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  1. #1

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    Wow - a new forum! Okay, I'll start things off: what sort of lighting do people prefer for indoor portraiture? Flash/strobe? Hot lights? Natural? High-key? Low-key? One light? Several lights?

    I confess to a distinct preference for natural daylight portraits, but of course it wouldn't do all the time. The recent passing of Yousuf Karsh made me feel like having a go with his classic set-up, but I haven't got around to it yet. I can't say I've ever used hot lights, and I wonder how well his distinctive 'look' could be replicated with flash.

  2. #2

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    As far as my interest in editorial (magazine) photography is concerned, I prefer natural-light portraits. Very rarely do I see an artificially-lit portrait in which the photographer has come close to creating the appearance of natural light. Also in the editorial realm, I prefer high-key and overexposed (they may push the film). I prefer seeing rectangular catchlights, too - no umbrellas.

  3. #3

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    jdef, I'm not sure what you said, but you said it quite beautifully.

    There are a handful of lighting schemes for portrait photography, though I must confess, although I've done my share of studio portraits, I'm not a full time portrait photographer.

    And while going into deep thought about the lighting of ones subject sounds quite interesting, the REAL portrait, IMO, is made not from lighting (although the lighting will affect the mood of the shot), but from the attitiude of the subject and their relationship to the photographer.

    There are many great portrait photographers that, like all photographers, have a preference for a certain type of lighting, and they more or less stick to it, with of course subtle modificationds depending on the subject. And sure, every now and then, those same photographers will get a hankering to try something different, but for the most part, they stick to what they know and do best. After all, it defines their style as a photographer as we know it.

    OK, enough of the esoteric mush...

    When I'm shooting in a studio, I like one large semi-soft light from the camera left, a reflector from the right, NO hair lights or back lights, and the background at least 3 meters from the subject to allow for individual control. Depending on the final use of the shot, The side lighting will be adjusted to either exsenuate or soften particular features, also depending on wether the subject is male or female.
    - William Levitt

  4. #4
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    That's pretty much my favorite setup, too. I started doing portraits with only one light on the subject and maybe a reflector and a background light, because that's what I could afford, but I've come to realize, looking at the work of other one-light portraitists like Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, that that's what I really like. Natural light portraiture depends on a single light source, so I suppose that is why it feels the most natural in the studio. Which is not to say I haven't been completely blown away by the shimmering quality of a Hurrell print, but it's just not the way I work. The Hollywood style says "theatre" to me, while the one-light approach seems more objective, more honest, illusory though that sense of objectivity may be.



    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  5. #5
    bmac's Avatar
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    For my portrait work, I usually use two monolight strobes and one or two reflectors. Main / Fill ratio depends on the subject, but is usually about 1.5 stops. You can see examples of this setup in the portrait section on my site. http://bmacphoto.com
    hi!

  6. #6
    benjiboy's Avatar
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    What a good posting jdef, I have been shooting studio portraits for nearly fifty years, and think your advice to a photographer starting up in studio portraiture absolutely excellent, anyone can learn how to position lights, and take readings off a flash meter, the hard thing is to say something about the character of the sitter.

  7. #7
    Charles Webb's Avatar
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    I like and subscribe to most of what JDeF said, I coulden't ever say it as well as he did.

    I believe in the one light theory but at times will use as use many as 15 lights (read: or reflectors) in an attempt to create the "One Light" look or effect. When a viewer can see exactly how many sources of light has been used in a portrait, that portrait in my eyes is a failure. To me it means he does not have the knowledge of controlling light, or is in too much of a hurry to spend the necessary time/energy to do it right. Most studio "gunners" today are scheduled a sitting every 15 minutes. I can hardly meet any one in 15 minutes, let alone set up and do several poses in that short period of time. The short period of time to do a portrait has forced a camera person
    to give up on changing the lights for each different pose. This gave birth to the single large light directly above the lens axis so that what ever appeared in the frame had a descent amount of exposure. This type of lighting will not creat the modeling that is necessary. Meaning focused specular highlights and near full scale rendering. The "One light" today is generally used as a flood rather than a modeling light. The photo/portrait done this way I guess is a portrait, but somehow I don't see it as such. Even a house hold bulb, can be focused, as can be a large umbrella or soft box. Today many simply turned on and aimed at the subject, take a meter reading and shoot. little thought seems to be given to actual modeling of light as Karsh,
    Leon Kanamer and a few others did or do. I am certain that my favorite kind of light, is simply any light at all. Then trying to get it to work for me
    and my vision.

  8. #8

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    I'm very interested in this thread as I was going to ask a similar question.

    I do occasional portraits for people, and very much favour natural light especially for children, although I am thinking of investing in some studio lighting.

    Choice of film speed obviously affects the lighting setup you choose (or not) to work with. What I would like to know is, sticking with natural light for now, what fast b&w film do people like using for portraits? In the past I have used, as well as slower films, Ilford XP2 (400), Fuji Neopan 1600 and even Kodak Tmax 3200. What are your views on using very fast film for portraits? Too grainy or is there a place for these films?? If so, how do you make best use of them?

  9. #9
    blansky's Avatar
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    Since the initial question is about what kind of lighting, I let him decide what his subject needs.

    There are mainly two questions tno be answered in lighting, The QUANTITY and the QUALITY.

    The quantity is obviously how much light, and the quality is what the light looks like. The quality of light with a softbox is obviously different than that of a parabolic reflector. The size of the parabolic reflector will also affect the quality. The quality of hot lights is again different from strobe.

    Since hot lights are bitch to work with, they are HOT, they can blow circuit breakers, etc, most people use strobe. Strobe can be manipulated to have many qualities of light as I mentioned, depending on how you diffuse the light. It comes as close to window or natural light if it is softened and diffused accordingly.

    As people mentioned one light one reflector is a great way to learn and probably all one may need. Althought accent lights and background lights are also useful depending on what you are attempting.

    Also on quality of light, the closer it is the softer it is. Also the closer it is the less depth of field it has. In other words it falls off into shadow faster. The Hollywood glamour portraits used almost exclusively hot lights with fast falloff. Hence big highlights and deep shadows right next to them. This type of lighting needs a good face, good make up and usually good retouching.

    If you were to try to copy Karsh's work with strobes probably you would need four or five lights and small reflectors, less than 6 inch, to get the specular highlights that he achieved. He also manipulated the highlights in the darkroom/retouching.

    MIchael
    I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.

  10. #10

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    Hello!

    For my portrait work I always preferred hot lights (though I don't fancy strobes at all ). I find the tungsten-balanced film (especially Fuji, NPL and 64T) to have more precise and clear colours, more details in shadows etc. compared to daylight films. I think also that hot lights are easier to manipulate. For me it's really important to see the whole lighting situation directly, not like with strobes. I think that the incandescent light is more correct for human skin, because it's not as blue and penetrating as strobe light - also nothing can fluoresce from it, too. Hot lights are hot, right - but the overall control on light is better in their case, I think.

    For a typical portrait I use one source - 1000W hot light and a silver umbrella in front of model, with a white reflector on her knees or side to fill the shadows. If I use two sources, they are 1000W hot light and 90 cm reflective white umbrella as a fill light, and a key light - 600W in a deep wide reflector with honeycomb on it. Might be needed a silver reflector, too - just to introduce some modulations. This set is quite universal - a hair light might be added, and the background light... but that's not so essential, I think.

    Zhenya

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