portrait lighting

greetings all. sorry i missed posting last monday. was in the middle of several deadlines.

today’s topic is a tiny slice about lighting people or portrait lighting. easier said then done ?


historically, there are many masters in art history that began with the 17th century Dutch masters such as rembrandt and vermeer that painted portraits using available light and realism with a new paradigm during The Golden Age of painting.

Chiaroscuro, an italian term describing ‘light and dark’ and an art/art historical term used to create a three dimensional illusion onto a two dimensional surface, using light and dark values/contrast . in photography, the sense of light and dark, the lighter areas appearing closer to the viewer enhances the sense of three dimensionality, contrasted with the dark as receding into space and appearing farther away from the eye. this is one of the tenets or foundations of lighting and the phenomenon of making a photograph using light. (KEY POINT)

what is light ? photons ?

skies the limit when considering making a photographic portrait and using lighting. using light creatively is a challenge both on location and in the studio. much can be said about the ‘how to’. one important key is to learn some basics and then apply those basics to create a feel and develop your personal style.

Should you use available light or artificial light such as strobe, HMI or LED constant light sources ? colored gels or CTO warming gels ? what feelings or moods do you want to create with the portrait ? these are many questions which click into my head as one heads off on assignment to create a portrait. personally, i previsualize an image i want to create, then while making the portrait i improvise, use some available props that the subject has around and incorporate into the image to create a personal image, unique to the person involved.

my personal style, i love drama, dramatic light. personally, lighting that i have been influenced by movies such as casablanca, theatre productions and stage production/opera. microcosms of light happen on stage with professional lighting meisters called lighting technicians. these meisters create mood and feelings thru light. they also have scenes preprogrammed on their computers.

Lisa's  Overpass

above photograph. Mamiya film camera. RZ67 w/ fisheye. Film ? can u believe it ? 3 lights in the foreground, 15 seconds long exposure for the traffic lights. right, small vivitar 285 w/ blue gel baretube bottom, second 200b with red gel at left and key provided by a small softbox. i find it more challenging shooting on location with portable lights than shooting in the studio. yes, i did use instant film polaroid proofing for this image. no chimping !

john portrait

Mr. DeMello’s portrait at the Waikiki Shell for COSTCO Magazine. Rolleiflex 3.5F, 75mm/3.5 Planar lens. Fuji Velvia 50. 3 light sources. Vivitar 283 armatar modified baretube strobe in a small WAFER soft box at left, norman 200B on right side for the chairs/highlight on face and the 3rd, the nearly $1 million dollars worth of stage lighting for the concert to be held at the Waikiki Shell that night… while i was shooting, the background was constantly changing colors and intensities. i prayed a lot and hoped for serendipity.

the above is a mix of strobe and contant light or ambient light.

go forth and make some portraits that create a sense of the person, a sense of you the creator and thirdly, a sense of the phenomena of light.

aloha !


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