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Photography Question 
Michael  Wasson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/28/2006

Studio Critiques

I am including some of my recent studio shots and would welcome some feedback. I have pretty much everthing I need for my studio including 3 strobes with umbrellas and a medium sized softbox. It is about 12"X18" give or take a few inches. At home I have been using this as my main light and posistion it at about 45 degrees(3 oclock) my fill is another strobe set at half of the main with an umbrella and I usually posistion it near the camera. I am taking the NYIP course and feel pretty good about this set up so far. I also have a Seconic L358 meter. I am looking for some critiques and will include some photos or links to my gallery.

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11/12/2007 9:40:13 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Wellllllllllllll, IMO your environmental shots are nice. Your portraits, however, need some work.

If NYIP is telling you to shoot portraits using the basic cookie cutter three light set-up, I'd toss that idea for the time being and start by experimenting with one light and a fill card versus 3 lights. Using available light from a window is nice too. All the portraits on my web site were done with one studio strobe or an off camera flash on a stand with an umbrella or softbox modifier like a Vivitar 285HV or Quantum T-2.

Get a styrofoam wig storage head or a mannequin, set them up on a stool in a darkened room and use that one light to practice with.

You should also work on posing techniques as well. Body position to camera and/or lighting is important. Just profile shots are, well, blah. And check your camera to subject angle. Shooting up at someone's face may make their nose look like you're driving into the Lincoln Tunnel. Camera angle and lens can distort your subject.

Also, your subjects look a bit up-tight or quite nervous, so you have to figure out a way to get them to relax and appear natural. Engaging them in conversation while you work is a good technique. I usually start off shooting without putting any magazines or film holders on the camera. That gets people used to the strobe going off and being photographed. THEN I put on a polaroid back and blast a couple to inspire their confidence.

Ask them if a pose feels natural (if you must pose them). If they say "no" then it won't look natural in the end result. None of the shots on my site were actually posed but were all spontaneous as you might be able to tell. Your timing is everything in portrait work. You should be concentrating on your subject NOT your equipment. Use a long cable release so they can't tell when you're going to be shooting. Prefocus and set-your lens accordingly.

Study the work of great portrait shooters like Arnold Newman, Philipe Halsman, and a guy named Bill Allard, among others. Also take a look at the master portrait painters and study where their lighting came from in various paintings. You can learn a lot that way.
Hope that helps.
Take it light ;>)

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11/12/2007 12:19:41 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
Hello Michael,

wow!..where to start?
I'll only comment on the two shots in your posting.

The first has two very distinc problems.

1) Posing. The three people in this photo fly in the face of "triangle: positioning. The little girl to the right really throws off continuity in the photo. This pose would be 300% better if her head were tipped more toward the center.

2) The lighting needs some work.
There is too much (range) in light intensity. Again, look how bright the person is to the right...and with strong shadows.

Photo 2:

This is a strong case for a snooted hair light.

I have to agree with Mark concerning working with ONE light. Jumping in with three is unbelievably complex until you master ONE.
I don't post my portraits on this board due to the fact I sell them to my clients and (2) I need to respect my clients privacy.
If you'd like, I'd be happy to email you a few portraits with an explanation on the lighting setup I used.

Here is one I did several yrs ago with ONE light. The reflector was nothing more than a white wall he stood close to. The back ground was lit with spill light from a few large pieces of white styrofoam arranged in a pattern to give a vignette look. Posing was not my problem with this person. Like MANY people who are having their "portrait" done; they all tend to freeze up. I learned to talk and interact with my subjects first and shoot the photo second. This guy almost never smiles. Would you believe I was holding the camera at chest level..NOT looking thru the viewfinder and just talking with him?..Shooting the breeze. When I saw him relax, I snapped the trigger. His mom and dad were amazed when they saw the photo.
Ya, I had to do some cropping and straightening, but I got the shot.
Now I don't recommend you shoot this way all the time. LOL

all the best,


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11/12/2007 7:47:04 PM

Michael  Wasson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/28/2006
Thanks for the advice. These are my kids and my baby was really tired that night so I had to get what I could :-). Ok so one light seems to bee the place to start and fortunatly I do have a reflector as well. So the questions that comes to mind are these 1) umbrella or softbox(I have both)2) where do I posistion the light? As for the hair light, I do have a snoot I just need to practice with it. Thanks again for the advice. Am I at least on the right track?

