate my subject and forces me to really concentrate on creating a mood using my subjects movement or body language combined with interesting composition.
In this first example you see two 800watt second strobe heads placed on either side of a white seamless background. Attached to the strobes are shoot through umbrellas. These shoot through umbrellas create a very broad yet diffused light that makes it very easy to light the white background evenly and by keeping them angled slightly inward, they also create enough spill to shed some highlights on the subject so that the image is not a complete silhouette.
You can see in the examples below how different body angles and exposures create almost limitless variations.
Backlit – “Window Light”
This backlit “window like” effect is incredibly simple and pure, and it breaks ALL the rules. If you have read any of my articles, you know how I feel about rules.
In this arrangement ALL of the light is behind the subject. I generally use two 800watt second strobe heads with shoot through umbrellas placed on either side of a white seamless background. The umbrellas are aimed directly at the background to eliminate any spill on the subject. (Depending on your space – you may want to place a gobo between the light source and your camera lens to eliminate any flare)
In front of the subject I place two large white reflectors to create a soft fill light which is what illuminates the subject. The exposure is based upon the light that is reflecting back to my subject from the white reflectors. (This is NOT a scenario where you can do anything on AUTO. Remember – AUTO is a 4 LETTER WORD!)
It’s worth noting that the little details – parts of the body – can be just as visually interesting as a head to toe image.
One Side Light on a Gray Wall
This is another very simple arrangement that allows you to create a lot of drama. The best part of this set-up is that it only requires 1 light. In my case, most of the sample images you are seeing are shot with an 800watt second strobe and a medium sized softbox.
When using this set-up I will often instruct the model to face the wall and play with her shadow. As I have mentioned in past articles this is just one way to empower the model as a collaborator.
In the examples below you will notice that I simply moved my subjects about 2 feet from the wall and used the same type of cross lighting from a single light source.
One-Light Side Lighting
It doesn’t get much simpler that this one. One 800watt second strobe head and a medium sized softbox. I will generally place the light and then move my model through the light as I have shown you in previous articles and videos.
Don’t forget that you can raise or lower the light source to add even more possibilities.
Two-Light Split Lighting
Two 800watt second strobe heads with medium sized softboxes placed at equal distances on either side of the subject. Moving the subject forward or backwards between the lights will have a dramatic impact on the lighting effect, as will simply turning the model in one direction or the other.
As the title would indicate this is simply placing one 800watt second strobe head above my subject. Sometimes with a beauty dish or softbox – other times simply direct light.
Once again when I use this technique I will generally set my lighting in place and then move my subject around under the light to explore the possibilities.
The example below is done with one 800watt second strobe head and a 22” Beauty Dish. The rounded shape of the beauty dish creates the curvature as the light falls off into the background.
This Black and White example was lit with an 800watt second strobe head and a medium sized softbox placed above my subject and angled slightly towards the backdrop to lighten the backdrop just a little. The model is lying on 4’ x 8’ sheet of black laminate, which can be purchased at a Home Depot or Lowes. The high gloss of the laminate creates the mirror image.
Hopefully that get’s you started. The lighting arrangements that you see above account for 75% of my fine art images.
Remember that most of these lighting arrangements could be done similarly with direct flash, beauty dishes or softboxes. It’s NOT how much cool and expensive equipment you have – it is your ability to “SEE”. Experiment with your light and learn to see how different light sources and light mods interact with your subject. This is the only way you will ever truly master lighting.
This is the second in a series of articles and accompanying videos that detail my approach to fine art nude photography. In this installment I will discuss Planning, Posing, Equipment and Simple Lighting. Special emphasis will be given to the specific lighting and posing techniques that you see in the images displayed here as well as on my web site www.JoeEdelman.com.
KISS IT! = Keep It Simple Stupid
Especially for your first few shoots… select a simple concept or lighting style and don’t try to over do it.
The majority of my fine art nudes are shot with one or two lights. Even when I am not using the models face, I am much more interested in creating a mood based upon the model and the camera’s interaction with her – not elaborate lighting.
