During the winter months, when it's too cold to enjoy the outdoors, and most clients are preparing for weddings and warm holidays, I often find it hard to get creative in the limited space I have. For some, it makes sense shoot with a detailed plan, including the concept of the shoot and a list of costumes, poses, etc, from start to finish. For me, I find that having a base concept and experimenting along the way leads to the best results.
Whether you are someone who likes structure, or you are more laid back with the idea of experimentation, it's always important to consider the 3 major factors I consider to be some of the most fundamental elements in creative portrait photography.
Once you have chosen a subject and gathered your materials, the next important detail to consider is your lighting. Before you get started, it's important to ask yourself these questions:
1. What mood do I want to convey in these photos?
Do you want it to feel dramatic, ethereal, calming, etc?
2. What is my space like?
Do you have space to set up extra lighting?
3. What kind of lighting do I have available?
Do you have window light, sunlight, overhead light, etc?
If you are unsure of the type of portrait you want to produce, and are simply feeling experimental, it's always a good idea to come up with a broad idea of what you would like to try or see. For this particular photoshoot, I knew I wanted the light to draw the viewer's eye directly to my subject's face, as well as the flowers adorning her head. I also new I wanted the overall mood to be mysterious with a bit of whimsy, therefore I made sure to consider how my light would need to surround my subject. I chose to place my strobe in a double-diffused beauty dish on camera left in order to direct a large soft light onto my model. By placing it relatively close and overhead, I was able to direct the light onto her body without over-lighting the background.
Because of the position of the strobe, there were still shadows on her face. In order to fill them in, I chose to use a ring light directly in front of her. This way I was able to create a catch light in her eyes, as well as fully illuminate her entire face.
(Side Note: If you are on a budget and aren't quite ready for flash, I highly recommend investing in a ring light for portraiture. It's super easy to use, very portable, and extremely fun to play with.)
Tip: If you are going for a brighter, more day-time feel and cannot get outside during a sunny day, you can utilize large windows with filtered light, large diffused light, or even overhead ceiling light, just be aware of your white balance.
Once I decided I wanted to add in some extra colors, I utilized my pocket LED light that the model could hold below and in front of her face. I chose to keep the intensity the same throughout the shoot, however she was able to adjust the strength of the light by moving it around her face, shoulders, and lap.
Tip: If you don't have a small led light, you can use a flashlight or your phone to yield similar results.
Another element I find useful for creating portraits is the use of color. Personally, I live a life of black clothing, dark wall paint, and low-lit living rooms. When it comes to photography, I am always drawn to color, whether it's saturated, or something more subtle. I also find it incredibly therapeutic to play with color, even if I end up scrapping the photographs.
During the first half of this shoot, I utilized clean white light in order to draw attention to the model's face. Before starting the shoot, I knew I wanted my secondary subject to be flowers, no matter how we would end up using them. The first thing to consider when choosing the flowers was how they would compliment one another. For example, I would not want to use a blue and orange flower simple because they are opposite on the color wheel, and not the color scheme I was looking for. If I did choose to use orange and blue, they would distract the viewer from the model, and ultimately the photo would only be about the flower. By choosing red and pink or magenta and white, the flowers were able to compliment her skin tone, and still pop off the background without causing distraction.
For the second portion of the photoshoot, I wanted to utilize gels to create a more dramatic tones and overall we just wanted to have fun! Often, I use prisms to add extra flare or framing to my photos, so I chose to use my colored prisms and my omni filter to create awesome flares, added colors, and intentional glares.
Tip: Start with one color at a time and add them as you go. This ensures you have complete control over your settings and setup.
The last component of creative portraits I always choose to utilize is framing within my composition. By framing my subject within the photograph, it gives it more interest without becoming overly distracting. While I chose some traditional composition in some of the photos, I also chose to utilize objects I had readily available to create some unusual frames.
For example, I grabbed a stack of decorative placemats that I have set aside for food photography. By hanging them in front of my strobe, I was able to cast some cool geometric shadows onto her face, almost like a projector.
Remember that ring light I mentioned in beginning? Ring lights are often used to create a frame within a frame, so I had to give it a shot while I had my dramatic lighting still set up. By pulling back and placing my focus on the model, I was able to keep her as the main subject and also create a circular frame around her face. During my color experimentation, I placed the colored reflections beneath, above, or around her face in order to draw the viewer to her eyes.
Tip: Play! Experiment! Not every photo has to be a masterpiece, and creating "failures" just leads to successes.
While I would love to create the perfect photo in camera, sometimes it's just not possible. My colors may not be as vibrant as I hope, or the skin needs a bit of retouching. My editing process consists of starting out in Lightroom for color correction and color grading and later moving into Photoshop for retouching and more advanced techniques. My general editing process is as follows:
1. Look through my custom presets, if nothing fits: Color grade in HSL & Split Toning.
2. General adjustments such as shadows & highlights
3. Curve adjustments
4. Lens corrections if warping occurs
5. Dehaze, sharpen, etc.
6. Brush over main subject for brightness if needed.
7. Iris brush
1. Re-adjust curves if needed
2. Skin retouch
3. Spot healing tool
4. Fix hairs if needed
5. Clone or remove any unwanted material/extend sides/etc.
6. Adjust color/tones if needed
Tip: When retouching skin/people, do not remove anything permanent (scars, moles, stretch marks.) unless asked by the model/client. Feel free to remove anything temporary (acne, bug bites, cuts.)
Camera Body-Nikon D850
Lenses: Sigma 50mm 1.4 ART, Nikkor 85mm 1.8, & Sigma 24mm 1.4 ART
Flash/Strobe: Godox v860ii & Godox AD400 Pro
C-Stand: EACHSHOT Heavy Duty C-Stand
Ring Light: GVM LED Ring Light
Backdrop Stand: 10ft (119 x 86in)
Seamless Paper: Huamei 4.4 x 16 Arctic White
LED Video Light: Sokani Pocket LED
Hi I'm Hannah!
Tattoo and Camera Collector. Taxidermy Enthusiast. Food Lover. Boy Mom. Advanced Selfie Taker.
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