Yesterday I made 2665 portraits. I didn’t have that many subjects, but that’s how many pictures I took of several people, which is a ton. I’m not bragging about how many I made — I’m just trying to wrap my mind around it. Of those, I like at least two of them a whole lot.
Shoot the basics
I’m shooting a campaign about wearing masks when going into buildings on the college campus. We’ll be using these pictures on posters. I’ve photographed many different people with various colors of backgrounds. I think it’ll be pretty cool when it’s all finished.
Each person stands in the spot, smiles with their eyebrows as big as they can, and I click away on continuous while simultaneously using my phone to change the color of light shining on the background. I’m using continuous LED lights as the main light and for the background. The front light is an Aputure Light Storm C300d Mark II with a MagMod MagBox. The background light is Aputure’s Nova P300c, which is an RGB light, so it can be dialed to almost any color of the rainbow. The camera is on a tripod, which is essential when shooting the same thing over and over.
This is the basic thing that I need to do. I’ve got to make this picture with every person several times.
But all work and no play …
Shuffle the subject
The students and staff who come to make a portrait are not paid models — they’re volunteers. So I like to give them something for themselves as a thank you. But, I’ve got more people coming in a second, so I can’t change anything because it’ll take time to change it back and forth.
The simplest thing to do to get some cool variety for the subject is to ask her to shuffle forward and closer to the light. When she gets closer to the light, there is automatically more contrast.
Light falls off at a perfectly predictable rate (using the inverse square law). And when you’re closer to the light, there’s more of it falling on you, and a whole lot less falling on you just a little farther away. That makes the light on your subject’s face way brighter than the light on her ear and it makes a very contrasty and dramatic picture.
I love it, and my subjects always do, too.
Change the shutter speed
Since the lights are continuously shining, not flash, the only thing to change in the whole setup is the shutter speed. More light on her means I need a faster shutter speed to keep the right exposure on her face. So I cranked it up from 1/200s to 1/800s.
The faster shutter speed also saturates and darkens the background color.
Go black and white
I also quickly swapped the camera to shoot in monochrome with an orange filter. Every DSLR or mirrorless camera can do this. If it’s buried in menus, you should save it to your quick menu so you change it on the fly. It’s always impressive to your subject to see a great-looking black and white photo right there on the camera.
Since I’m shooting in RAW, the photo on my computer is actually in color.
Practice and go!
As always, you’ve got to practice this before you have a paying subject in front of your lens. Practice setting your camera to monochrome, and practice using a single light at the same settings and moving your subject around in front of it. It’ll amaze you how many different looks you can get this way, and your subject will love it.
Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.