Introduction to Portrait Lighting : 18th June 2012

Introduction to Portrait Lighting

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I prefer natural light and have somewhat of a phobia about using additional lighting. This all came to the fore again when I was working on the first Assignment where I only used my on camera flash amongst the trees. Feeling untechnical and therefore unskilled isn’t a good feeling for me at all and so, having watched one of his Photoshop videos and looked at his website, I decided to take the plunge and book a 3 hour 1:1 session with Gavin Hoey .

I’ve read book chapters and articles on portrait lighting and looked at videos but not actually seen or done it myself. Gavin and I agreed that although I might be an ‘improver’ in terms of using a camera I am definitely a ‘beginner’ regarding studio lighting.  It had been suggested that I take along studio lighting equipment if I had any and so I ‘borrowed’ my husband’s Canon Speedlite 580EX which Gavin thought was perfect to use.  He told me that my models were going to be himself and, later, his wife, Sam.

He asked me to fit the Speedlite onto my hotshoe. I use the manual setting most of the time now and so Gavin suggested I set the speed at 1/125 to ensure that the flash would sync.(I’ve checked and with my built-in flash the fast possible shutter speed is 1/200). He asked what I thought could be a good aperture to use – I thought f/5 and then Gavin began a process which showed me that ,whilst the shutter speed will control how much of the ambient light is recorded,  the flash compensates whatever aperture and ISO speed is used so that the same image will be produced.   He suggested that, as a starting point I use 1/125 f/8 (good for one and two person portraits) and ISO 400 (so that the flash didn’t have to expend too much energy).

After several shots with the Speedlite on camera, including ‘bouncing’ from the ceiling, Gavin moved on to showing me the effects when the Speedlite is mounted separately as a ‘slave’. My 500D doesn’t have wirelss transmission so we used a Yongnou ST-ET (cheaper than the equivalent Canon) which will maintain the ETTL system

Everytime I took a few shots we went back to the computer to see the results and I also had brief tutorials on PS use including extending the background by using the crop tool.


No. 1is f/5.6; No. 2 is f/11; No. 3 is f/8 on ‘bounce’; No. 4 is  with the Speedlite stand-mounted as ‘slave’  still in front.

Angled Flash

From there we changed the direction of the flash to 45 and 90 degrees at the side behind and then behind, including a profile view.  A good way to think of this is how similar this is to the direction of sunlight at different times of day.

Zoom flash on the dark background

Gavin then showed me the effect when the subject stands directly in front of the background with the flash mounted high above. I learned that the flash will adjust to the camera lens when it is mounted directly on the camera but off camera it can be used more creatively to change the light spread. I used it at 35m zoom and then 105m zoom. After that he brought in Sam to be my model and randomly changed all the settings on the flash and transmitter so that I had to set everything.


Diffusion umbrella

We then talked about using some form of diffusion by placing a panel or umbrella in front of the flash. Gavin compared this to the effects of clouds and how they can change the effect of light – again a very good metaphor for me to use.


No. 15 shows the Rembrandt effect – a small triangular patch of light on a shadowed cheek that I also replicated with Sam in Nos. 16 and 17. No. 18 shows more of a rim lighting effect.

Special Effects

I was interested in how you change the colour of the background using a coloured gel in front of second flash which is placed behind the subject. A blue gel seemed to work the best with Sam. We then also used a fan to blow Sam’s hair around as attractively as possible (also being fairly quick as blast of air can be quite drying for eyes!).

I was really surprised how much can be covered in a few hours on a 1:1 session. Sam isn’t a professional model so these were very natural images that I hope I can replicate if I can find someone (near and dear) who is willing to pose for me. Gavin explained everything simply and clearly and made it all seem easy.  It makes such a difference not only to have a 1:1 but also to actually do it oneself with an expert standing by to advise. I’d certainly recommend his training sessions. He and Sam were very welcoming and I should add that Sam also has her own cookery blog and so is interested in food photography  as well.

These are my personal favourites from the session:-

Obviously I’ve a long way to go and need much more practice but at least I’ve made a start.