Generally when planning a figure shoot I select a lighting style or simple concept, like images featuring hands or the model moving like a dancer. I will add to that concept a simple background and simple lighting and that’s how I will begin.
My figure study shoots are collaboration between my subject and myself. Before I begin shooting I take the time to discuss my concepts and ideas with my subject. I want to put them at ease and also make sure that we are on the same page about what will happen. As I reminded you in Part I, don’t ever forget that your subjects have agreed to place themselves in a vulnerable position. It doesn’t matter if you are paying them or not – you will always get more out of your subject by making them comfortable, treating them respectfully and encouraging them to be a part of the creative process.
In Part I, I mentioned that I rarely pose my nude subjects. South African photographer Sam Haskins* [1926 – 2009] was quoted as saying: “A model can only be successfully directed by talking her into a mood or attitude. The moment you physically place a limb into position you may as well be photographing a shop dummy.”
This controlled candid concept works very well for me when I shoot nudes. Since much of my commercial work is designed to market models or products, I am often forced to manipulate my subjects as if they were shop dummies. When I shoot nudes, I prefer to photograph natural movement. Be sure to watch the video below for an example.
If your model is a beginner it will probably benefit you to give her a few poses to start with and then encourage her to move.
If you are looking for some posing tips, be sure to read my articles on posing.
Seattle based photographer Chase Jarvis has given new life to the age-old catchphrase “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” with his mobile photography book, app and website: TheBestCamera.com. This is a phrase that I learned as a teenager when my first 35mm camera was a $75.00 German made Hanimex Praktica Nova 1B.
Digital camera technology and megapixels are quickly exceeding our REAL needs. In 2000, I was shooting images for publication with a Nikon D1, which was 2.7 megapixels. In 2002, I was shooting images that were appearing on billboards with a Nikon D1x, which was 5.3 megapixels.
The images below were shot with an Apple iPhone4 that has a 5-megapixel camera!
Hopefully those images make the point pretty clear – it’s not the camera. It’s what you do with it.
When it comes to equipment, I place much more emphasis on the lenses that I choose for my shoots. Len’s allow me to manipulate the visual perspective of the shot and can have a dramatic impact on the mood of the image.
A Wide Angle lens will allow you to shoot closer and will provide a unique perspective as well as more depth of field.
A telephotos lens will allow you to shoot from a greater distance and will limit depth of field. It will also give the impression of compressing distance and allows you to limit depth of field with much less effort.
What is the best way to light a fine art nude? I am asked this question a lot and my first response usually frustrates the person inquiring: With as much or as little light as you have or can afford.
Are you spotting a trend yet? A quality photograph is not about the brand of the lights or how many were used.
Before you can even think about how to light your nude, you need to learn to see light. If you have read other articles I have written you have heard me talk about my experience with an egg.
Be sure to watch this video to see how the egg relates to lighting and photographing the female form. You will also get a first hand look at how I work with one light and a moving model to create a series of shots.
The story of the egg and the lessons learned from it are invaluable when shooting the nude female form. The female body is made of the same shapes and similar textures as the egg.
* Sam Haskins Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Haskins
This is Part 5 and the last in a series of articles about how to pose (or not pose) your models to create images full of life, energy and movement. The techniques that I have shown you are not just for models. These techniques will also dramatically improve your senior portraits, wedding photos and just about any set-up shot involving people.
In this series of articles on Posing, I have talked about Directed Candids and the importance of the collaboration between the model and the photographer. We have reviewed hand and eye placement in poses and now we are going to finish this discussion by looking at Controlled Poses.
So what exactly is a Controlled Pose? As you might guess from its name, it is a pose where you are giving the model very specific directions and asking them to “hold the pose”. Or as I sometimes describe it to my models… “Don’t move at all… breathing is optional.”
I explained in the first posing article in this series that I would generally only use a controlled pose for close-ups (headshots or beauty shots). The main reason for that is because I like my images to have life and a feeling of movement whenever possible. A controlled pose makes it very hard to do that.
