Week 3 class recap – Lighting and Portraits

“Improving in the arts, whether music, poetry, or pottery, requires passion, which fuels practice.” Chris Orwig from his book People Pictures: 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs

Week 3  is all about lighting and portraits and how to get one that tells the viewer something about your sitter.

This week we reviewed the exposure triangle: ISO, Aperture, shutter speed, DOF, the rule of thirds and composition.

We watched a slideshow about lighting and portraiture.

  • Our main topic was the four M’s of lighting (main light, meter, mood, modify) & lighting for portraiture. For our activity we photographed each other during class outside and in the atrium. We also talked about bracketing your shots and use the technique of putting your subject just inside a doorway on a sunny day.
  • Part of your assignment for this week is to shoot a portrait of a someone (no pets). Don’t just set the camera up and take a snapshot. Use some of the lighting and composition techniques that we talked about. Create a mood and tell us something about your sitter as well as yourself with your photos. Think about using your sitters environment as part of their portrait. (See TIPS below)
  • You were also asked to take a self portrait.
  • The self portrait assignment requires that you learn how to use the self timer feature on your camera.
  • For ease of focusing, think about putting your lens on manual focus mode
  • Use the flashing highlights (blinkies) to help with exposures in bright sunlight.
  • Try using your zoom lens set on a wide setting such as 18 or 25mm. See if that makes a difference in how you view your subjects. The object is to interact with your subject.
  • Play with your camera settings a bit and see where it takes you. Be creative.
  • Shoot from slightly below your subject’s eye line – shooting from slightly below a person’s eye line is more flattering for most people.

You’ll need to pick out your favorite self portrait and portrait and have them printed so we can discuss them in class next week.

Don’t forget to record the meta/exif data (ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings) for each photo that you bring in. You can write it on the back of each print or you can put it in a notebook.


One of the best and most underused locations for portraiture is an ordinary garage or doorway. The simplicity of location makes your subject feel at ease. Open the door and position the subject in the shadow near the edge of the light. You will discover the light is like nothing else you have seen. Make sure the lights are out behind them and there is no window in the back ground, If necessary, hang a backdrop behind the subject to cover up all the clutter. The garage creates a box, which protects the subject from direct sun. The sky adds a sparkle to their eyes. In a sense a garage door opening is like a big window without glass. And if the driveway or sidewalk is a light-colored concrete, it can act as a reflector bouncing the fill light back in.

If you don’t have a garage, any overhang will do. Experiment with positioning your subject closer and farther from the shadow’s edge until you find the right combination.

Try using a small stepladder or stool so that you can position the camera just above the subject’s head. This will cause him to look up so that the light from the sky will brighten his eyes.

Do some pre planning to keep your portrait sessions short, no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

Some self portrait tips. And a few more.

I love this expalnation by photographer Joey L about the way he shoots portraits. He describes it as “The Dignified Portrait”.

The Mentawai, Behind the Scenes Documentary from Joey L .

Try to think creatively when taking your homework portraits this week.

Take a look at the intuative portrait examples as well as the Intimate portrait examples.

Check out the portfolios of Joe McNally for some great examples of portraits.

Here’s a good explanation of environmental portraiture. These are some really interesting environmental portraits. Some more and some more.

The self portraits of Vivian Maier. She used reflections very creatively.

Also check out these self portraits on Flickr.

Miss Aniela’s self portraits on Flickr.

Here are some more self portrait examples for you to peruse.

Also, check out these portraits on Flickr by David Hobby. David runs the Strobist website.

We watched this video over on the Strobist site about street portraiture by photographer Clay Enos.

Here is the link to the site of Kevyn Major Howard. He does headshots using natural light. Here is a link to the video featuring him shooting in his garage. Pretty cool setup.

If you’re interested in photographing children, Jinky Art is a great blog to check out. This photographer does some beautiful work.

William Coupon is an amazing  portrait photographer that you should study.

Check out these portraits by local photographer Glen McClure. Currently he has some work over at the Mariners Museum in Hampton/Newport News.

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