2 Light Demo for Portraits

In my modular classroom there is a single north-facing  door.

There is also a rectangular north-facing window which is really not a factor in lighting. It is heavily tinted.

I have a space about 18 feet  wide by 36 feet long, 3/4 of that space is taken up by computers and desks.

So studio/demo space =  18 x 10 feet.

For this very basic lesson in lighting and portraiture, with no discussion of light ratios whatsoever, I used:

  • 2 Rokunar flash units
  • open door
  • off-white sheet and black sheet.
  • G4 17″ powerbook for tethered shooting
  • Canon 40D, 50mm f1.4, 100mm f2.8 lens

Set up One: 1 light and open door

Click on the black & white renderings for larger picture and more details on the setups.
Roxanne was photographed against a white background.

The one flash is bounced into a silver reflector, the door is open to light the background.

I was shooting tethered to my powerbook so that everyone could see instantly how the image looks with every little adjustment.

Shooting tethered means your camera will be connected via USB cable to your computer.

The regular flat male end goes to your computer’s USB port and the mini female end which is smaller goes into your camera body.

If you’re a Nikon or Canon user, those disks which came with your camera should include the application you need.

Special thanks to Chris Reed for providing me with these shots of the setups and behind-the-scenes views.

The light from the Rokunar flash units are sort of controlled by the barn doors which I duct taped to the unit to give me some measure of control.

The flash is triggered by those “ebay slaves” loaned to me by class tutor Keith.

Those radio slaves work well for a setting like this.

Anytime you don’t have to be tethered by hard wired to your lights is a good thing.

It means you can shoot with longer focal lenses. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrambled to rescue a falling lightstand because I forgot I reached the end of my synch cord.

Set up Two: 2 lights, door closed

Building on the 1st setup, this time instead of bouncing the flash, I chose to shoot it through a white diffuser.

I also added a red gel over the snoot on the backlight.Roxanne against a white background with a red gel

In case you didn’t notice, let me point out where there’s a problem.

Against the white backdrop there is contamination of my light from the red-colored light bouncing back and lighting her hair.

Some might find this cool. I’ll let you decide for yourself.

I prefer not to have something that looks unnatural. Click on the picture to see a bigger version and you’ll see what I mean where her hair meets the background.

So how else can we improve on this picture?
If I had more room in this situation, I would move Roxanne further away from the backdrop. Why?

  • That nasty weird red light that spilled back on her hair would be gone
  • The background would be even more out of focus

Setup Three: 2 lights & black backdrop

Improving on our setup, I swapped the white backdrop for black.

I also introduced a large reflector underneath.

That makes Roxanne’s eyes come alive.

Since Roxanne mentioned she didn’t get enough sleep and was concerned about the “bags under her eyes,” the large reflector will boost the shadow areas and reduce the appearance of these undesirables.

Most obvious things to notice.

The image of Roxanne really pops.The human eye loves contrast.

In the previous picture taken against the light white background, even photographed against a red background, Roxanne was “lost”.

Our eyes drifts to the lightest portion of any image first automatically.

Now that the background is dark, our attention is drawn to her and in particular her eyes?

Final note: dangers of foreshortening

What exactly is this phenomenon? First off, I want to apologize to Cynthea for using her picture to illustrate this.

If you’re not careful when you’re doing a portrait, you can actually come too close to your subject even with something like a 50 mm (more like a 85 mm on my Canon 40D with its 1.6 magnification factor)

Let’s see if you can see this.

Cynthea’s face in the top picture taken with a 50 mm lens appears rounded and distorted and so is her face.

The bottom picture taken with a 100 mm lens shows her face and nose in proportion.

To illustrate this I made a rough selection around Cynthea’s nose in the top picture and I’ve saved it as photoshop document.

If you have photoshop, download this layered file and see for yourself.

Double click and the file should unzip into a file named “cynthea.tif” Open the file in photoshop. You’ll see 2 layers. Using the Move tool, drag the “selected nose” over the one in the picture for comparison.

Those of you wondering what kind of brand is Rokunar. I can only say they’re the strangest looking studio flashes I’ve ever seen.

They were sitting in a friend’s garage. He handed this bag to me one day. I looked inside and found 3 Rokunar heads.

They don’t recycle very fast, so I shot them on 1/16 power in this situation. At iso 100, the gave me f2 which is plenty for a portrait of 1 person.

The strange hairlight or backlight has no power output control. All three have built-in slaves so I can trigger them by using any flash.

In any case, these are not the black line Speedotrons or even the White Lightnings. They are quite basic. Surprisingly they do come with modeling lights.

When I have more time, I’ll have to make some sort of light modifier so that I can get a more reliable spread for this back light.

One thought on “2 Light Demo for Portraits”

  1. Peter:
    I am beginning to understand the “how to” of good photography. You make this class very interesting and I am learning more in this class than in any other of the seven classes I have taken. Good (soft) lighting really makes a difference, and using the right lens for portraits is vital. Lighting and backgrounds make the portrait. Thanks.

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