An Experiment in Lighting on a Budget

An Experiment in Combining Outdoor and Indoor Light

An Experiment in Combining Outdoor and Indoor Light

I have a confession to make right off the bat–I’m an outdoor photographer and using natural light is my forte.  That’s what I’ve done as a professional photographer for the past 20 years.  I’m not an expert on studio lighting at all (far from it!).  My photography mentor, Barry Howell from Picture Place Photography, has remarked on many occasions that I know where to “find the perfect light” in an outdoor situation.  I just don’t have the expertise to “create it” when it isn’t anywhere to be found.  Hence, my experimentation in combining natural outdoor light with indoor lighting.

Here’s where the adventure began…my college buddy, Missy, (who is a phenomenal pianist) asked me to take photos for her promotional material .  It was late fall and the weather for the outdoor photography season had long passed in Minnesota.  We decided to give it a try anyway.  The day we picked out for the shoot ended up being pretty dreary, cold and overcast– so we had to improvise.  The only lighting equipment that I owned was two constant light soft boxes on stands and an external flash on my camera.  For the styling, I was thinking of a nice backlit situation with white lace curtains to complement Missy’s gorgeous blond hair.  Fortunately, my house has a bay window with a south-facing exposure and a window seat.  We weren’t able to benefit much from the southern exposure because of the cloudiness, so I decided to take one of the soft boxes outside, plug it in, and set it up shining through the bay window.  The outside soft box became our “fake” sun for the time being.  I then positioned the other light inside the house facing the window.  If you’re trying to picture this—one light is outside facing into the window and one is inside facing out (only about 7 feet away from the window).  Missy was inside the house kneeling on the bay window seat with the outside soft box light hitting the side of her hair through the window (lighting it like an angel, in my opinion) and the inside one lighting up her face (about 7 feet in front of her).  For one more lighting supplementation, I used the external flash on my camera with a diffuser (pointed at the side wall to bounce the light).

The photo above is the product of our budget lighting experiment.  I must admit that getting a good photo of Missy is not a difficult thing to do.  She’s a beauty and definitely has aged well for being the mother of 7 and a new grandmother. But I still have A LOT to learn on how to create the “perfect” light when there’s no “perfect” light to be found.  The master studio photographers spend YEARS honing their craft of studio lighting (through education and experience). I’m still reading, researching and gleaning knowledge from the experts.  But at least I’ve taken a “baby step” on my way out of my comfort zone and into the “lighting zone”.

Miss Minnesota 2015

Congratulations to Rachel Latuff, who was crowned MISS MINNESOTA in June 2015!  She was a pleasure to photograph and made my job as a photographer VERY easy!

Miss Minnesota 2015

Miss Minnesota 2015

Looking Your Best Magazine 2013

Announcing the first annual Looking Your Best magazine for 2013!  This e-magazine is designed with you in mind for your next photo session.  Included in this magazine are tips about color, make-up and posing.  If you’re wondering what to wear, how much make-up is best, what colors work with your skin tone or how you should pose in a photo, the answers are right here:

Photography Magazine Cover

Photography Magazine Blog Pages 1&2

Photography Magazine Blog Pages 3&4

Photography Magazine Blog Pages 5&6

Photography Magazine Blog Pages 7&8

Photography Magazine Back Cover

Up Close and Personal-The Importance of the Close-Up

Near and Far

Have you ever pulled out an old photo of yourself (or a relative) and found yourself squinting at the small figure at the bottom of the 3″x3″ square and wondering what that person REALLY looked like?  If you are from a big family (and one of the youngest), are the majority of your childhood photos consisting of you resting in someone else’s arms with most of your face covered up?  Then you are probably someone who appreciates the importance of the close-up portrait photograph.

Portraiture has been one of many uses for the mediums of art and photography throughout history.  Starting with art and then photography:  Both (at different points in history) have been used to record “events” ranging from the cave drawings and the pyramids to today’s newspapers and the internet.  They have been used for anything from fine art to decoration, for recording the images of presidents and that of tiny little babies.  Then there’s the everyday milestones:  birth, school, graduation, engagement, wedding, etc. etc. etc.   With those many “uses” for art and photography, there have also been many trends in “styles”–  Realism, Impressionism and Cubism to name just a few.

