I have attended many workshops in my years as a photographer. There are so many different styles and categories of a photographers profession and some are quite diverse from the others. I have always followed my favorites, but I am open to listen to anyone who is doing something interesting, whether they are wedding, portrait, editorial, photojournalist, or freelance shooters. Even as a professional, you can never acquire too much information in any profession. You simply take what you can use, and hopefully the rest is reassuring that you are still doing things right.
I was asked recently if I would actually lead and instruct a workshop on portrait lighting for a group of photographers. My immediate thought was, WOW, I am not even known as a portrait photographer, I‘m a wedding shooter. I worked with a few people some time ago on a portrait session for charity and they liked what they saw when I was working. I was honored that there are actually people out there that want to hear me speak and teach them what I do. I don’t even like to hear myself speak, imagine what they were in for.
I gladly accepted and began to feel real confident as I realized the message I was going to communicate. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. When you learn from celebrity portrait photographers, they teach you their way of doing things with all their expensive equipment. They will sett up 12 profoto strobe lights, softboxes, umbrellas, gobos, gels and snoots just to take a head shot. And you know what, that’s how things are done if you are shooting professional portraiture for an editorial shoot. There are also makeup artist and hair stylists and a team of people just sitting around directing stuff. That is not likely in most situations and if you want to take a really nice portrait of someone, you start simple and can expand on this if you wish.
Simple portrait lighting concepts begin with one main light. This light could be a studio strobe, the speedlite flash unit from your camera, a continuous light (lamp or flashlight) or even the sun. Whatever it is, the direction of the light is what is most important. As long as the light is not coming from the same axis as your cameral lens, it will be interesting. The intensity of the light can be controlled from the camera’s exposure settings and if you are using a studio strobe or speedlite, you have even more control to set the power so that it is balanced with the exposure and ambient light.
Well, the workshop was held last Saturday and was a really great experience for me. We did an actual portrait shoot and I walked through setting up the camera and the lights based on the ambient light settings from which I was working in. I used one main studio strobe with a large softbox, a background light gelled with an interesting color to change the color of the background and a reflector to fill light coming from the main (key) light on the opposite side of the face. While working through the existing conditions, I continued to stress that they not focus on the equipment as much, but on the concept in which I am demonstrating. This could all have been done without any auxiliary lights. The same concept applies for outdoor sun light and window light indoors. If you don’t have a photographic reflector, just use something with a white, silver or gray reflective surface to add some fill light. If you bounce light off of something with color in it, the color reflected back to the subject will be the same color as the reflective surface it is bouncing off of.
I did receive some great feedback from the attendees afterward and they were very thankful for sticking around to answer their questions and being very detailed in explaining exactly what I was doing while I was doing it. I realize it is rare that someone will just teach you what they know for free. Most people spend years learning this stuff and years perfecting it. I have paid a lot of $$ to learn from many different professionals. They will teach you how they do things and tell you afterward that every piece of equipment they just demonstrated is something they are selling on their website with an inflated price tag, but the workshop special is buy 2 and get 5% off. Some of this is bullshit and I have lost respect for a few professional photographers because they turn from professional photographer to professional salesman. One very important thing to keep in mind is this, when they were up and coming photogs with a camera and a dream, they were not using the equipment they are selling today, they started out basic just like everyone else. Always keep it as simple as the job allows.
Take care and happy shooting!