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Photography Question 
Michelle L. Gross

How to Keep Shadows from under the eyes?

My Daughterat the park
© Michelle L. Gross
Ashley by window in home waiting for father to pick her up for visitation
© Michelle L. Gross
First let me thank John L. For the help. I have found that at our school the instructors are critical but vage. I have another question that really bothered me about some pictures I took of my Daughter. Under her eyes seems to be dark shadows. The lighting that day was really bright but I tried to avoid it not only for the picture but for her comfort. The photos are black and white. Can I fix this in the photo with out washing it out on the computer? If anyone has any ideas please respond to this I always need some advice. Love peoples opinion on my work good or bad. Trust me in school they hold nothing back. You must have tough skin! Thanks Michelle G.

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8/6/2002 9:16:22 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
Gee, thanks. Yes, juries can be harsh, sometimes outright mean. Been there, done that with music performance and photographs. What I found baffling are occasional conflicting critiques. One man's ceiling is another man's floor. I realize now they weren't there to be my friend, but to push hard so I wouldn't let up on continuously striving to do better. It got discouraging, and sometimes depressing, until I realized why they searched until they found at least something to cite as a flaw.

The shadows on the first photograph are harsh from direct sunlight. You have faced her so she is sidelighted to reduce squinting, which is a good start, but you haven't "filled" the shadows to reduce the contrast, and the lighting angle looks odd. Her eyes also lack "catchlights" which is a reflection of light off of the moisture coating the eyeball. It could also be improved if the shadows are not as sharply defined (feathered shadow edges), but that's not as easy to achieve outdoors; you're at the mercy of sky conditions.

Find a book on studio portraiture and their lighting styles; there are five common ones. Outdoors, it's usually easiest to emulate Rembrandt (a.k.a. triangle), loop, and butterfly (a.k.a. Paramount). Look at the light angles for the main (a.k.a. key) lights used to achieve these, then select time of day to position sun elevation to the same angle, turn the subject slowly until the proper lighting appears, and use fill flash about 1 to 2 stops down from the key lighting to fill in the shadows (using a small softbox or bounce card on the flash is highly recommended).

If that doesn't work I have also used an assistant with everything from a small tarp to something as simple as a jacket to create open shade on the subjects from the side, and then used fill flash or a reflector to put light in where I want it. Another trick is puting the sun to the subject's back and having an assistant hold a reflector to fill the subject's face, adjusting it to create the desired lighting angle. The reflector can be as simple as the shiny side of a Space Blanket, or for a little less reflectivity, a white bed sheet folded up into fourths works too. Use your imagination about what you can use as field expedient scrims and reflectors, the objective being getting light from an angle as you would in a studio, and softening it if possible.

The second photograph doesn't look unnatural to me. It looks like profile style lighting, except the camera position is a little more behind her than it would be in a studio, but that's not really a Bad Thing in this photograph as a partial perspective looking out the window with her more than compensates. What might be lacking is perhaps a little fill in the shadows, but that's an artistic choice and you do have some shadow detail. If you want to add a little fill with shots like this, use a reflector to bounce some light from the window into the shadows. I like how she is spreading the blinds; it also keeps her face from being tiger striped by shadows from them.

I know I've offered some suggestions that require an "assistant" to hold some things, and obviously using them rules out doing candids. You may not have assistants available. If not, you can use a step-ladder, a yardstick or two and some duct tape or masking tape (a.k.a. gaffer's tape) to prop a piece of stiff white board for reflecting light where you want it. For a silvered reflector, wrap a Space Blanket around it, or coat it with slightly crumpled aluminum foil (to diffuse it a little). If you're after candids, observe repeated behaviors, think about how you can set the stage with some subtle lighting improvements (using table lamps or opening other window curtains), or wait for better sky and time of day outdoors, and then be very very patient, but ready to sieze opportunity. This is how I do available light photographs of our pets indoors.

Hope this gives you some ideas you can use . . .

-- John

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8/6/2002 11:59:57 PM

Michelle L. Gross   Thank you so much John. I will be trying some new stuf here soon and I am hoping to get your opinion and ideas to improve. Thanks Michelle G.

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8/7/2002 7:45:32 AM

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