21st June 2012


Farnham UCA Degree Show : June 2012

Farnham UCA Degree Show : 13th June 2012

I visited the Farnham UCA Degree Show last year (write up here on my AOP blog) and decided I would go again this year.

Before I went I checked on websites I had noted from last year to see if any of the students had done new work. I was particularly interested in Chris Spackman  who had created a project, ‘Unstill Life’,  in memory of a friend of his who had died from cancer.  He had used an analogue large format camera to produce a series of flower images resulting from continuous exposure of around 3 weeks. Chris has continued to work experimentally exploring time, memory and loss and I see from his CV that he is continuing with postgraduate study at Farnham  UCA. One of his projects concerns 89 glass negatives, created in the 1920s, which he bought on an online auction. His research revealed that they were made by a photographer located in the Hay area on the Welsh/English border. He has researched some of the sitters and is also developing the project by making his own portraits of local people – an interesting way of bringing together people, place and time I think.

The 2012 Show

The Reception area at Farnham is quite spacious with a welcoming atmosphere and pleasant to walk into. Amongst other interesting information I picked up two issues of the UCA magazine and information on workshops run by the Bookroom Press – both of which I will return to later.

Last year photography was displayed in the light and airy James Hockey gallery but this year that gallery hosted Fine Art.

There was some photography there, including an image by Carlmaria Jackson (no website details):

A large glossy print on, I think aluminium.  Called Allure 4, it was the tattoo which fascinated me. It looks like one of a series and I would have liked to have seen the rest.

From there we went to the textiles display; 3D creations and photography.

There were some wonderful textiles and we spoke to Ify Katherine Umunna.  

I asked her what she would be doing next and, of course, (which I realised as soon as I spoke!) she said that she was going to relax for a while and enjoy having completed her Degree, although she has had her own online shop anyway for the last five years.

After speaking to another student who was doing some print screening we went to the 3D section. I though this seemed a strange title as I had expected videos/films but it was glass and ceramics. Not a large room, with not a lot on display but we spoke with Grace Johnson  .

Grace’s final degree project was to design and create a range of cake stands and ceramic cake covers.  I had seen some of her cake covers before at an Art in Clay Exhibition at Farnham Maltings last December and they actually looked good enough to eat. Grace is certainly entrepreneurial as well as creative and told us that she is setting up her own business in actual cake making as she loves baking so much but will continue to make cake stands etc to order.

Photography display

I was disappointed that there were no photography students around in the three rooms allocated to the display because it would have been good to have been able to speak with them about their work.  There were a whole range of subjects/themes and so I will only mention a few here which caught my attention.

i. James Sinclair Stewart:  ‘ Interior Essence of Self

The aim of this particular project was an attempt to capture the subconscious in photography by giving his subjects the freedom of choice to represent themselves neutrally/without pretension. This was to be achieved by having them sitting in front of the lens, not knowing when the shutter would be released.  The quality of the prints looked very good and it was a good idea.  I do have to say though that, to me, all his subjects looked slightly dazed/frozen. I would love to have known what they were thinking as they were waiting for that shutter to open.

ii. Debra Lorraine Grant : Episodic Memory

These images were accompanied by a sound track of two sisters reminiscing about the past through the medium of looking at  old photographs. I think the scenes had been rephotographed and then layered selectively on the old scenes, to quote from her website here “Episodic memories are represented within the work by various densities of image, depending on their clarity and strength of recollection.  When a memory is uncertain or not so clearly recollected, it becomes translucent.” Interesting to look at and listen too.

iii. Katie Lee : Family Album

Again using old photographs of family occasions this time. The aim to provide a different context for reading family photographs. Comments written under the images by Katie (blue pen), her mother (black pen) and her step-father (pencil) and it was interesting to see the varied reactions and memories evoked. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a website link mentioned anywhere.

