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FORUMS General Gear Talk Flash and Studio Lighting 
Thread started 19 Nov 2008 (Wednesday) 13:12
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How to shoot low key portraits?

 
mdw
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Nov 19, 2008 13:12 |  #1

Hi everyone,

I'm trying to understand lighting set-ups for portrait photography.
I recently bought a Canon 430EX ll and I would like to get into shooting some low-key portraits.

But somehow I can't get the results I'm after. I hope someone can help me out and explain the set-up and rules... Unfortunately, I do not own a studio, softboxes, off-camera flash equipment etc. Just my 400D and a 430EX ll! :oops:

What I read is the following:


  1. To make a background dark, you should get the light closer to the subject and get the subject further from the background.
  2. To minimize ambient light as much as possible you should use X-sync shutter speed.
  3. Use a black background
But what is the light 'they' are talking about in #1? Do they mean a flash or a constant light source (like a lamp or something)? A flash fills the whole room and subject.
Also the X-sync shutter speed I don't fully understand...

I do understand the black background though!! :lol:

Here are some low key portraits I'm after:


http://www.photofacts.​nl …trait_rodolphe_​simeon.jpg (external link)
Source: http://www.photofacts.​nl …trait_rodolphe_​simeon.jpg (external link)
http://farm1.static.fl​ickr.com …694754_0e4f5d39​a6.jpg?v=0 (external link)

Source: http://farm1.static.fl​ickr.com …694754_0e4f5d39​a6.jpg?v=0 (external link)

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BBrat
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Nov 19, 2008 13:31 |  #2

both photos look light they used 1 light. the first one the light (either spedlight or strobe) came in from the our right side and across the subject. The light source was set most likely at the side of the subject and slightly a little forward (45*ish to subject).

the second shot the same thing but from the other side. if you wanted a litlle more light on the darker side of the subject you could use a reflector.

hope i explained this correctly, if not please someone correct me.


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Curtis ­ N
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Nov 19, 2008 13:57 |  #3

mdw wrote in post #6719039 (external link)
To make a background dark, you should get the light closer to the subject and get the subject further from the background.

  1. To minimize ambient light as much as possible you should use X-sync shutter speed.
  2. Use a black background
But what is the light 'they' are talking about in #1? Do they mean a flash or a constant light source (like a lamp or something)? A flash fills the whole room and subject.

They mean the light you're using to illuminate your subject. It could be a studio strobe or a whal oil lamp. All light obeys the same laws of physics.

Getting the light closer to your subject makes it brighter, so you can use less light, or a smaller aperture. Either way, the background gets darker.

Also the X-sync shutter speed I don't fully understand...

X-sync is the fastest shutter speed you can use with flash, and is specific to the camera model. For the 400D, it's 1/200 second (it's in the shutter specs in the camera instruction manual).

Using X-sync speed, rather than 1/60 or 1/30 or whatever, reduces the ambient light contribution to the image without affecting the flash exposure.


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sdipirro
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Nov 19, 2008 15:12 |  #4

In addition to what the others said, there is the issue you mentioned of a raw flash sending light everywhere, regardless of where it's positioned. There are various techniques for directing the light in a specific direction and not splashing over where you don't want it. Grids, snoots, barndoors, and others allow you to position the light and send it in the direction you want. That's important for this type of portrait too.


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mdw
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Nov 19, 2008 15:53 |  #5

Thanks for the input everyone!
Appreciate it!

I had a quick try at it using my 430EXll, Tamron 17-50mm and a silver reflector to bounce the light. The result (self-portrait, excuse the expression) doesn't 'pop' as the pictures shown above. Especially the light on the old man is harsh, but it therefore 'pops' (if you know what I mean...) :p

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EdBray
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Nov 19, 2008 16:19 |  #6

The clue to most portrait lighting can be found in the eyes!

Look at the picture of the man, large catchlight in the eye plus a couple of smaller catchlights, now look at the catchlight in your eye, small spot.

I would suggest the man has been lit by a large strong lightsource which is mainly hitting him from his slightly front left, this is probably from an open door or large window, this gives a degree of additional light spilling onto his right cheek which although not as strong (due to fall-off) gives added depth and definition. I suspect the other catchlights are from additional windows in the room.

Now a self portrait whilst fun is not the best way to learn how to use lighting for dramatic effect. Neither is a stobe to be honest. It is much better to learn with available light and use reflectors and flags to control and direct the light before moving on to strobes and speedlights.

In your self portrait, whilst you have tried for dramatic lighting, the light source is too far to your right which does not allow the spill of light across your face to give depth and definition, it is also pretty much on the same plane, so the fall off is not so pronounced and therefore the contrast is not as high on the lit side of your face as the light on the old mans.

If you want to learn how to light different portraits, I would get yourself a model ( male is probably better than a female, they won't be so upset with some of your failed attempts), try to find a room with a large window (preferably with dark walls) get a couple of white reflectors (card will do) and a few bits of black card (for flags) and then practise at adjusting the light by moving the subjects position, controlling and moving the shadows with flags and reflectors and seeing what happens with the use of different camera positions relative to the light source and models position. Once you understand how to use available light, then, and only then, should you try the same thing with flash units (either studio or speedlights). this will be much more difficult as you have to actually take an image to see how the effect has come out.

