There are so many visual tools that photographers have available to influence the viewer’s experience with a photograph. Things like using diagonal lines to guide the viewer’s eye to the point in the photograph that is most important. The idea of using foreground objects to frame and highlight your subject. We use light and color and shadow and, well, there are quite a few techniques that photographers learn as they progress and build their skill set.
When you have been shooting for as long as I have, these time-tested and proven techniques can begin to feel a little predictable. In the pursuit of new and creative ideas, a few years back I stumbled onto a concept that I find myself using more and more in my beauty and fashion portrait images. I like to refer to it as calm in the middle of chaos.
I want to share some of these techniques for creating fashion portraits with movement with you and hopefully inspire you to try some of them yourself. Be sure to read to the end and I will share a simple trick that I use in most of my portraits. It is a trick that is so subtle, yet very effective. But first, let me explain how the ideas I am going to give you can really benefit your photography.
The Creative Photography Dilemma
One of the many challenges that photographers face is the fact that NO other human being will have the same experience with your photographs as you did. They won’t see it the same way, and they won’t experience the same emotions as you. So, an important creative lesson that we all must learn is that when we share our images with the world, everyone will see our photographs and experience them in their own way, which means that our version of creativity may not be seen as creative by someone else.
Remember that age-old quote from Margaret Wolfe Hungerford? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That quote has stood the test of time because it speaks the truth. As photographers, we have little control over what someone else will see or experience when looking at our work. Or do we?
It turns out that we do. Learning about things like body language and how color impacts mood and emotion can give you a head start on generating the response that you want from a viewer, because mood and emotion are responses that begin in the brain, and they are predictable.
It is useful to understand that our brains are hard-wired to find facial symmetry much more attractive than an asymmetric face. The challenge there is that no human being is completely symmetrical. If you ever meet that person, you should probably run – don’t walk! Aliens have landed! But seriously, the idea of a person’s best side is based on the concept of creating as much symmetry as possible in the eye.
I could write another full article about these cognitive psychology tips, and maybe we can convince the editors to let me do that in a future edition. For now, let’s dig into this chaos concept.
Calm in the Middle of Chaos is all about movement
This idea came to me a few years ago while I was working on this beauty / fashion portrait that features some incredible work by my makeup artist.
The image that you see above is exactly what I had in mind for this shoot. A high-key image with a very symmetrical makeup design and the model turned slightly from the camera so that her shoulders would create leading lines right to her face, which is looking directly into the lens.
I lit this shot with an Interfit Honey Badger in a 24” square softbox placed approx. 2ft(61cm) above the camera and angled down towards the model’s face. I had a 20”(51cm) x 30”(76cm) piece of white foam board below the model’s face for some fill. I also have Honey Badgers placed a few feet behind the model on each side with blue gels – aimed back at the model to create a blue rim light on her face and shoulders. Finishing out the lighting is one more Honey Badger on the floor behind the model aimed at the white background so that it is lit evenly and about 2 stops brighter than my model.
The background light also has a light blue gel on it – even though I am overexposing the background, I wanted a hint of blue tint in the light.
I am a firm believer in “working the shot”. I begin every shoot with the mentality that my idea or concept is a good one, but there is a better one to be found once the makeup and hair are done, and the model is in front of my camera, and we begin shooting.
In this case, I initially thought that I would try using some blue tulle and create a shoulder or head wrap, but I was struggling to find an idea that really excited me. That’s when I decided to create some chaos.
I placed a large floor fan behind my model aimed straight up. I took the blue material and clipped it to the back of the tube top that she was wearing.
As you can see, I manipulated the material to change the shapes while I was shooting the image with a wireless remote control. My Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with an M.Zuiko 45mm F1.2 PRO lens was tethered to a computer so that I could see the live view and the results as I was recording the chaos. I had my makeup artist placed behind the camera, giving the model some simple directions to keep her head straight, chin level, and forward and to make sure that her mouth was relaxed.
As I was maneuvering the material, I began to realize that the best look was coming as the material would begin to fall forward around the model’s face.