There was another set of images, (Polaroid I think) portraying people (with faces anonymised in various ways) in varying stages of undress who are members of a sex swingers group.  There was no explanation/commentary on the purpose of this series which might have made it more interesting than just looking at semi-pornogrraphic images. At least there was some humour and energy in another students look at  5 burlesque performers (although I’m not sure they were genuine performers). Each subject also had their own set of images in small, individual flipbooks which had been produced through the Bookroom Press which is a research cluster founded in 2004 at UCA by Anna Fox and Emmanuelle Waeckerlé.  They also offer one day Workshops on the production of self-published bookworks and I shall explore further. I noticed as well that quite a lot of the work displayed was accompanied by Blurb books (with white cotton gloves by their side for turning pages).

I also mentioned the student magazine at the beginning. This is ‘Glue’  and there’s an e-version of their first issue on the website. It’s run by students and supported by the UCA Students’ Union.  I think it only came into being at the end of last year and I picked up issues 2 (March 2012)  and 3 (May 2012). If you live near any of the campuses (Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester) then I guess you could pop in and collect one. It’s well produced, which you would expect from a University of the Creative Arts, and the showcase section gives a good idea of the standard of student work from all the creative disciplines. Just think what our own ‘Untitled’ could be like if it branches into print!


As before, it was interesting to visit and see Degree work because it sets a benchmark mark for me. So far as photography is concerned, some work was better than others and, of course, there was no indication of grades.  I don’t think that the rooms themselves displayed the work at its best and this might have been the reason why I felt less impressed overall. Farnham UCA does have a problem I think in terms of its previous life as an Art College and the rather school-like atmosphere.  Even so, there was still that sense of students being engaged in creative projects and sparking off each other.

13th June 2012


Farnham Campus of UCA:

Assignment 1 : A Portrait

People and Place : Part One

 Assignment 1 : A portrait

I remember at the beginning of People & Place writing that I didn’t feel that portraits were ‘me’.  I’m still not sure about this but do now feel somewhat more confident.  I enjoyed the whole process of reviewing and selecting images.  In the previous post I wrote that I had selected 16 out of an initial selection of 34,

I had had hopes of the other horse shots but decided they weren’t good enough for ‘portrait’.  A dark horse in sunlight creates exposure problems, plus, as Matt was preoccupied with the horse, you couldn’t see his face.

Choice of final selection were:-

16 contacts to choose from

From these I chose numbers 1, 10, 15, 22, 30, 31 and 34(when I emailed the contact sheet to Matt his preference was 1, 7, 10, 11, 15, 21 and 29 whereas my husband’s preference was 2, 6, 7, 11, 17, 21, 25, which just goes to show!).

7 Portrait images

(Original number from 34 initially selected also given in brackets)

No. 1 (1)

f/8:  1/20:  ISO 1600: 32 mm zoom @ distance 5.2mm

A full length portrait of Matt at 11am in an environment he loves – with two of his horses, in the stable on a very bright and sunny day. It was gloomy inside despite the light streaming through the windows so I compromised with the exposure, using centre-weighted average,  and did adjustments in PS and with Nik software. I didn’t want to use flash as I didn’t want to spook the horses. The black horse is Ties and Matt is training him in dressage using the Spanish method. Ties is very large (Matt is around 6’2” so you can see the scale) and, to be honest, I didn’t want to get too near to him even though he’s quite friendly. The other horse is Goliath.

No. 2 (10)

f/5: 1/125 : ISO 200: 53mm zoom @ 5.4m

A torso shot on the Common on a bright day towards mid-afternoon. It was shady in the wooded area and  I metered centre-weighted average. I wanted the dof to be sufficient so that he didn’t disappear into the trees. He is looking at me rather quizzically with his head angled slightly to the side.

No. 3 (15)

f5.6 : 1/40 : ISO 200 61mm zoom at 2.6m.

I metered using centre-weighted average again. Smiling this time with direct eye gaze, although slightly sideways in posture. There is some shadow on his face from his cap brim and I did use ‘dodge’ to lighten this in PS. I could have used flash but chose not too.

No. 4 (22)


f/10 : 1/200 : ISO 400 : 78mm zoom @ 2.4m

I wanted to try a more somber, contemplative shot where it was darker in the trees. I used in-camera flash to brighten his face slightly, which did produce some shine.  Well – it is a little more broody which isn’t that easy with Matt because he has an open face, is generally cheerful and smiles a lot.