Today’s trend in professional portrait photography is a “photo-journalistic” or “story-telling” style.  The emphasis of photo-journalistic photography is on the story and the background.  In some ways, the close-up portrait has been de-emphasized.  Even so, the close-up portrait hasn’t always been considered something desirable.  There have been times in history in which the close-up was considered ugly and even grotesque.  Hollywood and the invention of the movie gave us more of an appreciation for zooming in close.   We all know that at some point on the “big screen” the camera will zoom in on someone’s face for emotional effect.  The movie-making industry has worked very hard with make-up, careful lighting, camera filters and retouching to keep those close-ups pleasing to the eye.

With that said, why would you even want to zoom in close when taking a photo?  For one reason, it is intimate and personal.  In a society that has become detached—or should I say “attached” to the cell phone, laptop and headphones— we crave intimacy.  When you see a photo that is taken close, you notice someone’s eyes, which is where the personality really shines through.  And interestingly enough, expressions on a face can tell a story just as much as a prop or a background.  Secondly, the close-up is important for future generations.  Twenty, 30, 50 or even 100 years from now you or your descendants will look at your photos wanting to know what you looked like.  Your kids or grandkids will be able to say “I know exactly where I got my nose from!”   Whether you consider that a good thing or not is up to you.  Thirdly, with today’s retouching options, there’s no need to fear the close-up.  REALLY!  Fourth, in a portrait (the dictionary definition of “portrait”:  a likeness of a person, especially of the face, as a painting, drawing, or photograph), the most important thing is THE PERSON!  Backgrounds, poses and props are there to “compliment” the person.  And finally, to do close-up portraiture right, you must have some expertise.  Lighting, posing, knowing what angles are flattering, and knowing how to make your subject comfortable are all crucial in pulling off a flattering close-up portrait.

My Philosophy:  When I look at different trends in portrait photography, I think of one word:  BALANCE.  For example:  I use a similar balanced approach to my wardrobe.  Whenever a new trend comes around in the fashion industry, the last thing I do is immediately run to my closet and throw everything out and dash to the store and buy all new clothes.  Instead,  I go through my existing wardrobe and keep all of the quality, classic elements.  I do throw out a couple of things that are completely out of style and then buy a few new trendy accessories to go with my classic stuff.  I approach trends in art and photography the same way.  I look through what my style has been, throw out the out-dated looks, keep the quality, classic elements and find new fresh elements of the trend and add that to it.  Just think if all of the artists of Picasso’s day had thrown out the classic painting techniques and everyone ONLY painted in cubism?  Today we’d have a really strange view of that point in history.  Balance—it’s very important.  That’s why the close-up portrait is important.  To keep that balance.

Just to clarify:  Basically I’m saying that we should not forget the importance of the close-up and that it needs to be balanced with whatever the trend happens to be in photography.  There’s a place for the story-telling, the action shot, the artistic endeavors, or whatever.  In my own photography shoots, I try to get a balance of DIFFERENT shots within EACH shoot—the close-up to the long-range, the formal to the casual, the straight-on to the artistic angle, the simple to the complex, emphasizing the person to bringing out the background.  Keeping that balance between the “tried and true” and the “fresh and new” is the name of the game.

At the top of this article is a photo example of a portrait taken near and one far.  Same person and same location in both photos.   It’s fun to get the entire scope of the location for remembrance sake but there is also much to say of the one up close where you can see her personality through her eyes.  Below is another example of a close-up with a 1920’s look…

Now THIS is Up Close and Personal!

