Cinematic Portraits – Light & Shadows

I had the pleasure of hearing Cyl Arena’s keynote presentation at Exposure in Toronto on Friday. His key message for creating good portraits was to “look at the light but think about the shadows” because it is the shadows which make the difference between a good and a fantastic portrait. If I recall correctly, his definition of cinematic was to create photographs which don’t look like subjects look like to the world.

Here are a few points I took away from his presentation.

  • Take whatever time is necessary to get the correct lighting set up and camera settings before going for your final shots.  If you have an hour to shoot a portrait, allocate 50 minutes for set up. I am conscious of taking too much of my subject’s time and often hurry the process so I need to work on improving that and ask my subjects for patience.
  • Take an overview shot of your studio set up to help recall it for future shots
  • Take and keep the shots as you make your camera adjustments (1 stop increments) and experiment by going beyond the limits of the settings you will use in both directions.
  • Use shutter speed, within the limits of your camera’s flash synchronization, to control ambient light. It will not affect the amount of flash which will be much faster than your camera’s fastest flash synchronization speed.
  • Only add light if needed and take a shot to note the effect of each individual light as it is added.

Here is a photo I took which highlights the value of shadows but it was with the aid of someone else’s professional lighting so I can’t take the credit. Check out Cyl’s blog on the link I provided below for some of his examples.

Here is a link to Cyl’s blog PIXCYLATED. and you can follow him on Twitter @syl_arena.

Return to Bill’s Photography Web Site

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