Fast-forward a few years to a recent shoot with the same model. This time, I had been hired to produce a set of images for a new hybrid LED light that was about to be released. The client gave me full creative control over the shoot. I just needed to show off the digital burst capabilities of the light. I knew that the final images would be used on social media and potentially in a video, so I knew that I needed to create an image that would be a “scroll stopper”.
I decided I would return to the idea of calm in the middle of chaos so that I could show off the action-stopping capabilities of the digital burst lights. I even added to the chaos by having my makeup artist create a colorful mosaic pattern on the model’s face, and then I intentionally selected two colors that aren’t currently popular on social media, Red and Gold. These two colors create a bold contrast with each other, and I knew that they would stand out as people were scrolling through their feeds.
I lit this shot with a StellaPro Reflex S mounted in a 24”(61cm) Octa Beauty Softbox from Chimera that was set up directly above the camera and aimed down into a 20”(51cm) x 30”(76cm) piece of white foam board below the model’s face for some fill. I have a second StellaPro Reflex S on the floor behind the model – aimed up at the #08 Primary Red seamless paper background from Savage Universal.
The exciting feature in these new LED Continuous Strobe Hybrid lights is the ability to fire the digital flash 20 times in a single second. So, this sequence lasted just about one and a half seconds, and I was able to grab the 20 images that you see above, as I manipulated the gold material and ultimately the final shot that appears on the cover of this issue.
The possibilities really are endless. The image below was done with two speedlights – one bouncing onto a low ceiling as the key light and the other on the floor behind the model to add the glow to the #58 Studio Blue Savage Universal seamless paper background. For this shot, I used two large floor fans. One behind the model blowing up and the other on camera right blowing across the frame.
The entire outfit in this shot is just small remnants of material collected from a local fabric shop. I always keep an eye on the clearance racks and purchase small sections of close-out materials that have interesting textures and usually very bright colors.
Does It Only Work With Fans?
There are loads of ways that you can create movement or the perception of movement in your beauty and fashion portraits.
The image above was made with a technique called shutter drag. By lighting the background with tungsten light and using a flash for my key light, I was able to work with a slow shutter speed of 1/6th of a sec and move the camera during the exposure. The face is rendered sharp because of the speed of the flash, and the tungsten light fills in the blur and movement for the rest of the exposure as the camera is moving.
This image above was created by light painting the background with an RGB Light Painter Pro LED Wand from Savage Universal. I have one Godox AD200 placed on camera right in a Phottix Raja 26”(65cm) Quick folding softbox. When the flash fires, the model is recorded, and then I paint the background by moving the LED light wand through the frame. You can also move the light in front of your subject as I did in this photo to create depth with the light. This shot was made with the Olympus E-M1X which allowed me to use the Live Composite feature which allowed me to make this image in a tradeshow hall with all the lights on. You can do this technique with any brand of camera – you will just need a dark space to work in.
The background movement in this image was created by aiming an LED light with an orange gel up into the white textured material behind the model. A second light was placed on camera left with a blue gel and the main light was a Savage Universal Luminous Pro LED Ring Light Plus on camera right. A slow shutter speed of 1/20th of a second allowed me to have two people shake the material during the exposure.
The moral of the story is that to be creative, you have to be willing to experiment and fail and then fail some more. Many of the images that find their way to my portfolio are ideas that I may have shot two or three times until I found the perfect mix of model, hair, makeup, lighting, outfit, material, backgrounds, and expressions. You can’t find the perfect until you experience something not perfect.
The Simple Trick To Keep Attention on My Subjects Face
In most of my portraits and beauty and fashion portrait images, I make sure that the face is slightly brighter than the rest of the image. Not a lot. I am talking about a subtle difference. Even in a high-key image, I want the face slightly brighter whenever possible. That subtle boost in brightness helps to draw the viewers’ attention to the face – which is right where I want them to look. Everything else in the image is window dressing.
It isn’t something you would notice – unless it’s pointed out to you. But it does help to ensure that your attention goes right to the model’s faces and stays there.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman
This article was originally published in GoodLight Magazine in March 2022