Some subjects are nervous in front of the camera and you will have a very difficult time getting them to move freely. In this case controlled poses will be necessary to get you through the shoot. (If it is a new model you are shooting and she is afraid to pose – she probably shouldn’t be modeling) Even with a controlled pose, it is important for the pose to look relaxed and natural whenever possible (unless you are doing dramatic fashion images)
Here are two controlled poses that I will routinely use when shooting modeling portfolios. I use these NOT because they are creative but because they are flattering to the female figure, easy for a model to hold and with a beginner; I use them to help build her confidence.
Notice that with simple changes to the hands there are numerous variations that you can create with both of these pose concepts.
When in doubt – give them a prop. Props are the easiest way to help your model get into character and it also gives them something more natural to do with their hands.
ADDITIONAL POSING TIPS
Finally a few posing tips that apply to both Directed Candids and Controlled Poses.
Watch the body angles and tilts
Natural body postures are not always flattering when preserved in a photograph. Be careful of big head tilts and “broken necks”.
Exaggerate the curves
When I am shooting swimwear or lingerie I always tell my models if it doesn’t hurt it probably doesn’t look good. Push the hips and arch the back.
Pay attention to the outfits
There is nothing worse than twisted straps, weird creases or bulges from outfits that fit too tight. Fix it BEFORE you shoot. “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” is NOT how you create consistently great images.
Make your model breathe
Don’t let your subject suck in her stomach. To do that a person has to hold their breath. If your subject if holding her breath she cannot emote and create natural expressions.
Suggest moods or characters
Never throw a girl in front of a camera and say, “ok do something”. A great image is collaboration between the model and the photographer. At a minimum, communicate to your model what type of mood and expression you are after.
Teach your model to smile with her eyes
The best expressions begin with what the model is thinking – not what she is doing. Remember, modeling IS acting. Smiling because you are truly happy creates a softer smile that uses fewer muscles and reduces the amount of squinting.
NEVER say smile
If you tell a model to smile, you will get the same smile EVERY time. (BORING) Smile pretty for the camera is a mechanical smile that we learn by the time we are two years old. Humans have many smiles that they routinely repeat in response to different emotions. Have the model focus on the emotions and you will get the different smiles.
Watch the mouth
Sometimes the best expression is NO expression. So many photographers shoot two expressions – happy and serious. Human beings have a much broader range of expressions – be sure to show them in your photographs.
Keep the lips full
Many women have small upper lips that roll under and disappear when they smile big. A smile that is generated from a sincere happy thought creates softer laugh lines and helps keep the upper lip full.
Watch the chin
Even the strongest of jaw lines can disappear with a high camera angle or a few extra pounds. Having your model extend the chin forward by just a half an inch will re-define the jaw line regardless of camera angle.
Protect the neck
The neck is considered to be a very sexy part of the body. When exaggerating bodylines, do not let your model hunch her shoulders.
Avoid hands on the hip
Or at least find a creative way to do it. Hands on the hips – facing towards the camera is the classic modeling school pose or the ‘I don’t know what to do with my hands” pose.
Here are a few recent shots that have both Controlled Poses and Directed Candids
I hope that you found this posing information helpful. As always… Happy Shooting and Don’t Be Afraid to Suck!
In Part One I talked about posing hands on the body.
Now let’s talk briefly about posing hands off the body and then as promised I will review some guidelines for hands around the face.
Be sure to view the video that accompanies the How to Handle HANDS articles so that you can see some of these techniques in real-time.
One of the hardest things for a model to do with her hands is NOTHING! Part of what makes it hard is that she has to think about doing nothing.
Seriously, try it. Tell your model to relax her hands at her side and just keep them relaxed… dead hands. Watch her for 30 seconds as she begins to make claws with her fingers and in some cases winds up with loose fists.
The moral here is that you have to be careful about how much you actually discuss hands with your subject. Too much discussion and you will find your subject concentrating more on her hands than on her facial expressions.
If you are trying to build your portfolio, consider working with dancers whenever possible. Part of the training process for dancers is elegant hands. If you are not fortunate enough to find a dancer to work with, simply tell your subject that she should think like a ballerina and hold her hands elegantly. Nine times out of ten the girl will at least show an improvement in hand posture simply by trying her version of what a ballerina does.
