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Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Lesson 21 of 32

Dynamic Portraits in Studio: Women

Gary Hughes

Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Gary Hughes

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Lesson Info

21. Dynamic Portraits in Studio: Women

Lesson Info

Dynamic Portraits in Studio: Women

So let's start with Jen, our beautiful lady model. Did I get that right? Okay good come on, watch your step. So Jen, if you just have a seat here, and I'm gonna talk a while, and then I'm gonna actually take some pictures Okay You just do your thing. Okay so what I wanna do is I wanna show you we're gonna start with individuals. And then since we have two models, male and female, I'm gonna show you a couple of stuff that we would do for teams. And then we'll show you how we're gonna do this beautiful power business outfit. This is very typical of what you might see although she wears it better than most very typical of what you might see clothing wise. But we'll wanna show you also how to change the lights around just a little bit and get a really cool business casual very natural light look using the exact same lights, so it's gonna get weird, but it's gonna be awesome All right, so we remember that in a previous segment we talked a lot about posing, about combination posing, so I...

wanna show you that in action a little bit, and then I'm gonna break outside of that and do some stuff that's slightly different, all right. Something that's gonna work in both a formal and a casual setting, is that cool? Everybody good with that? All right, so let's get rid of the stool first. So let's work on our combination posing. So we're gonna have you kinda right where the stool was, about there. So before we get started on the posing part I wanna explain my lighting set up. You will see that the three softboxes that I showed in the gear segment, the Larsen four by six and the two Larsen three by fours, this one is hooked up to an AlienBees B that is hooked up to AlienBees B800, and those are, let me think, all connected with PocketWizards, just whichever trigger you use is fine. In my studio, I'd probably only have one trigger on the main light, 'cause it bounces off all the walls and sets the lights off, but here, for the purposes of not knowing if that would work or not, I'm just gonna go ahead and put one on everything, but I wouldn't normally. Let's get started with the light. Let's explain why I'm using these. These are the three by fours, the big softboxes. These are dual purpose and I do this a lot, I do this with strip lights and I'll do it with the larger softboxes. I will take two lights and I will point them straight at each other, and they serve a dual purpose. Anybody know what that dual purpose is, grab a mic and say so. No? Okay, oop, Savannah. She's my teacher's pet today. (laughing) They'll both light up the background and give kicker rim lights on her. Exactly right. This will evenly light the background as well as provide edge light for your subject. You were using two lights that will easily do the job of more than two or three or four or five lights, so it's really economical way to shoot. If you're shooting in the studio, most of the time I'm using a gray, black, or white background, or some variation thereof, and you can adjust the color of the background by adjusting the intensity of the lights. If you have a white wall, a white wall can be dark gray if you don't put any light on it, and you put lots of light on your subject. A black wall can be a white wall if you put enough light on it. The versatility of the tone that we're gonna go for is gonna depend on the edge light, so I'll show you what it looks like with and without, 'cause we have a light background and then we have dark clothing, so what if you wanted to mask that a little bit? And you can just adjust these lights towards the subject or away from the subject depending on how much light you want in the background and how much edge light you want on the subject. It's really easy to adjust your style that way. Let's go to our main light. The main light, this is my four by six. Those of you who are viewing or in the audience might say why is it sideways? Because, remember when we talked about lighting in the last gear segment, when I'm lighting somebody I really want to be using this bottom corner quadrant of the softbox to light them. Almost as if, if you can imagine this is a wall and this is a large window on that wall and I want to use it just like that. I'm not necessarily going to be pointing this directly at my subject because all of the nicest, softest light is gonna come off the edge of the softbox. It's gonna cross that lip and it's going to strafe really nicely across Jen. And so, you will also get a little bit of a wraparound because even though this focuses the light in a certain direction, light kind of moves in all directions, and so you will get a little wraparound, a little fall off, off of this light, just as if you would if there were a window here. But, because I'm not using a fill light in this situation, I will be using what I call the audience blocker, or the, this is a three by four reflector that I will be using to fill in the shadow side of Jen's face. The cool thing about this is you can adjust the lighting ratio just by moving the light back and forth, or the reflector back and forth. If you have a fill light, it would be the same way. You could adjust the power up and down, but the thing is, what that is going to do, that is going to adjust the exposure of the entire image, because the fill light and the main light both combine to make the level of light that is hitting the light side of the face. When you shoot with a reflector as opposed to a fill light and a softbox, you don't ever have to change your aperture because the main light on your subject is not gonna change, only the fill light that's bouncing back into the shadow side of the face. No camera changed settings, no light power settings. You could literally just fill more, or fill less depending on the sort of level of drama you wanted to add to the image. Does that make sense? Okay, cool. Let's get started. Now, Jen and I have not previously met. We have not colluded. And although she is a professional model, she does not familiar, as hard as it may seem for you, she has not heard of me. And she is not familiar with my combination posing system. I know, some of you are just blown away. How could someone not have heard of me? Just kidding. We're gonna start, if you remember, and I may get the numbers wrong but wood poses will work, so let's start without the fill so everybody can see what we're doing. What we're going to start is by, I will typically shoot both with body into and out of the light. Most of the time, although Jen's in terrific shape and will be totally fine to shoot straight on, most people, on a