Our second club evening of the new season gave us the opportunity for some first-hand portrait photography under the expert guidance of Lee Townsend.

Lee is based in Croydon and runs the “Lenses of Croydon” meet up group and forum. He started the evening by giving members an overview of the forum and other photography opportunities in the area. It is fair to say he is a very busy person!

The evening proved to be most interesting with Lee providing many useful insights into an area of photography we see all around us every day but most of us do not get the opportunity to do in the controlled conditions made available to us on Wednesday.

There was a wealth of useful information about the range of equipment needed, their costs and, for those who wish to explore this area further, some valuable insights on where and what to buy. 9 members who brought their cameras had some time with our volunteer models for the night.

This gave Lee the chance to explain that the lighting set-up can be tailored to the camera settings rather than the other way round – something this writer found very interesting. Using a light meter – which Lee has had for 10 years or so (no need to keep updating as he pointed out) – the strength of the lights was controlled to match up to these settings:

Aperture: F9, Shutter speed: 1/160, ISO: 100.

The lights are controlled by wireless triggers fitted to the camera’s hot shoe. Strength of light was then altered to fit the above settings by taking reading of the light falling on the model.

The equipment brought along consisted of Elinchrom lighting kits and softboxes – used to diffuse the lighting and even it out across the target area of the model.

An interesting aspect with these lights is that they effectively act as flash guns operated by a wireless trigger. Lee was asked why these are set up like this and demonstrated that the flash is best for freezing motion, e.g. mid-jump, as well as being safer and cooler when not set at full strength.

Lee also stressed that, with the right flashgun/Speedlight on your camera, there is ample opportunity with a modern system to achieve acceptable portraits in the studio. One brand that many will not be familiar with is Yongnuo. Their flash equipment is compatible with all the major camera manufacturers but the costs are far less. Certainly, Lee was happy to promote them as a reliable make and a look at them on Amazon showed some good value equipment is out there.

Lee was a big advocate of seeking out equipment on Amazon plus scouring second-hand items on eBay and Gumtree.

Time was spent exploring the variables for different situations. The lights being used on the evening were set to daylight and Lee recommended that setting on the camera or AWB. An observation Lee offered at this point is that Nikon produces a “strong” colour in camera and some may wish to adjust before use. Plus it needs to be borne in mind that the image on the camera’s screen is going to viewed at the setting in the camera and not necessarily what you have taken the portrait at, especially if shot in RAW.

Among the tips demonstrated were “Clamshell” settings, which are used for model style photos. This involves setting the first light above the model and the second lighting kit at a lower level to balance and remove shadows on the face. In a similar style, when using lights on each side of the model, have one at a lower strength to even out the effect on the face.

Here, it is the “softbox” that comes into its own. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes and create different light shapes to affect the way light falls and its impact on a portrait.

Another item featured at length was a Reflector – vital for so many uses. These come is many shapes and sizes with the most common being round ones that can be compacted up to fit into a small bag. Lee’s cost just £12 and offered both the familiar silver panel as well as a soft white material that can be used to diffuse the light.

The final tips of the evening from Lee were to remember the basics, such as:

  1. Look at lots of photos and read lots of books…lots of them!
  2. Keep a file of favourite poses and use them again and again so you know what works for you.
  3.      Take a look at the “Creative Live” website – especially the classes by Sue Bryce. This website has many portrait and posing tutorials for viewing – potentially free at the time of “live” transmission but then may involve a fee for viewing at a later date.

All in all, it was a useful and engaging introduction into this aspect of photography and it will be most interesting to see the work of those who took the opportunity to take the photographs on the night.

Brian Connolly

16th September 2016.

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