If you are shooting a close-up portrait or beauty shot you need to pay even greater attention to how you pose the hands.
Often times the best way to position the hands is to do it yourself. While this does break the “don’t touch the model” rule, it is the social equivalent of a handshake and is rarely found offensive. Just be sure to tell your model what you are intending to do – before you do it.
As you can see in the example above, you will generally want to keep the pinky and ring fingers closest to the camera, as this is the smaller and thinner side of the hand.
There are always exceptions (hence – NO RULES!). If you have a subject with long and thin fingers a pose like the one above will allow you to use the thumb or index finger closer to the camera lens.
As I mentioned in Part I, I am to tell my subjects that they must show up with well-groomed nails. Simple clear coat or French Tipped is best. No Colors or Designs unless you want that you be the focus of the photo.
The model in this set of photos is wearing glue-on fingernails that you can purchase at any drugstore for under $7.00 for two sets of nails. As long as they are applied properly it is virtually impossible to tell them apart from real nails.
Frequently when we see shots of models resting their heads on their hands we will see natural things like in the photo below. The model is really resting her head on the hand and it is natural for her to show is the back of her hand which gives it a masculine feel.
As you can see below, turning the hand with the pinky closest to the camera improves the pose slightly.
Opening the fingers and staggering the tip provides even more elegance and makes the pose more interesting. As you can see, there are MANY variations. You are really only limited by your creativity.
Add in a talented makeup artist as a collaborator and be sure to try many options and you will find that the sky is the limit.
Be sure to watch the video for more variations on the above set-up as well as the finished shot.
- A woman’s hands should be graceful and elegant
- Avoid hard angles and claws
- Show the pinky side of the hand to the camera – it is the thinner side
- Have your model hold a prop for more natural looking hands
- Posing hands is a collaboration – don’t be afraid to manipulate your models hands
- Hands on the hips is a Modeling School pose
- Don’t break the wrists
- If the model folds her arms – make sure you see both hands
- Glue-on fingernails work well in a pinch
- Dancers do “good hands”
- If your model is not a dancer – tell her to pretend she is
One last tip:
If you are working with a subject that is over the age of 30 you need to understand that as a woman gets older the skin on the backs of her hands gets thinner.
If you have your subject stand for any period of time with her hands down, the veins fill up with blood and get larger and darker. This makes her hands look MUCH older than they really are.
Every few minutes, have her raise her hands above her shoulders to let the blood drain out. Paying attention to this and taking the few extra seconds to drain the blood will save you hours of retouching time in Photoshop.
This is Part One of a two-part article on posing hands for modeling and portrait photographs.
I find that hands are one of the most overlooked aspects of posing a subject, especially among new photographers and new models. It is often the smallest details that can have a dramatic impact on the mood or quality of an image and hands can certainly make or break a photo.
What makes this difficult is that in our day-to-day life we take hands for granted. Everyone has them right? The problem is that along with facial expressions, twisted straps, messy hair and bulges from too tight outfits, once they are frozen in a photo for all eternity they become impossible to ignore and if they are poorly placed they will simply ruin the shot.
When hands are posed near the face they can either emphasize or detract from the expression and mood of the person. We have all heard the phrase “talks with their hands”. Hands are used naturally to express feelings and emotion and can often give context to a pose or expression. Unfortunately, hands are not exactly the most attractive of body parts and often times are not proportioned along with the rest of the body.
I find it amusing that many books and articles on the subject of posing hands actually suggest hiding the hands if you are not very good at posing them. Seriously? Some people are just wimps! Practice makes perfect and it all begins with paying attention to human anatomy. There are NO R U L E S; you simply have to learn to SEE not look at what is in front of your camera.
So let’s jump in:
Generally speaking a woman’s hands should appear graceful and elegant. A man’s hands should show strength and masculinity. Since I shoot mostly women, this article will focus on women’s hands.
It is my opinion that the hands should serve a purpose in the image. Maybe they are holding a prop, maybe they are framing the face, they might be providing support, directing attention or along with the arms simply providing a contrast to the sensual curves of a woman’s body.