day to day basis, are gonna look better, and the image is gonna have a little more depth if they are turned slightly to one side or the other. Now, the advantage of using a directional light setup like this is that, as was asked in another segment, when you have somebody who has a larger body type, or maybe they're a little more round, you can turn their body out of the light and it will slim them down by putting the largest part of them into the shadow side of the image. You can't accomplish that same feat with flat light. Directional light is going to give you the ability to use lighting and posing and position to be able to slim your subject down. Now, Jen doesn't need it, but I will show you the difference between the two. Let's start with our first combination pose, the one one. Jen, I want you to turn this way slightly towards the light, and then if you, were you ever a dancer? Let's do first position, just like so. Perfect, that's all there is to it. This is the one one, let's take a shot of this. She was a dancer. First position. This is going to be something that is a definite option, if probably the least interesting, but if you have 16 people in a row not everybody's gonna be able to be doing something cool, you know, so it's perfectly acceptable to have first position and hands at their sides, that's totally acceptable. It's all really gonna be in the expression. Let's take a look, I've got my 70 to 200. My camera settings for you junkies out there are I'm shooting at 1/160th of a second, ISO 200, f7.1. No particular reason, it's just the correct exposure, but I'm shooting at a little f7.1, f8, around there. When I'm shooting professional portraits, I kinda live around five, six F8, because I cut the images out a lot and they end up being composited into group shots or into marketing materials, and the reason that you want to shoot at a higher aperture value that is a smaller aperture setting is because you want that depth of field. You want it to be sharp all the way through because if you've ever tried to extract a subject from a background and it's a shallow depth of field, then you know what it's like to feel the frustration that burns with the fire of a thousand suns. It's almost impossible to do properly. Let's just take a quick test shot here and see what we got. Jen, you're doing a great job. (shutter clicking) Perfect, okay. What we have here is a main light with absolutely zero fill, but I want you to see the direction and lighting pattern. Is that gonna come up? Are we having technical issues? Oh, there it is, okay. You can see that it's very, very dark on the shadow side of the face. That's because there's nothing for this light to bounce off of and there's no fill light being used. Let's add fill light into the equation. All right. You guys see okay? (laughing) Ha ha. All right. Let's try it, cool. Okay (shutter clicking), good. Okay, there we have a much more pleasing lighting ratio. One thing that you'll run into and why you want to use a little softer lighting ratio on professional portraits is you will have people ask you why are there shadows on my face? They ask it all the time. Even when you're using directional light make sure that you are, oh, that's the wrong one, make sure that you are using a pleasing lighting ratio 'cause nobody likes super dark shadows. You can see really easily there on the monitor that that's a much nicer lighting ratio to work with, and you can move it in a little closer and make it a little lighter, or you can move it farther away and make it a little more dramatic. (shutter clicking) Boom. There we have it. Now, what I want to do is I wanna show you turning the body into the shadow side of the image. Jen, if you would turn this way with me, perfect. Now, here's the kicker, you absolutely have to bring the face back into the light. Take a tiny step back that way for me, please. Thank you, good. Now, we're using the edge. So, what I want you to do is point your right toe at me. Good, that's perfect. And I want you to turn your head this way into the light. See, I'm directing and moving with her instead of just telling her what to do. It's a lot easier for somebody to follow your finger with their face (laughing) than it is to say turn your head to the left, and then she'll turn her head that way, because that's her left, so I just go this way and now you're gonna bring her face, the mask of her face, that's the area here and here, into the light. You want the whole mask of the face into the light. (shutter clicking) Boom. Piece of cake. Now what you've done, if you look at this image as it comes up, one of the reasons I like this, you will see that she has a neckline that is fairly low on her top, and so if you look at the previous image when her body's turned into the light, you will see that her chest is as bright or brighter than her face when the light hits it. When you turns somebody's body out of the light and bring their face back in, you are naturally going to be shading that area in the chest, so that the face will be the brightest thing in the image. It's a really cool trick to be able to keep that focus, that brightest part of the image on the face. Typically, when you're shooting and you're looking at images, your eye is often drawn to the brightest part of the image. It's technically drawn to the area of highest contrast, to the area of most sharpness sometimes, but brightness in an image like this that's sort of a medium key, you're gonna be draw to the brightest part of the image. And so if the brightest part of the image, we really want it to be the face. We don't wanna mess around with that too much. I wanna add a little more fill so I'm gonna bring another audience blocker over here. So glad you came all the way to Seattle for this so you could just look at the back of my reflector. Now, I'm just gonna wrap this reflection around a little bit more. To fill in just a touch more. There we go. Let's take that shot one more time and then we'll start running through the poses. Okay. Point that toe at me, thank you. Turn your upper body a little bit, too, perfect. All right, chin down just a touch. All right, looking good. She's a powerful lady (shutter clicking), boom. Okay, now with that added little reflection I'm pushing even a little more, see it's even a little more pleasing of a lighting ratio, so you've got three lights and it's doing the job of like five, six, seven lights. You don't have to go out and buy 10, 12, however many lights you think you might need. You could actually even do this setup without anything on the back light. If you put her a little closer to the background, change your depth of field, move the light that way, the light that's falling off the reflectors and the main light would give you a certain amount of light on the background. If you're in a setting where you know that you're gonna have limited space, you could actually even do this without those lights