Good luck and remember, good practise will improve your understanding and skills.


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Nov 19, 2008 17:16 |  #7

A light closer to the subject will take greater advantage of the Inverse Square law of falloff of light intensity.

4' to b/g is -2EV darker than 2' to subject (change -2EV, for 2' more distance)
5.6' to b/g is -2EV darker than 2.8' to subject (change -2EV, for 2.8' more distance)
8' to b/g is -2EV darker than 4' to subject (change -2EV, for 4' more distance)
11' to b/g is -2EV darker than 5.6' to subject (change -2EV, for 5.6' more distance)
16' to b/g is -2EV darker than 8' to subject (change -2EV, for 8' more distance)


See how the farther the light is from the subject, the greater the distance which is needed simply to achieve -2EV intensity falloff to the background?!


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Fellipe ­ de ­ Paula
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Nov 19, 2008 17:20 |  #8

30 seconds post production and you have a pop'ed self portrait:


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perfarny
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Nov 19, 2008 17:58 |  #9

looks great. can you share the steps you took in PP?




  
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Fellipe ­ de ­ Paula
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Nov 19, 2008 18:21 |  #10

Sure... Just added contrast and brightness and then I duplicated the layer and applied Highpass filter. After that I just put this layer on softlight blend mode.


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Vonzen
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Nov 19, 2008 20:49 |  #11

mdw wrote in post #6720158 (external link)
Thanks for the input everyone!
Appreciate it!

I had a quick try at it using my 430EXll, Tamron 17-50mm and a silver reflector to bounce the light. The result (self-portrait, excuse the expression) doesn't 'pop' as the pictures shown above. Especially the light on the old man is harsh, but it therefore 'pops' (if you know what I mean...) :p

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did you use any modifier when you shot this photo?


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Nov 20, 2008 00:29 |  #12

EdBray wrote in post #6720337 (external link)
The clue to most portrait lighting can be found in the eyes!...

That and everything else you stated, well written indeed EdBray! I'm learning that if I reposition light source or subject for better catchlights, contrast...it saves me significant time in Photoshop. Having played around with Photomatix, Topaz Adjust and Lucisart for portraits; it's MUCH easier if I get the lighting right before PP! :) :cool:


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mdw
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Nov 20, 2008 06:42 |  #13

Thanks all for the input!! :)

@ Edbray: thanks very much for the explanation.
I'll do some portraits tomorrow with a friend of mine (female though). Don't think they're going to be low-key, but the explanation will help a great deal!

@Fellipe: thanks for the edit. Looks a little hard though. I tried something myself as well. (see below)

@Vonzen: Nope, no modifiers, no diffuser. Flash bounced at silver reflector to camera left.

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fotojoem
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Nov 28, 2008 13:30 |  #14

what are flags? i have heard of them being metioned in may chats but I am unfamiliar.

Joe

EdBray wrote in post #6720337 (external link)
The clue to most portrait lighting can be found in the eyes!

Look at the picture of the man, large catchlight in the eye plus a couple of smaller catchlights, now look at the catchlight in your eye, small spot.

I would suggest the man has been lit by a large strong lightsource which is mainly hitting him from his slightly front left, this is probably from an open door or large window, this gives a degree of additional light spilling onto his right cheek which although not as strong (due to fall-off) gives added depth and definition. I suspect the other catchlights are from additional windows in the room.

Now a self portrait whilst fun is not the best way to learn how to use lighting for dramatic effect. Neither is a stobe to be honest. It is much better to learn with available light and use reflectors and flags to control and direct the light before moving on to strobes and speedlights.

In your self portrait, whilst you have tried for dramatic lighting, the light source is too far to your right which does not allow the spill of light across your face to give depth and definition, it is also pretty much on the same plane, so the fall off is not so pronounced and therefore the contrast is not as high on the lit side of your face as the light on the old mans.

If you want to learn how to light different portraits, I would get yourself a model ( male is probably better than a female, they won't be so upset with some of your failed attempts), try to find a room with a large window (preferably with dark walls) get a couple of white reflectors (card will do) and a few bits of black card (for flags) and then practise at adjusting the light by moving the subjects position, controlling and moving the shadows with flags and reflectors and seeing what happens with the use of different camera positions relative to the light source and models position. Once you understand how to use available light, then, and only then, should you try the same thing with flash units (either studio or speedlights). this will be much more difficult as you have to actually take an image to see how the effect has come out.

Good luck and remember, good practise will improve your understanding and skills.


Joe

  
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fotojoem
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Nov 28, 2008 13:33 |  #15

How did you do that? I like it!

Joe

Fellipe de Paula wrote in post #6720770 (external link)
30 seconds post production and you have a pop'ed self portrait:


Joe

  
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How to shoot low key portraits?
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