Building a Portrait Shoot: Matching Lighting to Your Subject's Character

Portraiture is all about bringing out the character of your subject. This great video goes behind the scenes of a shoot, showing you how lighting was designed to match the intended portrayal of the subject and the resulting photos.

Coming to you from Joe McNally and Daniel Norton at Adorama TV, this great video follows them as they break down the way they'd like to portray the character of their model in a shoot and then sculpt the lighting to match, opting for soft, highly diffused light that reduces shadows and contrasts very nicely with the black background and wardrobe. The idea is essentially to wrap soft light around the subject in a relatively precise way that keeps the background black. Notice that they get some great natural separation from Mary's hair, while they use a v-flat to provide a subtle highlight on her arm to separate the black wardrobe from the black background. They also use a v-flat laid horizontally as a large bounce card to further reduce the shadows. The result is a light, yet still defined set of portraits that match the soft, elegant look they had envisioned and suit the character perfectly.

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3 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

It's encouraging to see that even the big boys like McNally make some of the same mistakes/oversights as I do at times: forgetting to make settings changes. You get so caught up in the model, the lights, the look, etc., you just forget.

Don Risi's picture

I was at a class he gave a while back where the entire first part of the class was screw up after screw up after screw up. But then we all realized that he was "screwing up" on purpose when he started to talk about how that kind of thing happens to even the most seasoned professional. A piece of gear that has never acted up before, suddenly starts to act up. You forget to reset something from a previous shoot. You've forgotten a key piece of gear. Something goes wrong, and it happens to everyone at some point in time. He then went on to say that you keep cool, work your way through the problem, and make the shoot happen.

And he was completely, right. Even the Big Boys (and Girls) boo-boo.

Konrad Sarnowski's picture

Oh my, I'd love to have XPan :D