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By Relic01  
I recently did a shoot for a high school drama production. They asked for B&W, I used my 85 mm lens with a single sb-900 with a 36" diffuser to camera right. The light was at a 45 deg angle to the subject and angled down at a 45. I used a 36" white deflector to camera left on some of the shots. I have attached another as a mod. Same set up with the lights. The second one seems to soft, I usally shoot dogs and horses so any advice on how to improve the shot or post is appreciated.

Tags: Black and white Portraits and people Single light Collingwood School



paulbroad 15 131 1294 United Kingdom
10 Apr 2019 2:50PM
This is soft too. Male portraits almost always require a crisp definition and decent range of tones. You could be at 400 ISO without problem gaining shutter speed and aperture. The EXIF shows flash firing? On camera or off.

You need a tripod and careful manual focusing on the eyes. It is a set piece after all.

pablophotographer 11 2.1k 440
10 Apr 2019 3:20PM
I compare the lead shot with the version and I see, apart of the issue of softness, the "dead space" is much better handled in the version.

The main image is framed poorly in my opinion, the empty dark space above the sitter's head could be used at the bottom of the frame. You take a picture of him, rather than the background.

Then I consider his expression, he looks as serious as posing for a passport photo. Is that because of the character in the play? You need to engage with your sitters, put them in good mood, tell them to tel you something and relax before they pose. Or you surprise them and you make them losen up, if that means play music in the stufio, so be it....

dudler Plus
19 2.0k 1995 England
10 Apr 2019 4:50PM
OK, this is my home territory, Mike: I've shot a lot of portraits, and also a good few theatrical productions. There are a couple of ways to go about it. One is to shoot a rehersal, use the stage lights, play catch-as-catch-can with light levels and focus. Wide apertures, high ISO.

The other is to work on set shots, and I think the element you're missing is enough light. Cameratop guns are OK within their limits, but for this sort of thing, I'd be using studio flash plugged into the mains, with modelling lights so I can see what I'm doing (they make accurate focus easier, too). You have more power, faster recycling, and possibly lower total cost - but not worth doing if you won't get other use out of the units.

Shooting with something running on four AA batteries and a big diffuser, you need decent room light to allow easy focus, and, as Paul says, you need to up your ISO to get a good, general purpose portrait aperture of f/5.6 or f/8. That would probably have sorted the problem, along iwth one little bit of shooting advice: get the focus spot over the nearer eye, and focus and shoot at once. Don't delay after focussing, because even the amount of change in distance that you get from rocking backwards and forwards (as we all do to avoid falling over) is enough to move focus. If you are shooting at smaller apertures (and I tend to aim for f/11 with studio flash), back button focus will be fine.

In the second shot, close inspection shows sharp focus on the gril's jumper and neckline - two millimetres will matter, and the focus is out by two inches.

Full marks for using an 85mm lens for tight heads on crop-format, and your basic lighting setup is good for relatively-dramatic portraits with a strong light at a considerable angle to the camera-subject axis, and just a bit of fill from the reflector. For more straigthforward images, a lower angle to the main light, and a second flash providing half-power fill from the opposite side is good. And either way, a further light high up and pointing down at the hair from behind separates the head from a dark background - it doesn't need to be powerful, but it does need to be well-controlled so that it doesn't give flare in the lens.

It will be worth spending a little time on removing spots with teenage subjects - they tend to have outbreaks of spots that they will appreciate you removing!
banehawi Plus
18 2.9k 4345 Canada
10 Apr 2019 5:24PM
The second one is soft as her face is not in focus at all. Make sure you MANUALLY focus for head shots.

The first is a touch soft as mentioned, and increasing contrast along with some sharpening improves the image.

For both, unless you have really precise focus, a smaller aperture can give you better results, - say f/5.6

Ive uploaded a mod, which is also cropped.


mrswoolybill Plus
16 3.8k 2590 United Kingdom
10 Apr 2019 5:48PM
Hi Mike, I was hoping that John (dudler) would get in early here, he's the expert. I'll add a few comments though.

The first thing that struck me after viewing both and reading your description (apart from the obvious softness in the girl's portrait) was that there is nothing here that actually says stage, actor, performance. I guess these are head shots for the cast notes in the programme? I hope you are getting action shots of performance, or at least of the cast in costume - the dress rehearsal is the best opportunity for that. These were taken yesterday according to the Exif, so I hope you'll be doing that!

Next point - you used a significant plus exposure compensation for both so perhaps you were not happy with the lighting? A little added exposure makes a big difference.