on the background. There are lots and lots of options. Let's run through some combination poses. What I want you to do next Jen, please, is slide that foot forward like that. Gimme that power pose, boom, right, and then I want you to go ahead and put your left hand on your hip, good. Turn your head into that light for me. Bring your chin down just a little bit. Two. Go ahead and I want you to switch hands, boom, like so, turn that head. Chin down a little bit. Come this way just a little bit. Tilt a touch that way, chin down, take a breath (inhaling). Yoga (exhaling). (shutter clicking) Nice, perfect, okay. There we go, that's fine. And now, since you're in good shape I think you could pull of an arm cross. Can you do the real estate agent? Good. We got one hand up, one hand buried, that looks great. Perfect (shutter clicking), there you go. Perfect, let's turn a little bit more into that light. There you go, just a touch that way, chin down a little. Right there, take a deep breath (inhaling). You see what I'm doing when I'm directing someone? I'm not got my eye into the camera. That's why this sexy, sexy tripod is such a useful tool, 'cause I can talk to her like a person instead of going okay, what I want you to do now is like, my lights are set, my camera's set, my focal length is set, my focus is set. All I have to do is have my hand on. You can even have a cable release. (shutter clicking) And you just take pictures, hi. (shutter clicking) What do people do when you smile at them? They smile back, don't they, right? What do people do when you do this? Okay, smile, like they laugh sometimes, but it's not as engaging. A photo shoot should feel almost more like a conversation where you happen to be taking pictures. I find that's the best way to get people to relax. You don't necessarily, you kind of want them to forget that they're having their picture taken, 'cause having your picture taken is probably one of the most awkward things in the universe. It really is. Public speaking, forgetting to wear pants, and getting your picture taken are all really awkward situations to be in. But I'm serious when I say that you don't know because we are the ones that are taking the pictures, we sometimes forget how uncomfortable that can be for your average person. Jen, who is an expert at standing in front of, having thousands and thousands of people watching her right now. I'm just kidding (chuckling). She can be comfortable 'cause this is what she does, but your average person, and you and me included, this is a super awkward, uncomfortable position to be in. And so, you want to engage as much as you possibly can. Don't look at your camera after every shot. Don't, once everything's set, don't worry about it. The more, I'm not a big technical photographer. I'm not like knowing all about this and that and trying to tweak everything. I'm more shoot from the hip. But I will tell you this, I understand what every piece of equipment I'm using does, and when I change something I understand what that means, and I'm comfortable with the equipment that I use so that the thing that I'm not worried about when I'm doing a photo shoot is what my gear is doing. If you can, you need to be, even if you're more of an artistic photographer, you need to master enough of the technical side of it so that you're not thinking about your settings, and you're not thinking about your lights, you're just thinking about creating what's in your head to create. You need to, we talk sometimes about how do we engage people, how do we make them relax? If you're not comfortable with the equipment that you're using and what you're doing, you're not gonna be able to show comfort to your client. You're gonna look like you don't know what you're doing and they're not going to be at ease with you, right? All right, so let's try this one. I want you to give me a slight power stance. All right, turn this way a little bit, perfect. And now I want you to bring your hands to the hips. That's the Mariska Hargitay, turn your head this way. Chin down a little bit. How many poses are we getting done here? We're doing some pretty cool, all that combination posing stuff actually works. Really is pretty useful. Good, all right. Let's try mean, can you do mean? Be the boss (growling). Exactly (shutter clicking). Turn your head a little bit this way, and chin down just a touch, boom. Piece of cake. Now, you're got in combination all these different possibilities. Now, let's say that she's not the boss. Let's say that she is the junior partner. Let's change the pose up a little bit. Bring your feet together for me, Jen, and I want you to turn this way just a touch and I want you bend your knee a little bit across the other one. There she goes. Okay, see, it's a little more closed off, it's a little more demure. Turn your head this way. And now, zone three, the head, I want you to watch the difference. Tilt your head this way. How you doing? (shutter clicking) Nose this way into the light just a little bit. (shutter clicking) Boom. Now, I want you to do the same thing, but I want you to tilt your head this way. Relax, just stand up normal, and then we'll go to the head position from there. Cross your arms, good, and turn your head this way. Chin down a little bit. Kinda go serious a little bit. (shutter clicking) Boom. You'll see that here's a distinct difference in that zone three, in that pose with the head. You see, all you do is you get a completely different look and feel just from moving the head in the other direction. And so, every single position of the body is going to have a different implication to it. Even a pose that's a little more powerful can, changing that zone three head position to the shoulder that's closest to the camera, the camera shoulder, pretty clever name for that, so remember, we've got two shoulders with most people, some people in the circus only have one, all right, so we have camera shoulder and we have a far shoulder, the one that's farther away. When we tilt the head to the far shoulder it's a little more assertive. Chin down a little bit. Turn your head this way into the light. Little less tilt, right there, cool. Straight up and own, a little tilt to the far shoulder, chin down, serious. (shutter clicking) Okay. And now, oh, probably got you, there, all right, now I want you to tilt your head to that camera shoulder. Little less, right there, chin down a little bit. (shutter clicking) Boom. And it becomes a lot more open and a lot more friendly. See psychologically the difference that's implied by that head position? Even just standing in that one one, that feet straight on together, arms at your sides, just the head position can change the psychology of the image. Are you shooting an attorney who does criminal defense? Are you shooting a real estate agent? Are you shooting someone who's in sales? What are you trying to say about the image, and how can that pose help you say it?