No. 5 (30)

Using fixed f/8 Holga lens on Canon 500D. ISO 400: 1/13.

I was keen to try my Holga lens for portraiture and took several photographs. Here he is seated in the conservatory, looking at his ipad (after another horse to buy). I’ve learned from experience that the light needs to be coming from behind the camera and I spot-metered on his face for the exposure. This could have been better on a tripod but he kept moving around from chair to chair due to the amount of light and sitting so that the window frame appeared straight out of his head. I therefore had to catch him at the right moment, without trying his patience too much.

No. 6(34)

Holga lens again. I wanted to include his wedding ring and watch, as part of his persona, so asked him to raise his hand, at which he put his hand over his eyes! I’m including it because it’s another style of portraiture, using a Holga lens,  and it appeals to me.

No. 7 (31)

f/6.3 : 1/30 : ISO 400 : 31mm zoom @ 2.4m

In the kitchen where it was more shady.  I like reflection shots and wanted to try it for a portrait so took several and gave myself a choice of two from the final 16. I chose this one because he is looking straight at me, whereas the relfection gives a sideways posture. I spot-metered on his reflection because I wasn’t sure what effect the mirror might have.


I was lucky to have a patient, main subject (most of the time) who gave me time to experiment.  I have to acknowledge that at the start of Part One I’d regarded portraits as rather a chore but actually enjoyed the sessions much more than I’d expected.  Although my leaning is still more towards people in their environment, rather than portraiture, I certainly feel a little more confident and am looking forward to the workshop on lighting. Looking at them again I’m now thinking that maybe I didn’t choose enough variety of posture, but there are the beginnings of different styles which I could develop. I had thought of black and white conversion and did attempt some.  No. 7 worked quite well because it contains more tones, but the others much less so.

I realise that I’m at the beginning of a portrait journey as this is new to me and will post more on my blog as the Course continues and I develop more of a style with which I feel comfortable.

2nd June 2012

Reviewing further exercises : B

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Reviewing further exercises : B

Projects : A portrait sequence; focal length and pose and stance

I asked my youngest Matt if he would be my subject for the Assignment as he is the only one of my three children who is quite happy to be photographed.  He has also recently taken a keener interest in photography himself which he is sharing with one of his twin sons, Lewis.

I will be discussing choice of focal length, pose and stance in more detail in my write-up on the Assignment so, in this post, I’ll concentrate mainly on the process of review. Overall, I took 327 photographs.  I took 83 photographs on 16th April when I stayed overnight with Matt and his wife on the way back from Wirksworth.  We went to the stables on the following morning so I could meet his latest horse.  Matt came for a weekend stay the following week, bringing  Lewis who was spending the weekend with him. We went on the local Common on both days as I wanted to take some photographs there and also introduce both of them to geocaching. I also took photographs in the house, including several where I used my Holga lens on canon 500D. That weekend’s total was 244. If it’s said that a total of 327 is too many then I will probably agree. I think this was due to several factors:

–      Once I get started taking photographs I get so engrossed that I want to keep taking them.

–      There were varying exposure problems on the different days and I wanted to do my best to meet the challenges.

–      I was concerned that I only had a certain amount of time so wanted to make the most of it.

–      I should also add that Matt got hold of my camera and took some photos of myself and Lewis whilst we were looking up clues etc on my computer (it was a Harry Potter based geocache). He’s therefore partly to blame as well!

–      The more photographs I took the more confident I felt about asking Matt to adopt various postures.

Reviewing a portrait sequence

Firstly, I quickly eye-scan all the images once they’re in either Photoshop or Lightroom.  Then I’ll label likely ones with one star, choose them for another folder and so on. I chose an initial 34 from the 327 total and printed them off in contact sheets.




Having looked at the contact sheets I then went back into Photoshop, starred 16 of them and, again, created a contact sheet so I could make my final choice of 7.

1st June 2012