Regarding the focus for the girl, my first thought was that maybe you were going in too close for the lens. I have that lens, I love it but haven't used it for a while... It focuses at a little over one metre, and thinking more carefully you should have been fine. It's OK for the boy... But at F3.5, focusing needed to be very precisely on the eyes, there's some difference in the distance of her eyes from the camera due to the angle of the face but neither is sharp. The focus is quite a little way back as John says, on her neckline.

So a focusing error. I can only suggest that you maybe locked the focus and then recomposed? With that combination of subject proximity, focal length and aperture that could be enough to lose it. But that's guesswork.

I've added a modification for her - a tiny bit more exposure, then a Levels tweak to increase tonal range. Then some local sharpening on the eyes, brows and mouth. It's not wonderful but I think it's some improvement.
Relic01 11 8 Canada
10 Apr 2019 6:17PM
Thank you everyone for the feedback, to clarify, I only had one speedlight available to me with classroom flourescents. I shut off the center row of lights (directly above the background)
ISO-completly forgot to up it, intended to go to 400 but forgot.
Tripod-have one and debated using it. Chose not to to allow me to move, hindsight that was a mistake.
Manual focusing never crossed my mind, rookie mistake.
Dead space issues I agree with, my only defence is I havent done a final crop yet,
Each actor had a diffenent expression, this particular fellow and 1 other stated "I dont smile", having raised enough teenagers, I didnt argue lol
I agree that I should have used f5.6/8, come to think of it, not changing the ISO explains why I was underexposed at thos aperatures.
I wish I had another light available as I agree, a rim/hair light would be an improvement
I hang my head and admit I did not pay attention to my distance, I know better with the 85 to remain about a yard away and failed to do so.
And yes, these are for the progam/playbill and the director wished for no costumes.
Again, please keep the feed back coming as I am putting it in my book for next time as a checklist
mrswoolybill Plus
16 3.8k 2590 United Kingdom
10 Apr 2019 6:53PM
Thanks so much for your feedback, it's great when we hear back from people ,even better when it helps.

So next time - F5.6, up the ISO, stand back a bit and allow a little space, you can always crop later...

And focus on the eyes!
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 1995 England
10 Apr 2019 9:05PM
If you're going to do this regularly, it might well be worth investing in an absolute bottom-of-the-range studio flash kits, like THIS one on eBay. I realise this is on the British eBay site, but I'm sure the same kit is available everywhere.

It's no match for 'proper' studio flash, rather less powerful than the bottom end of things like the Elinchrom or Godox ranges, but it's fine for occasional and relatively light use. I've worked with kit like it a time or two, and my verdict was that it was far better than I'd expected. Brand names vary - I suspect that the same kit goes under many names.
Relic01 11 8 Canada
11 Apr 2019 12:42AM
I have 2 ULite 250 watt photo floods with 38" umbrellas and 10" reflectors would they have worked?
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 1995 England
11 Apr 2019 9:58AM
I'm not sure they'd have made the technical side easier than the speedlight, other than showing you what the lighting will look like (to some extent: ideally, you need all other lights off).

However, a big part of the whole thing is to try things and see. I know there are people who get brilliant results with speedlights, and don't seem to have the same difficulty I do with not being able to see the what the results are likely to be. But most experienced workers prefer modelling lights, if they can have them, I think.

So it could be worth trying out different approaches to lighting with either a dummy head or with a willing subject, so that when you shoot the pictures you really need, it's all practiced, and thus simple. The SAS say 'train hard, fight easy' - they aren't wrong.
mrswoolybill Plus
16 3.8k 2590 United Kingdom
11 Apr 2019 5:19PM
Just one other point - do you review the histogram? At the time of taking, and again after b&w processing?
Relic01 11 8 Canada
11 Apr 2019 5:24PM
Yes, def at the time of taking,
mrswoolybill Plus
16 3.8k 2590 United Kingdom
12 Apr 2019 11:19AM
It's important to check it again after processing. A perfect colour image does not necessarily translate into perfect b&w without tweaking.
Relic01 11 8 Canada
25 Apr 2019 12:43AM
All, will be doing a reshoot on the 26th and will be putting your advice into use. My intentions are: tripod with remote trigger, f/5.6, SS 125, ISO 400, 1 speedlight 45 degrees to camera right and at a 45 angle down, reflector to camera left, subjects will be face on as this is what has been asked for, I will be asking they raise their chins slightly to eliminate shadows but am considering having the reflector under their chin at camera front. Thoughts?
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 1995 England
10 May 2019 1:10PM
With apologies -I've been away on holiday with poor broadband since 20 April. I therefore didn't see this in time to comment. I'd try having hte light a bit less that 45 degrees up.

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