What a difference good lighting makes to portrait photography! This week St Elphege’s hall was transformed into a photographic studio, thanks to Joe F and his sidekick model, Vince. The lighting was controlled for us and all we had to do was to relax into the evening, build up our confidence and engage with the model to achieve characterful poses. Joe had brought a high-powered flash, with a big Octobox diffuser to soften the light, a small hair light to go above the model’s head, and a large reflector. As Joe pointed out, ‘Studio lighting with flash gives you the detail that you tend not to get with fixed LED lighting’. Though if the image is too sharp and unforgiving it’s worth physically moving back the flash to achieve a softer effect. The collapsible background was black – to avoid shadowing behind the model.

The evening fell into three parts: first, Joe needed to set up his lighting equipment, and explained his set up as he did this; next, everyone had two minutes each to take their pictures of the model; and, finally, everyone was given the chance to become the model themselves and discover at first-hand what it was like to be directed in a photoshoot.

There was no need for a lengthy introduction on the evening, as this had happened by Zoom two days earlier. All participants were expected to take manual control of their camera, setting the white balance to ‘flash’ and dialling in an aperture of f8, a shutter speed of 160th and the camera’s base ISO setting. That size aperture meant that focus would be quite forgiving, though auto-focus might not work on some cameras in the semi-dark and, in that case, manual focusing was recommended.

The photoshoot gets underway [f2.2, 1/60, ISO 800, handheld without flash]

Getting the lighting right was pretty easy, as that had been done for us. Getting the right look on the model was more difficult. Sometimes it was a matter of noticing and capturing micro-movements of expression. We had to move quickly and take multiple shots. Joe advised us that talking to the model and keeping up the pace whilst you photographed usually resulted in a better image. Also, if you have an ‘awkward’ model a prop can be useful for them to focus on (not that our model, Vince, tonight was at all uncooperative!).

I asked Joe how much portraiture he’d done, what had got him started and what he most enjoys about it. He said: ‘I have always loved Portraiture even from the age of 7 or 8, when I was given a Box Brownie without film and I used to roam my local streets pretending to take pictures of people! From then I think I have been doing portraiture/street photography on and off for 10 years or so but with big gaps.’ 

I also asked Joe what he hoped would be the key things that people would learn and take away with them from Wednesday’s photoshoot. He explained: ‘I would hope they would find that once you can control the light it can really free you up to explore the expressions and positions of your subject, and have fun.’

Finally, I asked what would be his best tip for setting a model at their ease and revealing something of their soul? He said: ‘Make it fun, keep the vin going and watch like a hawk for the right moment!’ 

Thank you Joe and Vince for a great evening! Wednesday’s photographers are planning to meet up on Zoom next month to review the images from our portrait evening together. In the meantime, as they say, here’s one I took earlier…

‘Is this a sweet I see before me?’ [studio flash]

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