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11/13/2007 5:06:16 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

I know how children can be....IMHO, baby & children photographers have a tuff job.

Yep, you're on the right track if you begin with one light and learn it well.

Umbrella or softbox? Both have their place and both have advantages and disadvantages.

I could give you fool proof lighting setups Michael; but then what have you learned? You didn't think this was gonna' be easy, did ya'? LOL

One of the great things about digital is that you are not wasting money on film costs..soooooooooo;

Let's try this...and THIS by the way, is exactly how I learned lighting many yrs ago; AND at the cost of a LOT of film.

Get a nice loose leaf note book..maybe 2 note books, because you're gonna' be doing a LOT of writing and drawing. Also; a small dry erase board will be of value as you can insert the board into each shot for later I.D...(Setup 1, Setup 2 etc...)

For each setup, you record ALL the necessary information to re-produce the shot as well as a diagram of each setup.

For a ONE light setup:

1) Distance of camera to subject.
2) Distance of strobe to subject.
3) Power output setting of strobe.
4) Angle of strobe to subject (also Height)
5) TYPE of light. Bare, umbrella, SB etc)
6) Camera height.
7) Camera f/stop & focal length
8) Flash meter reading if you use one.
9) Pose of subject relative to camera. (i.e) side, 45 degrees etc...
10) Position of reflector
11) Distance of reflector from light
12) Size and type of reflector
13) Color & texture of walls, ceiling & floor in setting
14) Complexion of subject
15) Color of subjects attire

WHEW! All this for a one light setup? You bet.
Do you NEED all this data for good portraits? I think so if you want to reproduce the result. Do you want to learn & understand how all these items interact with one another? Do it!
Does it take a lot of time and effort? Yes!

You can read books upon books of “cook book” setups and never understand how this all comes together. Giant gaps will be present without the knowledge of "HOW".

Family members might be patient in one’s learning process, but only to a point. LOL
I used stuffed animals of various colors and sizes..some use mannequins to see how light and shadow (fall) around the face of your subjects. what positions for the light and camera; right?
Wrong. This is where I part company with some so called experts who say “set your camera here and your light here and your f/ stop here.” Cookie cutter approach. I’ve never advocated this method as a learning tool...a subject for another time.

Try MANY different setups..angles..various heights of camera and light...try different focal lengths..Head shots..torso, full body..etc....Camara positions, light positions, reflector positions, backdrop distance etc..etc...

(Force) what you think will be a bad light setup intentionally..see what happens. You might be surprised. You may find your creative side might have a use for this one day! Hmm? Really?
Ya..Really! Then one day, someone here on BP will ask "Hey; how'd you do that?"

Do this tests first with a umbrella..Then a Soft box. Try some bare bulb too if you wish.
You are and should be your worst critic. I think I shot about 1,000 test images before I dared photograph a person for money.

Now after about a million years of learning and testing: (kidding) you can start thinking about colored gels and special effects.

I hope you can see the complexities in just learning a good one light setup.
With TWO lights, you can multiply the data set by FOUR!

I see soooo many people wishing to learn photography without a solid background. The steps above WILL give you a solid background. Learning photography is a (additive) process; NOT a patterned approach. I am not aware of any good photographers who decided to set up a studio, buy an expensive camera and fire away with good results. I AM aware of good photographers who took the additive way of learning photography thru blood, sweat and tears.

Your home work question:

Is a softbox’s light more diffuse when close to a subject or further away?
No help from the experts here please.

Al the best,


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11/13/2007 5:05:54 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  oops...Michael..David is working on natural light..I just emailed him.

Will someone PLEASE bring me an apple? LOL

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11/13/2007 5:07:26 PM

Debby A. Tabb
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/4/2004
You should really benifit from a past series of threads here on Studio Photography 1-23.
These will go through
Posing, Lighting,
expression techniques ect.
I believe you will find a lot there that will help and also give you more to try and experiment with, in lighting and posing as well.

Studio Photography part #1:

Wishing you the very best in your new ventures,
Debby Tabb

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11/14/2007 8:10:11 AM

Michael  Wasson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/28/2006
  Thanks Debby. I was aware of those threads. I was just concerned that a thread that long would not get a response back to me.

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11/14/2007 8:37:24 AM

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