If you are new to this process or have a model that is new or nervous, giving her something to hold or interact with will certainly ease the process for both of you.
It is still important that you pay attention to how the model has placed her hands. Just because you have given her something to hold or do with them, doesn’t mean that it will automatically look good. Work to make the models hands look as natural and relaxed as possible in the task you have given her. A nervous model will often show tension in the hands. Be aware of this and have your model relax her hands in between shots if necessary.
Hands on the hips are great if you like cheesy modeling school poses
I call this the “I don’t know what to do with my hands” pose. I mean seriously how many times do you see a person in an ad with their hands on their hips? I am not saying “NEVER” but generally you don’t. Why? Well what image does a woman with her hands on her hips conjure up for you? That takes most of us back to childhood when our Mother was yelling at us and threatening to take away TV privileges if we didn’t clean up our room or it is a classic 1950’s pinup pose. No disrespect to the great Peter Gowland, but in today’s world that’s boring!
So if you need to shoot hands on the hips, make sure the hands are softly placed on the hips and the wrists are slightly broken. Be sure that your model doesn’t hunch her shoulders. This will shorten the neck and alter the models body proportions. The neck is considered to be a very sexy part of the female body so be very careful when you choose to hide or alter it.
In the example above, the first image on the left shows the model with her hands unevenly placed on the hips (which hides the natural hourglass curves of the models hips), shoulders hunched and fingers spread unevenly. The second image shows hands on the hips with evenly placed fingers and relaxed shoulders. The last two images show variations on the hands on the hips theme that are both pleasing and flattering to the models figure.
If it ain’t broke don’t break it
Another common malady that shows up in images are broken wrists. While I have yet to figure out why girls find this to be a comfortable position, it seems that many do. The thing to remember is that a woman’s body is all about curves, so unless you are trying to shoot an editorial fashion shot with hunched shoulders weird posture, you will want to soften angles wherever possible.
In the example above, the image at far left shows the broken wrists which frequently show up in a beginners casual, swimwear and lingerie shots. While the middle image is an improvement, showing the backs of the models hands makes them look broad and masculine. The third image on the right has the fingers pointed down, the hands slightly to the side and the wrists slightly broken. Be careful to keep the fingers loose. Stiff, straight fingers are your models way of telling you she is nervous with her body language.
In the bikini example above, the image on the left shows the fingers curled and aimed inward which sends a little too much attention where you don’t really want it. The fingers turned in also breaks up the curvy hourglass shape. The example on the right uses the hands and fingers pointing down to accentuate the models figure. It also makes her fingers look longer and thinner.
Working with Arms and Hands
Once again what often feels natural does not necessarily look natural or flattering. The most common mistake that we see is the missing or amputated hand as shown in the image on the left below.
When you have your model folding her arms in front of her body it is important to see both hands and make them appear elegant. It is a good idea to make sure that the model does not hold her arms tightly against the body because this can cause the arms to flatten and widen.
The middle image in the example above shows good hand placement and you will notice that by having the model hold the arms slightly off the chest, there are fewer wrinkles in the shirt and the breasts are not flattened. The third image on the far right shows hunched shoulders that many people will do when folding their arms and also the hands are actually grabbing the arms, which causes more tension in the hands and is less flattering.
I mentioned earlier that you showing the back of the hand makes the hand look broad and if the hand is gripping something it will tend to make the hand look much more masculine.
In the example above, the image on the left shows the back of both hands and the models right wrist (camera left) is broken in an unnatural direction. By having the model softly rotate the bottoms of her hands towards the camera and break the wrists and hands up, the hands look more feminine and show less tension.
Don’t Tuck The Arms
In the example on the left above you can see that the model has her arms tucked behind her body. As a result we loose the silhouette of her shape. In the second photo on the right, her elbows are relaxed and slightly off the body. This allows us to see her hourglass shape and is much more flattering and sexy.
- There is nothing worse than setting up a shot with the hand near the face only to find out that the model is a nail biter and hasn’t prepped her hands properly.
