The art of photography continually offers opportunities for discovery and change. I have been making portraits for as long as I have been a professional and before that, I did it for fun. Recently, I was in Chicago for a lighting forum with the internationally known photographer Victoria Will. I am skeptical when attending these events because usually, the photographer is not forthcoming with regards to technique and methods they use to attain the look they are famous for. This was not the case last week. Victoria shared all her secrets. (Actually, I think she is so confident in her work that “secrets” aren’t important for her to harbor).
The methods other photographers use to attain the look I have been drawn to in studio and editorial portraiture, have been somewhat of a mystery to me. I like soft light, which leads me to a soft box or umbrella light modifier. I also like directed, deliberate light on the face. That would lead me to a grid light modifier. The draw back to the grid is the harshness of the shadows and potential for eyes to fall into those dark shadows. Until now, I have not used a grid on my main light for a studio business portrait. For me, they are best used for location environmental portraits.
So, these small honeycomb grids work well for location environmental, editorial type portraits when portability is a priority.
For studio portraits, I have most often used either a medium soft box or a shoot through umbrella. The results have been fine but after years of dependable results, I wanted to try something different. Below is an example of one medium soft box placed off on the left of the subject, up high. It offers nice light, especially on a white background. ( Great for passport photos, if so desired).
With a few more lights added, hair, background and fill lights, (and a different background), my typical, dependable studio portrait pleases most all clients.
Recently, I purchased a 22 inch beauty dish for my main light to use instead of a soft box or umbrella. After attending the Victoria Will event in Chicago last week, where she showed us all how she uses the dish, (with and without grids), it became clear to me that I will be using this light modifier as a favorite. The result is a sculpted, soft light on the subject. It resembles a painting. I need to illuminate the eyes, but not at the expense of a beautifully defined face. And where I place the main light with the beauty dish modifier, will determine the “drama” in the image. Here is my light shaping tool of choice presently:
You can see that the light in the last 2 examples is a harder light, but not like the first location examples. Within the harder edged light, there is yet the softness needed to illuminate what is essential for a business portrait. The emitted light is bounced around in the dish and out onto the subject in a way I prefer over the soft box or umbrella.
I have ordered 2 various size grids to work with my beauty dish (they are large!) and am looking forward to using them to “sculpt” the light further, giving my portraits more drama. Sometimes, a simple tool, discovered down the road in one’s career, can open up new exciting possibilities. In this case it was a beauty dish and a seminar with an artist who knows how to to use them. I am grateful she was not afraid to share her knowledge with all of us last week.