This week, thanks to the generosity of my client/student David, I'll be sharing his experiences and his images with you.  As I said in the opening Feature Photograph section David contacted me about learning to take nice portraits and he planned a realistic amount of time to achieve his goals.  I'm not going to cover our entire three days together in a short article, but I will take you through some of the processes and techniques and talk about them a bit.  Mostly, for most of you, this will just be a mildly interesting journal.  For those of you looking to improve your portrait taking skills you'll find a lot here of interest.

 

For portraits always use a WhiBal tool for the proper white balance

Nikon D300, Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8G  @F5.6  1/100th  55mm  ISO 200

 

One of the biggest challenges with portraits is achieving perfect skin tones.  Keep in mind that perfectly "accurate" skin tones most often won't be the most attractive skin tones.  Still, if you can achieve a perfect white balance it gives you an excellent starting point either way.  To achieve this perfect white balance we shoot in raw and we use WhiBal kit This is the easiest and surest way to get an accurate white balance reading.  I have the model hold it near her face for the first frame of every new scene we shoot.

 

The goal here was to get comfortable with the model, practice placing the single AF (autofocus) point over the closest eye, and to experience some of the issues shooting indoors in such conditions.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8G  @F5.6  1/100th  55mm  ISO 200

 

This "scene" was up against a white wall. 

 

If you shoot this close to a wall with flash, even if the flash is off-camera, you end up with a huge ugly shadow.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8G  @F5.6  1/100th  55mm  ISO 200

 

Immediately we can see shadows are a huge issue.  If you shoot this close to a wall with flash, even if the flash is off-camera, you end up with a huge ugly shadow.

 

The solution is to "fill" the shadow side of the subject with a second light, or don't shoot against a white wall with  a flash.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8G  @F5.6  1/100th  55mm  ISO 200

 

The solution is to "fill" the shadow side of the subject with a second light, or don't shoot against a white wall with  a flash.  Notice the left side of the frame is nicely lit, yet the other side isn't?  The Nikon SB-800 is "off-camera" and being held over to the left side directing light in from a 45 degree angle.  If it wasn't for the wall this type of single light effect would make a pleasing image and is in fact my favorite type of lighting technique.

 

She's starting to warm up to her photographer.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8G  @F5.6  1/100th  55mm  ISO 200

 

Prompting him to try "shooting up" we now loose the shadow and with the light still from the left we achieve a more pleasing light.  She's starting to warm up to her photographer.

 

Bangkok Images, Photography Workshops This is because small handheld strobes like the SB-800 can't spread the light out enough to cover all of her.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 17-55mm F2.8G  @F5.6  1/100th  23mm  ISO 200

 

Using the same techniques, the same settings, the same everything, we move her away from the wall and into the middle of the room.  Notice there's no shadows?  Good, but there's still two areas that need immediate improvement.  From the waist up she's properly exposed, but her legs are dark.  This is because small handheld strobes like the SB-800 can't spread the light out enough to cover all of her.  Backing up would solve that issue, but then we'd lose the modeled light.  It's all about choices.  A small strobe at 1/2 power behind the couch (or in this case in front of the couch) would fill in the dark background for a more pleasing image.

 

Our new goal is to properly expose our model standing in the exercise room, while at the same time properly exposing the model.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F8  1/100th  ISO 200

 

A new scene.  Now we're done in the exercise room.  Our new goal is to properly expose our model standing in the exercise room, while at the same time properly exposing the model.  Because they're in two different types and powers of lights.. this can only be done one way.

What you do is turn off the flash and then putting the camera in manual mode adjust the aperture/shutter speed/ISO for the outside exposure level you want.  THEN, using the SB800 strobe (speedlight) in manual mode you adjust it to perfectly expose the model.  Simple eh?  This principle is a vital tool in the photographers toolbox, yet relatively few are familiar enough with the technique to do this with any sort of competence.