- Remember, if you do not give your models a prep list you cannot blame them if they show up un-prepared.
- Make sure your model knows that she needs to have clean, well-groomed nails with no color. The nails should be clear coat and thin French Tips are acceptable (Wide French tips are sooo yesterday
- You may want to visit your local drug store and purchase a few sets of glue-on fingernails. You can usually purchase two sets to a box for less than seven dollars and these can be a lifesaver if your model is not prepared. You would be surprised to find out how many of my shots have a model wearing glue-on fingernails.
This is the THIRD and final installment in a series of articles dedicated to creating simple yet flattering and exciting lighting arrangements for shooting beauty. These techniques can be used for everything from portraits to fashion photographs.
I did a Google search on the phrase “Bounce Flash” and got back more than two million results. YouTube.com and Vimeo.com had over 400 videos on the subject. Most of the web pages and videos gave me “rules for good bounce flash”. If you read the first article in this series you already know how I feel about rules and photography.
Let’s look at a few basics. One of the first things that you learn about flash photography is that direct flash is harsh and bounce flash softens the overall light and eliminates heavy shadows. Then as you progress and get a little fussier about the quality of your images you realize that while bounce flash is softer and more flattering it tends to create shadows under the eye sockets which makes your subject look like they are sitting in a poorly lit classroom or office building. The net result is that we are universally taught that if you are going to shoot people in a studio setting you need expensive lighting set-ups with multiple lights and fancy light control accessories like softboxes or beauty dishes.
I am not going to lie – I bought into that lesson (I mean really bought into it… $$$$) for many years. Then I had one of those light bulb moments when I was working with a young intern who was really having a heard time understanding the concept that light travels in a straight line. I was actually trying to teach this intern how to use on camera bounce flash in preparation for an editorial assignment that she had coming up. I had set up a Speedlight on a stand instead of putting it on her camera so that it would be easier for me to manipulate it as she took test shots for visual reference.
The light bulb moment was realization that the greater the distance the flash was from the subject then the more the light spread and the softer and less top heavy it was. Add my favorite white WalMart reflector for a little bottom fill and you have some really nice, soft light.
So let’s look at some examples and put this observation to the test.
One of the key elements that is helpful when using bounce flash is a low ceiling. (The higher the ceiling the more light you need because of the increased distance the light must travel) All of the shots in this article were done in my home studio that has a 9-foot ceiling that is painted white. The light source for most of the shots is a Paul C. Buff 800ws Alien Bee. (I am still waiting for that phone call Paul.)
In this shot above, my model Megan is placed about 4 feet in front of a Savage Thunder Gray seamless backdrop. The main light (Alien Bee) is placed about 6 feet in front of her and for the actual shot – the camera was hand held and in front of the Alien Bee. As you can see in the behind the scenes shot below, the WalMart reflector is placed just above Megan’s belly button and angled upward. This provides a nice fill as well as the soft catch light in the bottom of the eyes. The reflector on the Alien Bee is the stock 7” silver reflector.
Traditionally, when using bounce flash on camera, the smart move is to aim the flash head to a point just short of halfway between your flash and your subject. Why? Light travels in a straight line and you want the bulk of the light to reach your subject, not dissipate causing you to have to increase your ISO or shoot at a wider aperture. I have found that when working in a smaller controlled space like my home studio set-up I don’t have to be too concerned with how accurately the flash is aimed, as long as there is no spill directly on my subject.
This next series of images of my model Ambre are also done with a single bounce flash and Ambre is seated in a small white corner of my studio. Because these are not close-up portraits, there is no bottom reflector. To compensate for the lack of a bottom reflector, the flash is placed a little further away (about 12 feet) from the model and aimed straight up.
It is worth pointing out to those of you who shoot models that all 5 of these shots were taken in a 10-minute window, in the same location, with the same hair and makeup and same lighting. In other words… 1 shot and done makes a very boring portfolio for model AND photographer.
The image of my model Megan leaning against the moveable white wall is the exact same lighting set-up that was used in the previous examples of Ambre. If you look to the right of the behind the scenes inset of Megan, you can see the white platform that Ambre was posed on.