Class Description


Professional portraits go beyond the standard headshot. With the age of social networking upon us, businesses often have the need for environmental and editorial portraits. Not only will you understand individual portraits, but you will also learn to execute large group posing for corporate clients. By adding these to your client sessions, you can add to your business plan AND widen your target client outreach. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ten Tips for Professional Portraits

SEO Workbook

Posing Guide

Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



Gary is super knowledgable, yet down-to-earth and relatable. I love how he explains the exact gear he uses but also describes ways to accomplish the same look using DIY and less expensive alternatives. The segment where he demos a live shoot in multiple, difficult lighting situations is worth the cost of the class alone! Bonus: He's super funny. He could probably double as a comedian on the side, but I digress. This class was informative, funny, and very practical for any photographer that wants to increase their profit and expand their business into the professional world. He gives all his prices and workflows so you can get up and running in 2 days! :) Awesome class overall, and it's a great sequel to his professional headshot class (which I also bought and loved.)

Richard Blenkinsopp

I love Gary's straight teaching style, and appreciate him demonstrating with regular people, not models. This is the real life of a regular photographer! I wish Creative Live could show more from the photographers viewpoint, so that when he's posing and moving lights etc, we see exactly what he's changing, and can analyze why... not sure how they'd achieve this in a live environment though. Loved his going around to less than ideal locations and finding the place that works. My favourite course on Creative Live so far.


Gary makes taking editorial portraits look simple and fun. I want to start shooting heads! I love Creative live and Gary is really doing a great job. I got to buy the class next. Thank you.