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Portrait photography with ease

Portrait photography with ease - You can create great studio portraits with limited facilities and a little thought.

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Category : Portraits and People
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Words & photos Nigel Holmes

You may think that the shot seen above was all planned in advance by someone like an art director. You may also have heard that top sessions need a stylist to find the right clothes and accessories. But what I hope is that by the time you come to the end of this Girlfiles 'Know How' you will realize that you could do a picture like this yourself, even with limited facilities, but with a bit of thought.

This session was a 'Test' session.

'Test' in the professional photography world normally means that a few people get together to test their skills. All the three people involved in this exercise gave their time to each other so that each could get a new picture in their portfolio. The model, the photographer, and the make-up artist.

So first you need to see the model as she arrived at my studio.


Here you see a very 'Normal' looking girl. Nothing to suggest that she could ever adorn the front cover of a magazine. Yet when you look back to the picture at the top of this page, you will see that she certainly could.

A very proficient picture of a good looking young lady. The sort of picture that might please her Mother, or look good on a passport. And sometimes this is the style of picture that you will see produced by photographers. Yet you have already seen what can be achieved with exactly the same components.

One interesting fact is that there are the same type and number of lights in this 'before' picture. Even the same white background. But what a difference.

The face you see here is without professional make-up. She has not had her hair done, and she has not been lit with any style. The model is wearing what she arrived in and no attempt has been made on our behalf to get her ready for the camera.


Naturally the make up was done by the professional, but what about the styling? There are several things that are worth pointing out here.

The shirt is the model's own which she had brought along with several others. The hat belonged to the make-up artist. The gloves were from my own prop cupboard. And the chair that she is posed on was my office chair.

All things that just happened to be around, but with a little thought, feel into place to make a good looking shot.

The pose was really simple too. The office chair was turned so that the back was facing the camera. Then the model sat with her knees curled up in it and was asked to lean over the back towards the lens. This gave her something to work with, and meant that it anchored her down and kept her from jumping in and out of focus.

The lighting was achieved with just one light on the model and one on the background.

The main light came from a large soft box, placed to the right of the picture. This gave a soft light but noticeably from the side.

This was then bounced back using two reflectors. One to the left of the picture and another directly under the models face, just out of camera view. The reflectors soften the light and bring light into the shadows.

The second light was placed on the floor and fitted with a red/pink gel. This lit the bottom half of the white background, but was placed in such a way as to make the background graduate to a darker colour at the top.

(Note: Even a white background will go dark, if you don't light it.)


Here you see another shot from the session. Naturally I took the pictures several ways, and this smile was one of them. But the real reason for me showing you this picture is to give you an idea of how we worked on the pose to refine it to the finished image.

Look at the picture above and you will see that although it is a good picture there are still a couple of things that could improve it.

Firstly take a look at the wrist where it shows through between the glove and sleeve. It's a rather bright area, and not a good thing for the image. I had wanted the arm to be dark all the way up, so that the emphasis would be on the face. But the space between the sleeve and the glove kept coming open. This is actually why the broach (pin) is there. To clip the glove and sleeve together. But it hasn't really done the trick.

What we eventually did was pin the glove and sleeve around the back as well with another small pin, and this seemed to fix it.

I also didn't like the pose too much. The slant of the head and shoulders were good but the fingers poking over the back of the chair look a little odd. You will see that we moved them in the final image.

So what was the image intended for?

I always find that even when doing test shots, it is a good idea to have a final 'product' in mind. For this session we were trying to create a picture that would work on the front of a magazine. Here is a mock up of what we feel it would be used for.

The Mock-up
This magazine will never see the bookstalls. But at least it gave us something to aim our efforts at. I would suggest that you have an aim in mind when you take your own 'Test' shots.

As often happens in magazines, much of the photographer's work is lost behind text, but you will see here that suddenly the picture looks 'real' when you start to put a mock magazine together.

If you look back to the original picture and then to the magazine, you will now see why certain areas were left with hardly any picture detail. This was to allow the designer of the cover to put in the usual banner hearing and a list of 'Taster' text to tell you what is in the magazine.

You may also notice that suddenly the girl is wearing a gold broach, and not the original silver one. A bit of digital magic there to make the image link in with the text. Also note that some of the text picks up the colour of the background and the eye make-up. The hat pin at the top of the picture has gone as well. Artistic license I think it's called. It had to go because it was in the way of the headline.

So just remember that there is nothing difficult in this picture. YOU could have done this. Just
two lights, two reflectors, and an idea. That's all it takes.

About the author
Nigel Holmes dropped into photography almost by accident when he was offered a part time job with a top UK portrait photographer. Weddings, babies, and family groups were his employers style, but Nigel soon found out that he preferred pointing his camera at girls.
Following a decision to go freelance, he has become one of the leading glamour specialist with work published in many formats from calendars, newspapers, and the famous UK Page 3, plus almost every major mens publication on the market including Club, Men Only, Penthouse and Playboy.
Now Nigel runs his own web site www.girlfiles.co.uk where, as well as looking at his photographs, youll find many more articles like this, that include small lighting diagrams and notes about each picture to help you improve your glamour photography. 
Membership is just 5 and gives you access to loads of excellent advice on lighting, exposure, shooting techniques in and out of the studio.


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