It is worth noting that this lighting set-up works well in Color as well as Black and White. The two shots of my model Amy above were done within moments of each other and only required a small change in the hair. The two examples above are shot with the WalMart reflector added back in to the mix as you can see in the lighting diagram below.
Ok for those of you who are getting a little antsy because you have already bought a load of lighting equipment and you know if you don’t use it your spouse will not believe you the next time you say “I need” a new studio light… let’s start adding some more lights into the mix.
As you can see in the diagram above, these two black and white shots have a background light added. The model is placed about 4 feet in front of a white wall with a 400ws Alien Bee placed just behind the model and aimed slightly upward towards the wall. The Alien Bee has the standard 7” silver reflector.
One notable change for the black and white shots above and the remaining two color shots is that the reflector is now a Photoflex silver disc reflector. The brighter reflector creates a pseudo clamshell lighting effect without the need for a bottom light.
In the color example above I added one rim light in the back on camera left. If you look closely you can see the subtle highlight that it leaves on the models dark hair. The background light is still in place with an amber gel on it.
Finally for the last example I will go all out for the equipment geek in all of us and shoot with a whopping four lights. The main light is still bounced to the ceiling. The background light is still aiming at the white wall but I have placed a piece of shear leopard print material between the wall and the model (The same material that is wrapped around the models head). To finish it off I have added two rim lights – one on either side of the subject behind and above her to create soft highlights on her hair.
The Moral To The Story:
I hope that you enjoyed this series on Beauty Lighting: Not the Textbook Version. It is my hope that you take away a few key pieces of information. If you remember these five points – I have accomplished my task. If you learned more than these five points, congratulations, you well are on your way to taking better beauty images.
1. There are no RULES in photography. R U L E is a four-letter word that hampers creativity. If you are person who has to define right or wrong and best or worst then you are probably not going to be anything more than a “good photographer”.
2. KISS it! Everybody needs a little love right? Seriously… Keep It Simple Stupid. The MOST important element in your beauty shots is what you put in front of the camera. Lighting, exposure, backgrounds, composition are secondary. A beautiful subject with great hair, makeup and the appropriate styling are MOST important.
3. You don’t have to be rich to be a photographer. HeHeHe… in fact if you want to be rich it is probably best to find another career path. You don’t need tons of expensive equipment to shoot great beauty shots. Most of the images that you have seen in this series were done with one light and none of them required more than three. Seattle based photographer Chase Jarvis has made famous the phrase that many of us learned in our teens if we were fortunate enough to have good mentors… The best camera is the one that’s with you. That applies for lighting and modifiers too.
4. Remember the EGG! You MUST learn to “SEE” light. You may own the coolest most expensive equipment but if you can’t see what is really going on in front of your camera then you are lost. As humans, our brain processes incredible amounts of information before we are aware of it and often times even without us being conscious of it. As a result we miss things. I will often walk a new intern up to a telephone poll and tell them to take a photo of it that is visually interesting. When they are done looking at me like I am nuts, in less than 5 minutes I will make a series of photos that look like they could be on a gallery wall. They chose to accept that their brain showed them an ordinary telephone poll. I showed them that by taking the time to truly observe what was in front of me, even something as ordinary as a telephone pole could be a beautiful work of art.
5. All of the lessons that you have learned from these articles and from any articles for that matter are WORTHLESS unless you go out and shoot and make mistakes.
Photographer and professor Harry Callahan is quoted as saying “…To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the act of making pictures. Experience is the best teacher of all. And for that there are no guarantees that one will become an artist. Only the journey matters…”
I have a phrase that requires a few less words… “Don’t be afraid to SUCK! You will be amazed by what you will learn if you open your eyes and your mind to the lessons of experience.”
This is the SECOND in a series of articles dedicated to creating simple yet flattering and exciting beauty lighting arrangements. These techniques can be used for everything from portraits to fashion photographs. Be sure to check out the video at the end of the article for a cool Photoshop trick that adds to this technique.
