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Well Lit Portraits by Tamara Lackey

Guest Post and Photo by Tamara Lackey

From my perspective, I can achieve the most amazing capture of a portrait, the most endearing expression, the absolutely sweetest interaction in the world but if its not well lit, I have lost the opportunity to do that image the justice I should have. If its overexposed (detail in the image is completely lost), underexposed (lost details in the shadows, too much grain/noise apparent when trying to lighten), or even lit in an unappealing way (exaggerates unattractive qualities), then it is because I didn’t light it well. And, to be honest, not lighting an image well kinda drives me crazy. Because I absolutely know it can be better I mean, I saw it, with my superior-to-camera-technology eyes. I knew what it could’ve been. And I didn’t get it. Grrrr.

The best method Id suggest for avoiding this outcome is also the most straightforward one. Learn the basics of lighting; keep things as simple as possible, practice often, and know what to look for when lighting portraits.

And why practice often? Because if youre shooting in the contemporary style, you are most likely photographing subjects who breathe, move, change position and who will leave your carefully-created, very controlled lighting setup. Practice allows you to better know how to quickly adjust on the spot, to be able to mindfully shift what you need to shift to be able to adjust to rapidly-changing circumstances. If you don’t know how to do that, you will undoubtedly lose the opportunity to fluidly light a shoot in motion. And, speaking just for my work, nearly all my best portraits were captured while my subjects were very much in motion.

When I first started shooting in the studio, I used my light meter to check everything, brushing it up against many a cheek. After a while, though, I started using it less and less because I realized that it truly didn’t jibe with the way I was shooting which was freeform, and very much reacting to my subjects actions. As it turned out, my subjects never seemed to stay still. They most certainly wouldn’t stay put in the spot I lit so beautifully for them.

And, in fact, they actually still don’t.

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