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Portrait Photography: Lighting and Background

by Ibarionex R. Perello

Mae Respicio
Mae Respicio
© Ibarionex R. Perello
All Rights Reserved
For a photographer who works out of a studio or who uses strobes this isn’t a big deal, but for me it’s a challenge. Since I normally shoot with only available light with a few reflectors and scrims for light modifiers, I am forced to “find” the best light for the portrait. To complicate matters, I have to make sure that I also have a background that serves the subject and that isn’t distracting.

Though it can be a great source of anxiety as I am walking up to the door, I find that I enjoy the challenge of finding the light and the background that will make the image sing.

While recently photographing author Mae Respicio in her home in Venice, there was no shortage of wonderful light. We began by shooting in her bathroom where the light from the south facing window bounced off the room’s white walls. She even graciously stood in her bathtub while I used the window as a backdrop for my initial shots. By exposing for her face which was illuminated by a reflector, I purposely overexposed for the window making it into a luminous white backdrop.



Though I liked the image, I wasn’t completely happy. As we continued shooting in her backyard and office, I was getting “good” shots, but nothing that thrilled me. I was looking for something that would make me yelp with excitement.

We were near the end our time together when I noticed the light from the kitchen illuminating her couch. I asked her to sit on the couch facing the window. I suddenly noticed that the color of the couch in the background perfectly matched her blouse. Even the coffee table complimented her skin tone. After increasing the ISO to 800 to compensate for the low light level in the room, I took a shot.

The image on my LCD confirmed that I found what I was hoping for. It’s an image that takes advantage of great light and background. Every element in the frame serves her as the subject.

Of the 150 shots I exposed that day, this was the one that counted ... and you only need one to make the time and effort worthwhile.


More on Ibarionex Perello ...

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About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Ibarionex R. Perello
Photography Instructor: Ibarionex R. PerelloIbarionex R. Perello is a writer and photographer who has over 15 years worth of experience in the photographic industry. For six years, he was the associate editor for Outdoor Photographer, PC Photo, and Digital Photo Pro magazines. He was a technical engineer for Nikon Inc. for 8 years where he provided technical support and training on both film and digital technologies.

Ibarionex also hosts and produces “The Candid Frame”, an audio podcast where he interviews the best professional and emerging photographers in the world. The bi-weekly podcast is available by visiting www.thecandidframe.com.

His personal photographic projects include a 5-year documentary project that focused on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. He is currently producing a series of portraits on established and emerging writers of Southern California.


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