Want to plan a portrait session at home but don’t know where to begin with lighting? Coming away with professional-level results is easier than you might think!
In this lesson, photographer Ben Clay guides his neighbors with some basic lighting techniques for shooting classic portraits in their home.
- The Concept
- The Test Shot
- Adding an Umbrella Light
- Adding Fill to the Shadows
- Lighting up the Back Room
- Coming in Tighter
- One for the Grandmothers
- Setting the Self Timer
- An Outtake
For this lesson, I asked my friend, Rohan, if I could document him taking Mother’s Day portraits in his house for his wife, his mother, and his wife’s mother. He was all for it, so the following weekend, I walked across the street with some lighting gear, camera and a tripod and met them at their house for the shoot.
When I got there, Rohan’s wife, Kaela, was reading a book to their daughter, Ruby, and Rohan thought that this might make for a nice portrait.
The Test Shot
To start, Rohan first walked around the room to see which camera angle he liked best for this shot. Once he found a general shooting frame, he placed one vase of tulips on a nearby side table and one in the room behind them for an added touch (Rohan came to this shoot prepared!)
When everything looked good through the frame, he decided to take a test shot with the built-in flash of his camera activated, and with the exposure mode set to Auto.
Rohan wasn’t thrilled with this first test shot. The light from the flash flattened everything out dimensionally (compare to previous set-up shot with no flash activated) and created a distracting shadow of Kaela’s head on the back wall. Even the tulips look dismal in this shot.
Adding an Umbrella Light
Next, I helped Rohan set up a StarFlash 300 Gemini Umbrella Kit to improve the quality of the lighting. We mounted the Photoflex StarFlash 300 strobe to a LiteStand, attached the ADH umbrella to it, and set the power output to about 1/3.
After syncing the strobe to the camera via the new Photoflex FlashFire Wireless Transmitter and Receiver, we placed the unit off to the side, about 5 feet high, and took another shot.
The result shows that the lighting is much more natural looking. Note the improved sense of overall dimension in Ruby and Kaela, the chair, and the tulips.
Adding Fill to the Shadows
After reviewing the result, however, Rohan decided that the right side of the frame was a little too dark. I suggested that a MultiDisc Kit might help to bounce light from the umbrella into the shadows.
So next, we attached the 42″ MultiDisc reflector to the LiteDisc Holder and LiteStand and set it off to the right of the chair with the Soft Gold side reflecting. Once the MultiDisc was positioned where he wanted it, he took another shot.
Reviewing the result on the back of the camera, we saw that the LiteDisc created a nice, subtle fill that was most noticeable in the right side of the chair, and Rohan was now happy with the overall light levels and ratios in this room.
Lighting up the Back Room
The only distracting part of the shot now was the back room, which seemed a little too dark for a Mother’s Day portrait. So to balance out the light in that room, we set up the other StarFlash 300 (included in the kit), positioned it to throw light from the left side of the room, and synced it to the camera.
Once everything was in position, Rohan was ready to take a series of shots. He zoomed in a little tighter on the lens, made jokes with Ruby to get her attention, and started shooting. This one ended up being one of their favorites.
The two umbrella lights and the reflector blended seamlessly with the daylight coming through the windows to create a beautiful Mother’s Day portrait for Kaela.
Below, you can compare the result shots as we developed the lighting.
Coming in Tighter
Surprisingly, after these shots, Ruby was not quite ready to be finished reading. So Kaela selected another of Ruby’s favorite books and started reading aloud. With the lights all ready to go, Rohan moved in even tighter and took another series of shots. Here’s another favorite. [Figure 12]
One for the Grandmothers
Afterward, they all took a break from taking pictures, and Ruby decided she wanted to wear a different shirt for the next portrait. Ruby is such a professional.
After Ruby let everyone know it was time for the next portrait, which would go to both of Ruby’s grandmothers, Rohan decided to get himself in the shot as well. He mounted the camera to a tripod and I showed him how to activate the self-timer. When the camera was set to fire, Rohan walked over to Kaela and Ruby, and readied himself for the shot.
With the lights in the same position as the previous portrait, the results looked just as well-lit as before.
Upon review, Rohan decided he also wanted to have a more “fun” version, in addition to this relatively “classic” version.
Ruby, at this point, was reaching her limit with portrait patience, and started to climb all over Kaela and the chair. Rohan went with it and initiated another self-timed shot. This next shot caught Ruby and her parents in much more playful, relaxed poses.
After the shoot, when we were reviewing all of the images on his computer, Rohan found one he’d taken in-between portraits that he really liked. Ruby had been playing with a tulip next to the chair. Rohan caught her attention, and as she turned around to look at him, he captured this image.
Notice how Rohan decided to crop this image into a perfect square. He did so because it made a nice composition, but he also thought it would tie in well with the layout of a Mother’s Day card, which it did!
Written and photographed by Rohan Henry and Ben Clay.