A portrait for the holiday season

Hadia Bendelhoum, one of my students wanted a new FB profile picture while we were on our field trip to Shutterstories a photography studio in Riverside, so I dug out my 580EX Speedlite, a grid spot and cybersync radio slaves and I also used a big silvered reflector.

A portrait to match the holiday season is fairly easy  if you have a flash you can fire off-camera.

But you’ll need a lens that has a wide aperture.

That is often called a fast lens because the  wide opening or aperture allows you to shoot with a ‘fast’ shutter speed.

Then it’s a matter of finding a location where there are tiny twinkly lights like outdoors or even indoors next to a decorated Christmas tree.

The more colorful, the better.

Yes, you can shoot this with only available light too.

Just be warned you will most likely be shooting at high ISO using really long/low shutter speeds  and may have strange white balance issues.

A working exposure

It’s always best to take a picture of the scene with lights, in my case, the christmas tree to establish a working exposure setting.

This next step depends on how well you can hand hold low shutter speeds.

I can comfortably and confidently use 1/30 sec if my subject is also seated and I’m able to brace myself against something (see the overall picture below)

My test exposure for the christmas tree lights was ISO 100 1/60 sec @ f1.4.

Since this is a portrait, my priority as with most portraits is to focus attention to just my subject so I’m going to keep the aperture at f1.4  throw everything except Hadia’s very pretty eyes out of focus.

At wide open apertures, focusing is extremely critical due to the very shallow depth-of-field so you should switch to the single focusing red (Canon users) or black (Nikon users) dot in your viewfinder.

Then place your subject’s eye on one of those focusing dots.

That way when you hold down the shutter release button halfway, it will lock on the eye.

Adding the Speedlite

Once you know the working aperture, f1.4, you can place your Speedlite on a light stand behind your subject aimed downwards.

It’s probably a good idea to zoom the Speedlite’s head to at least 80mm to narrow the beam of light.

I went a step further and added a grid spot.

The light will be a rim light if there is no fill or reflector and it should give you a silhouette.

Next, just grab a reflector or any silvered surface and place it between you and your subject.

Start varying the output of the flash manually but keep  the reflector’s distance fixed until you see your subject’s face get progressively lighter and lighter or better and better exposed from the silhouette condition.

Once you have the correct ratio, then comes the real work.

Don’t forget during all this time of tweaking and messing with the light, you are supposed to be talking with your subject and engaging them in conversation.

If you don’t, they will get self-conscious and you’ll have to really work at getting the facial expression you want.

Thanks Arbazz Muhammad for taking this setup shot to share on my blog.

Let me know if you have questions via comments, everyone.

Peter Phun Photography

Promote Your Page Too