Yesterday afternoon, I was walking along The Bluff near my home. The Bluff is a half-mile stretch of narrow street that runs along The Intercoastal Waterway with the water and docks on one side and homes on the other – old oaks with moss create a mystical canopy over the road, one of the most beautiful settings in Savannah. Now that you get the picture, a photographer was taking informal portraits of a couple before their prom – with an on-camera, pop-up flash for fill.
Unfortunately, on-camera flash of people frequently results in a “deer in the headlights” look – not the most appealing. There are exceptions to this including the use of a ring light for fill or using an on-camera speed-light bounced off of a reflecting surface such as a wall. Taking great outdoors photos of people requires finesse. The camera is first set with ISO, speed, and aperture for the background and surroundings, best done in manual mode. Frequently, bokeh is used to bring attention to the main subject. Bokeh is the aesthetic quality of blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image. See my post on January 4, 2016 for an explanation of High-speed Sync Flash. This photo seen in my post is a good example of bokeh.
Lets assume the camera is set for the background – frequently underexposed, again to help bring attention to the main subject(s). The classic position for the main light is 45 degrees to one side or the other and 45 degrees angled down on the subject. This results in the classic Rembrandt look with the shadow of the nose not quite touching the upper lip. Additional lights may be used for fill or to separate the subject from the background. Various reflectors may be used in addition to or in place of strobes. My favorite main light source when photographing people is to bounce a Profoto head (D1 or B1) into a silver 42″ umbrella and back through a 7′ diffusing umbrella. This set-up can be challenging if there is any wind. This is an example of a recent headshot using only this set-up on a black backdrop.
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