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

6 thoughts on “Introduction to Portrait Lighting : 18th June 2012

  1. Catherine, you sound like you really enjoyed it and are getting over some of your ‘fear’ of lighting!! Good on you!

  2. HI Catherine,
    This is really interesting to read, and I’ll have to come back when I can read it through again properly. Thanks for letting me know the link.
    I share your feelings about using additional lighting, and prefer to use only natural light too, but it seems like you really got to grips with it in this session. I also have a yongnuo flash radio trigger, but I can’t use ETTL with mine, so it will be a good experience when I finally get around to using it properly.

    Just out of interest, may I ask why you chose to do P&P next, and not DPP? I’m coming up to having to make this choice myself, and while I’ve really been looking forward to getting stuck into P&P, I read on the forum that DPP is the best choice to follow on from AOP. Now that you’re doing P&P, what do you think?

    • Hi Barry.Thanks for having a look. I was originally going to do DPP first but then I got side-tracked – my AOP tutor expressed surprised I wasn’t going for P&P and also my husband (!) said he thought P&P would give me more confidence in photographing people. I’m still not sure – keep thinking I should have gone for DPP and am also contemplating applying for it in a couple of months. I’ll see how I go.

  3. Eeek, sorry Catherine,
    Missed your response here!! It suddenly popped up on my phone this morning. Well, better late than never.
    It seems the natural progression (from what I gather from the OCA website and flickr), is DPP then P&P, but does it really matter? I guess you won’t really be able to answer that until you’ve at least started DPP, but I’d imagine if your tutor thought P&P would be a good next step for you, then it’s fine.
    I was also thinking about doing two courses at the same time, but to be honest, if AOP is anything to go by, especially Part Four: Light which I’m having a hard time with, then I don’t think I’d have time.
    P&P looks really interesting and I can’t wait to start it, but I know that if I start it now, then AOP will suffer, especially assignment four!
    The narrative part looks really interesting, and I’ve read through your AOP blog with interest, but haven’t really gotten down to any pre-research for it yet.
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what you produce for P&P!!
    Good luck!!

    • Good to hear from you Barry. I had a hard time with Light as well and it seemed to take ages. I enjoyed Narrative much more and learned a lot from it. I’m sure you’ll be fine with Light in the end as you’re producing some very interesting images.

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