 

New scene, new white balance frame using the WhiBal kit next to the models face.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F8  1/100th  ISO 200

 

New scene, new white balance frame using the WhiBal kit next to the models face.  The outside is perfectly exposed (how it was intended to be exposed) and the client/student thought the cameras LCD was showing the model to be perfectly exposed.  She wasn't.  What was the problem?  Simple, you need to spend a fair amount of time learning the different brightness settings of your LCD and what the exposures look like in the different brightness settings you're shooting in.. and to remember to turn OFF the "dim adjust" feature that automatically adjusts the brightness of your LCD.. :)  And of course, an old fashioned lightmeter would have nailed this exposure from the first shot of the scene.

 

The client/student's eyes were so full of pretty legs he didn't properly frame the image and he ended up cutting off her feet which ruins the image.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F8  1/100th  ISO 200

 

Here we have the same exposure deficiency as before, due to the same issues as before, and one new problem.  The client/student's eyes were so full of pretty legs he didn't properly frame the image and he ended up cutting off her feet which ruins the image.  This is very common.  You need to always be aware of your framing.  If you do this a lot you might want to order a focusing screen with etched lines for a 8x10 or 5x7 inch perspective.

 

Simply increasing the exposure of the subject during raw processing reveals that by doing so you are now blowing out the background exposure and that the feet don't magically appear.. :)

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F8  1/100th  ISO 200

 

Simply increasing the exposure of the subject during raw processing reveals that by doing so you are now blowing out the background exposure and that the feet don't magically appear.. :)

 

Is white balance really that important?  YES!

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F2.8  1/1250th  ISO 200

 

Now we're outside in a new scene using only natural light, so we take a new white balance setting.  Is white balance really that important?  YES!  No matter how much the green hedges and green grass cast a ugly green light across the model, by simply clicking the white balance eye dropper on the 18% grey card, you achieve perfectly accurate skin tones.  Again, the most attractive skin tones might not be the most accurate skin tones.. but it's a great starting point.

 

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F1.8  1/5000th  ISO 200

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F1.8  1/5000th  ISO 200

 

By now David has the model eating out of his hand, she's laughing and having a good time.  Perfect!  Using his 85mm F1.8 portrait lens wide open, natural light coming from over his shoulder, and his developing positive rapport with the model he's destined to turn out some great images this day.

 

Now that he's got everything perfect, great exposure, recorded the perfect white balance, light (sun) from the perfect direction, pretty model.. now he can concentrate on helping the model relax, tell  few jokes, and encourage the type of facial expressions every man wishes for with  beautiful woman.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F1.8  1/3200th  ISO 200

 

Now that he's got everything perfect, great exposure, recorded the perfect white balance, light (sun) from the perfect direction, pretty model.. now he can concentrate on helping the model relax, tell  few jokes, and encourage the type of facial expressions every man wishes for with  beautiful woman.

 

Always check your model, girlfriend, etc. for such distractions as much as possible.. before the shoot.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 85mm F1.4D  @F1.8  1/2500th  ISO 200

 

He's doing well by getting her to not look directly in the camera, sometimes you want this, sometimes not.  A good mix is a decent goal.  Notice her watch?  It totally stands out and catches the eye in a negative way.  Always check your model, girlfriend, etc. for such distractions as much as possible.. before the shoot.

 

While he's using the flash and controls the ideal shooting position, when you shoot over someone's shoulder you'll probably need to shoot at a higher ISO (less image quality) and you'll have to choose between an ideal exposure on the subject or an ideal exposure on the background.

Canon 5d Mark II,  24-70mm F2.8L @F2.8  1/50th  60mm  ISO 100

 

During the entire shoot I can't help but shoot over David's shoulder with my own camera.  While he's using the flash and controls the ideal shooting position, when you shoot over someone's shoulder you'll probably need to shoot at a higher ISO (less image quality) and you'll have to choose between an ideal exposure on the subject or an ideal exposure on the background.  In this case she's engaging the camera which works very well with her.

 

Using the exercise machines as props, and the mirror to reduce background exposure (by simply turning left 90 degrees), I've now got a balanced exposure.

Canon 5d Mark II,  24-70mm F2.8L @F4  1/60th  40mm  ISO 100

 

Using the exercise machines as props, and the mirror to reduce background exposure (by simply turning left 90 degrees), I've now got a balanced exposure.  Her expression is gorgeous and her skin tones perfect.  Have you noticed yet that her face is whiter than her arms and legs?  Thai women often use makeup to make their face appear whiter, enough so that you'll notice it in a photograph.  If using a MUA (make up artist) be sure to discuss the look you desire beforehand.