Color-The Greatest Illusion

Color Can Change Skin Tones

Color is:  an illusionist, a pretender, trickery, a fooler.  You think you know color, but it’s just playing with your brain.  Color knows how to do some of the same things my husband, who is an illusionist, knows how to do.  When you watch a magic show, you THINK you know what’s going on, but you’re being misdirected.  Color does the same thing to you.  All it has to do is change its surroundings and you think that it has changed to a new color when it hasn’t.  I learned some important lessons about color in my college graphics class many years ago that I will never forget.  We were given an assignment where we had to paint 2 small squares of the same identical color on a board with 2 different background colors surrounding them.  It was amazing to see that the 2 small squares that were identical colors looked like DIFFERENT colors when they were surrounded by other colors!  That was the easy assignment.  The color did the work in that one.  The next assignment was a bit harder.  We had to then take a board and paint 2 different color small squares and try to find the surrounding colors that would trick the eye into looking like they were IDENTICAL colors!  Boy, that was a tough one!  But the thing is, it could be done!!!!  That really showed me the power of color.  And now I’ve translated it to every part of my artist endeavors.  Below (at the bottom of this article) is an example of the small squares with identical colors across from each other but with different background colors surrounding them.  The same colored squares– but they look different.

There was a terrific movement back in the 1980’s dealing with color.  It seemed like everyone back then were having “their colors done”.  An expert would come to your home for a “color party” and would figure out what “season” you were (whether you were a spring, summer, fall or winter).  They would have large pieces of cloth and would hold the cloth up by your face and see what the color did to your skin.  Believe me, color really changes your skin tone!  Then they would determine whether you should wear warm or cool colors, muted or bright.  Your season would help dictate your make-up choices, hair color and clothing.  It was a great thing for the “color-challenged” because you got a sample booklet with all of the colors that work for you that you could bring with you when you shopped for clothes and make-up.  I was actually sad to see that trend phase out because the right colors can give someone a healthy glow to their skin.  The wrong colors can make someone’s skin look pretty pasty.  I think the fashion industry might have been feeling a little constrained by that movement and seemed to be trying to convince the public that they could change their natural colors with make-up.  The problem with that theory is that your natural skin tones still show through your make-up. ( Because color is that great optical illusionist after all.)

Translating that to photography:  We’ve learned that background color actually changes- to your eye- the color it surrounds.  Sooooo…that means that the background to a portrait will change the color of people’s skin, hair, eyes, clothing, etc.  With that in mind, one color does not usually fit all.  There are only a few universal colors that work with all “seasons”.  Most of the time, a photographer has to be aware of the colorings of the clothing and background and whether they work together.  Outdoors in the fall, the leaves are so beautiful with the oranges, yellows, and reds.  Even though they are gorgeous colors, there are few people who actually can pull off yellow or orange.  On those occasions, when I get a client in the fall that doesn’t look good in yellow, I look for the deep green or bluish pine trees, cool gray rocks or stones for backgrounds.  I may still take a couple of photos in front of the yellow leaves but I turn them black and white in post production.

Advice on what to wear for clients:  The advice I give to clients before they come for a shoot is to wear solid, bright colors that work with their skin tones.  (The reason for solid versus prints will be in another whole article in the future.)  An easy way to generally figure out your colors is that— if you have yellow or orange undertones to your skin:  wear warm colors.  If you have red or blue undertones to your skin:  wear cool colors.  Even though more muted colors may be what looks best on some people (in person), I still suggest brighter colors because of how the brighter colors react with surrounding colors on a photograph.  The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing colors:  Does the shirt color draw the eye up to the person’s face and make you notice how good/healthy they look OR does the color draw your gaze down to the color of the shirt so that you’re looking only at the shirt?  Many a time, I’ve heard someone compliment another on the color of their shirt—not because it made the person look good—but because it drew attention to itself because it wasn’t really the perfect color for them.  Usually, when someone says that you look terrific, because they’re looking at your face and how brightened your skin is, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re wearing the right color.

An Example:  The photo example at the top of this article is a good example on what background color does in a photograph.  The top photo with the blue background is on the same wall (down a few feet) and in the same light as the bottom photograph with the green background.  The blue tones work well with the model’s skin tones and brings out their eyes and draws your attention to the brightness of their faces.  The bottom photo (which, by the way, is white balanced identical too) with the green background is not the right color for the model’s skin tones and makes them look pale.  The green even changes the colors of the clothing from purple to more of a blue.