I know you are thinking the title is wrong. Even back in the film days the inside of the Kodak boxes had the Daylight Lighting Table that explained you should put the light behind the camera with the subject facing towards the light.
If you read the first article in this series you already know how I feel about rules. If you haven’t read it, I would encourage you to do so as it is important to remember my KISS IT formula.
The lighting concept for this article is very simple. ALL of the light will be behind the subject. The exposure is based on the light being reflected back to the subject from the reflectors that will be placed in front of or on the side of the subject.
I am not a big fan of simple white backgrounds when coupled with butterfly or clamshell lighting arrangements; they feel too sterile to me. I love to use the backlighting effect for the purity and dream like quality that it creates. When I look at these images I am drawn to my subjects eyes and facial expressions with very few distractions. This light is also very flattering and reduces the amount of retouching needed to clean up facial flaws or blemishes.
As you will see on the examples below, I am shooting in a white space made up of a white background, white ceiling, white walls and white reflectors.
For the sake of this article I am going to show you two variations on the theme that I routinely use.
For most of the shots in this article we are going to work with 1 – 800ws Paul C. Buff Alien Bee, a few of the shots are done with a Photogenic 1250DR. See if you can tell the difference
Before we get into the examples it is worth noting that my studio space is relatively small. I shoot most of my beauty images in a shooting area that is barely over 500 sq. feet. When I have a client project that requires a larger space, I rent a 4,000sq foot studio and pass the cost along to the client. As I explained in the previous article, I use a 70-200mm zoom for most of my studio shooting (close-up or full length).
So let’s put all of this information to work and take a look at a few examples:
In this first shot (above) the model is seated between a white wall on camera left and a moveable white wall on camera right. (This could be a piece of 48” x 96” Foam Core Board)
It is important to note that the subject is recessed into the space so that there is a fair amount of white wall in front of her that serves as reflectors to help provide an even light to the front of her face. (See Lighting Diagram – Arrangement #1)
1 strobe is aimed at the wall behind the model. My exposure is based upon the light that is reflecting on to her face – NOT the light that is behind her.
These next two shots (above) were done moments apart. The lighting, exposure, background, outfit, makeup and hair are all the same. The only things that changed were the pose, and the camera angle/composition.
One of the key elements to exposing these backlit images is that you must expose for the shadows. This is not a technique that you can create with automatic exposure settings. (Remember… AUTO = Four Letter Word)
The four shots that you see above are done within 5 minutes of each other. The lighting, exposure, background, outfit and makeup are all the same. The only things that changed were the models pose, her hair and the camera angle/composition.
The model was placed about eight feet in front of a white background with two large white reflectors about three to four feet in front of her on either side of the camera lens.
This arrangement is more versatile if you want your model to move or if you want to do a bedroom type setting and have your model working on a prop bed or platform.
This backlit technique also lends itself very well to Black and White images as you can see in the two examples above.
BTW… When I shoot black and white images – I shoot them as black and white tiffs – no color data. Hey back in the film days you exposed and lit your shot differently for color than you did black and white. Why should digital be any different unless you are lazy? Alas, that will be a subject for another article.
One of the great bonuses to this backlighting that I have already mentioned is that it is very forgiving to skin blemishes and flaws. It is also extremely forgiving to flyaway hairs.
Compare the two un-retouched images above. The image on the left is front lit and the models hair shows every stray and frizz. The image on the right is backlit and MOST of the flyaway hair disappears thanks to the lighting.
This can be a lifesaver if your hair stylist is horrible or you simply don’t have one available.
Post Processing Notes:
I am a firm believer of “get it right in the camera”. This lighting style does however require one small but very important adjustment in post processing.
When you try these lighting arrangements you will notice as soon as you take your first test shot that the images your camera records are low in contrast. Certainly you can make some contrast adjustments in camera with a DSLR, however I discourage this because if you are like me you will change the contrast setting and then forget to change it back.
My workflow is simply to increase the contrast in either Lightroom or Camera Raw before doing any additional post processing.
Be sure to watch the video below for an additional bonus trick to add a dreamy window light effect to these shots.