 

 Such brilliant smiles and body language flirts can't be faked.. she's having a great time.

Canon 5d Mark II,  24-70mm F2.8L @F2.8  1/50th  52mm  ISO 125

 

Still in the exercise room she's flirting with the camera.  Such brilliant smiles and body language flirts can't be faked.. she's having a great time.  Notice how relaxed her hands are and how she's using them to convey she's relaxed and at ease?

 

I'm COMFORTABLE AND ENJOYING THIS!"

Canon 5d Mark II,  24-70mm F2.8L @F3.2  1/50th  45mm  ISO 200

 

Now that she's at ease I ask her to lean back against the backrest and talking softly I do my best to put her at ease.  I'm rewarded with an incredibly radiant smile and relaxed posture that screams "I'm COMFORTABLE AND ENJOYING THIS!"

 

Body language says everything.  What's her body language saying?

Canon 5d Mark II,  85mm F1.2L @F1.8  1/50th  ISO 200

 

Now we're outdoors and I'm shooting over David's shoulder once again.  Body language says everything.  What's her body language saying?  To me it's saying she's comfortable, at ease, and if someone asks her to smile one more time she's going to slap them.. :)

 

Taking over the directing I make some jokes and she lightens up even more making cute faces

Canon 5d Mark II,  85mm F1.2L @F2.8  1/800th  ISO 200

 

Taking over the directing I make some jokes and she lightens up even more making cute faces and showing her personality.  When a model does this then their body loosens up to match and often you end up with some incredibly sexy images.

 

Again, body language.  The technical's are perfect so relaxing the model so she's comfortable being sexy and cute.. becomes your priority

Canon 5d Mark II,  24-70mm F2.8L @F2.8  1/50th  52mm  ISO 200

 

Again, body language.  The technical's are perfect so relaxing the model so she's comfortable being sexy and cute.. becomes your priority.

 

how to illicit cute expressions from the model.  We laugh, we joke, we tell Somchai jokes,

Canon 5d Mark II,  85mm F1.2L @F2.8  1/800th  ISO 200

 

At this point I'm demonstrating to David how to illicit cute expressions from the model.  We laugh, we joke, we tell Somchai jokes, whatever it takes to get that beautiful smile, the sparkling eyes, the teasing smirk, and that perfect white smile pleases beyond all expectations.

 

Canon 5d Mark II,  85mm F1.2L @F2.8  1/800th  ISO 200

 

I wish I could remember what I said to get this response.. but it probably wasn't fit to publish.. :)

 

This expression is terrible.

Canon 5d Mark II,  85mm F1.2L @F1.8  1/50th  ISO 200

 

This expression is terrible.  I picked it to share because it is terrible.  Now she looks very ordinary, even bored a bit.. You don't want looks like this.

 

These images were captured about 3/4 of a second apart.  You want to establish a pace and keep that pace.  Don't bore the model, and don't expect her to stand out in the hot sun with her makeup melting and her black skirt getting piping hot and then give you a nice smile.

Canon 5d Mark II,  85mm F1.2L @F1.8 Various Shutter Speeds  ISO 200

 

These images were captured about 3/4 of a second apart.  You want to establish a pace and keep that pace.  Don't bore the model, and don't expect her to stand out in the hot sun with her makeup melting and her black skirt getting piping hot and then give you a nice smile.  Know your gear well enough to get out there and be ready to shoot with a minimum of camera fiddling.. and keep them engaged for only 2-3 minutes at time in heat like this.. Shoot images for 2-3 minutes, and then let her stand in the shade while you chat her up for 4-5 minutes.  Share the results on the cameras LCD.. women love seeing themselves in action and good pictures will motivate, but be careful because bad ones will shut her down really fast.

I had a great time with David and I feel he learned an entire toolbox full of solid techniques for portrait shoots.  Can he learn more?  Sure, there's no way I can teach someone 'everything' I spent years learning.. but he's ready to practice these new learned techniques for a period of time.. and then come back to polish the edges and learn more advanced techniques..

Give it a try!