Knowledge = Power:  Now that you know the tricks of the trade when it comes to color, you can master it.  You don’t have to be the one sitting at the magician’s show wondering “How did he do that?”.  You know that color changes everything.  Color can be used to your advantage and make you look really terrific!  Then you can be the one with the sly smile because you know the “secrets” of Color-The Great Illusionist!

Color Can Fool the Eye

Color-The Great Pretender

Angelic or Not?

This photo is just a fun candid shot that I took of my daughter at the Renaissance Festival.  The sun was shining through the top of the booth she was standing in and gave such a wonderful backlighting effect.  I was having way too much fun playing with this one graphically on the computer!

Angelic or not?  You decide...

Angelic Backlighting is Fun!

So You Wanna Be a Model

Have you been told by family and friends that you’re pretty photogenic and should be a model?  Here are some things to consider while you ponder your future modeling career.  (Remember, this is coming from a photographer’s perspective.)  There’s much more to being a model than just having a pretty face.  I’ve heard a saying about Hollywood:  “Beautiful People are a Dime a Dozen”.  There are several qualities that set someone apart in that industry.  The first quality is:  Passion!!!!! (That should also be quality # 2, 3, 4 & 5 !!!)  You have to really LOVE being in front of the camera.  Every time you pick up a magazine are you looking at how they’re posing and what looks good on the models?  Maybe your favorite TV show is America’s Next Top Model?  Or have you considered how to get more education in the industry?  Do you read every article or blog you can find on the subject?  Now that’s passion!  The second quality you need to have is:  Inner Confidence.  Hesitancy and awkwardness have to take a back seat.  Just like kids and animals can smell fear, the camera can sense awkwardness.  You have to be confident in who you are and what your abilities are.  The third quality is:  Self-Awareness of what your body is doing.  You need to have a good grasp on how your body looks and how to move into attractive poses for your unique shape.  Oh…. one important thing about a really good photographer that you need to know:  They have many tricks up their sleeves that can bring out the inner model in someone with some time and a lot of effort on the photographer’s part.  The first question that needs to be answered at this point is:  Does the subject look like a model in the photos from:  A.– “their own” talent and effort or B.– the photographer’s talent and effort?  If it’s letter A and the subject has the three other qualities that they need:  The Passion, The Inner Confidence and the Self-Awareness then, by all means, modeling may be in their future!  One general hint:  To become really “successful” in modeling it helps to have connections.  After all, “It’s not WHO you know, it’s who knows YOU!”  And if you decide that the modeling business is not for you but you want to LOOK like a model….find one of those really good photographers!

Cassie-She Has the Stuff

Posture-Before and After

Question:  What do these people have in common–your mother, your teacher, your chiropractor and your photographer?  Answer:  All of them at one time or another have said to you the phrase “Sit up straight!”.  Our society seems to be growing a new breed of “Hunchbacks of Notre Dames” (and I’m right there with them).  When we sit down to relax, whether it’s on the couch in front of the TV or sitting at the computer we start to hunch over.  It’s comfortable that way!  When you’re in front of the camera the slouching becomes much more apparent.  We “think” we’re sitting up straight, but we’re really not.  Last fall I did a promo photo shoot for my chiropractor.  You’d think that he, of all people, would have “perfect” posture!  Once again, I took a photo, looked at the result, and noticed the rounded shoulders and the hunching back.  I actually had to ask my own chiropractor to stand up straight!  Could we call that payback?  It just shows me that it’s really an epidemic.  No one is immune to the slumping over.  I’ve attached before and after photos from real photo shoots.  The “before”s are how they just naturally stood for their photos.  The “after”s are from some coaching—to roll their shoulders back and stand up straighter.  You’ll notice that the after photos show them much leaner and looking more fit and attractive.  Their rib cages are higher and their waists look longer.  So next time your photographer asks you to sit or stand up straight, don’t fret, you’re in good company.  Just know that when you do stand up straight you’re going to look terrific!

What a difference!

Sara-Big Eyes With No Smile

No Crinkled Eyes in This Photo