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Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Lesson 13 of 20

Simple, Effective Lighting Techniques For Authentic Portraits

Tamara Lackey

Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Tamara Lackey

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Lesson Info

13. Simple, Effective Lighting Techniques For Authentic Portraits

Lesson Info

Simple, Effective Lighting Techniques For Authentic Portraits

Start out by talking about lighting before we go into another live shoot, this time with multiple children at one time. So, when you are thinking about lighting, what kind of lighting are you thinking about? Here is basically the forms of lighting that I'm using, kind of around, and around, and around again, and I say forms because I'm often intermixing these as I go based on what the situation is. I would rather have good, consistent light that I can use, whether it's this, this, or that, but I know from a simplicity perspective I'm going to grab the bare minimum I need for that shoot, so I'm not awash in lighting, but I can go to something more complex to do the job if the simple thing is not working. Separately from that I also have to think about what I'm shooting, and which light best fits that situation. So for example, in my studio this is a shot during a workshop, anybody that works for Top Participants is watching, they'll see themselves. I am photographing in the studio and I...

'm using here a large softbox. This is is a Westcott Spiderlite that I'm shooting with here and it's a constant light, kind of turn it on, what you see is what you get. It's got a big softbox in front. I have multiple ones like that and I can do the shoot that I want like that. I end up getting, with this kind of set up, a shot like this. Where they're well lit, got a good even lighting, got great catch lights, I'm shooting close with a shallow depth of field. Again that look that I love, that I talked about early, where her eyes are sharp and we've got this great specular highlight in her eyes. The focus falls off pretty quickly and it's gone by the time we're down here. This is lit with that set up. I've got a large softbox of constant light, again those, in this shot, this was the Spiderlites, I've got a fill light, which is another light that is dialed down. I have the main light is lighting the shot, the fill light is filling in the shadows that come about when you light something with a main light, and it's giving me that great life in the eyes that I love, those catch lights, that's what the fill lights doing. I've got a hair light that's skimming across the back or some sort of rim light that separates her from the background, and better give me some better modeling, in terms of what my subject, giving some more dimension to the portrait, and generally speaking those are the four types of light I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about my main light, I'm thinking about my fill light, I'm thinking about my hair or rim light, and I'm thinking about those catch lights. The other thing I have to consider is the toning, the color, the Kelvin of my light, and any other ambient lighting that might come into play. So if I'm shooting in a situation like here, where this is shot with the window behind us. This whole part of the studio, if you saw in our business course we did, running a studio business, I did a whole review on studios and workspaces, and how my shooting space, the whole wall is a wall of windows, and so this is that light coming in. I have this light here and I have overhead lights. I need to make sure that all these lights are balanced and they're all set to basically daylight. They're all in a similar, kind of, color tone and Kelvin, so I'm not having florescents over here and incandescent lights over here, and window lights here, and the shots no matter how many times I take them I can't get this look 'cause this is clean and sharp and well-lit and balanced, and I'm fighting against ambient lights, so that's the other thing that I'm thinking. Make sense? This is another form of light I'm using. This is teaching a workshop, I'm holding a strobe. I don't normally walk around with them when I shoot, but I can, I can't handle them, especially the lighter ones, the Profoto B2s, but it allows me to front light a shot pretty simply. I normally working with a TTL mode and I'm going to show you some of these lighting sources in action during shoots, but I am able to, kind of, park it, have it read the scene for me, that's what TTL is, the lights basically read the scene for me, and kick out an exposure that they think best fits my situation. I am having smart lights here and so I'm utilizing the lighting in a really simple way, I'm setting it up for TTL, I am not ever running back and forth, like okay, my subject moved an inch off the background I have to dial the f/5 or I have to dial, nothing like that. I'm letting the strobes pick it for me. I'm able to front light a shot, so that maybe there's some competing light in the background, a shot like this would be more unintentionally silhouetted if a light's coming from behind them if I don't have some way to light the front. I want to be able to use those in a really fun way. How much do you love the boots? I love the boots, I love when an accidental thing shows up. Like someone shows up to a shoot and she's like, I'm sorry, we're going to change her, I'm like, don't change anything, that's fantastic. This is a shoot that I did out in Napa, we just pulled over to the side of the road, saw this tall grass, loved the look of it. This is a behind the scenes shot, I think this was just shot with an iPhone, but in this case I basically tucked them in the grass and all we have on them is a simple reflector and we're able to reflect that light back on them, have the grass all around them. I have another version of this shot that I love, that's in color, that's a little bit wider back and horizontal, but that's the only lighting we're using. But you see how without it, it's going to be, kind of, they're being lit from here and this is dark. I don't want them being lit here and dark here, they're back lit, but I need that light bouncing back up here so I can see expression, the interaction, the relationship. Other times you can do something where you're utilizing things around you to actually get that light to bounce the light up. In this case we did have a reflector over here, she's sliding down the slide, I'm laying on the slide tilting my lens up with a 24-70 lens, and we're getting all this bounce from this metal slide while we're outside. It was actually kind of a cloudy day, which could be really great for outdoor photography, but I had still, I had that light streaming through, I had some bounce coming up, I kick a little bit more here with a reflector and I'm in really good shape. I'm not going to pull out strobes on this, I'm not going to figure out how to plug in constant lights, I don't need to hold any sort of video light of any sort, even on camera flash I don't have to worry about it. I've got this all set up and ready to go. So let me show you a little bit more about lighting. We're going to switch to showing a single person in action, our little boy Huck, running up, and I'm going to shoot from a low angle with my D4S and 24-70, which are really fast to focus equipment, and I'm going to have the BTU strobe with a barn door, so we get again, better control of the light on him and I want him lit but I also want all that detail in the sky, and I'll be able to capture that fast action using high-speed sync. Ready? Do it, let's do it. One, two, go. Oh, awesome, that was so good. I don't think this went off. What? Do it again. It didn't. Oh, so good. Again. We get one more. Jump a little closer to me, okay? Okay. One, two, go. Ooh, that was good. One more, one more, one more. Go. Come in, jump, jump, jump, jump. Alright run to me and jump. (laughing) Alright good, look at that one. Whoa. (laughing) So that's where I land, but that is what I'm able to do when I am working with strobes. I'm like, I'm not going to run up with him with a reflector. I can use off camera flash, but I could also park the lights right there, have them react to where he is, make sure I'm setting my shutter speed up to get fast action, which means I need to be thinking about high-speed sync. Are you guys familiar with high-speed sync? Basically, I am ensuring that the, I'm able to get that shutter speed really fast. A lot of times when you put on any sort of additional lighting you are capped out at 1/250th of a second. That for a long time was the limitation that you can add a flash and this and that, but if you want to kick that shutter speed up, you're kind of at 1/250th a second and you're there. Now you can simply go in to your menu and say, I want least on the nighttime camera, I can go in and say I want it to be an auto ability for my camera to kick up the shutter speed, go much faster than I want, use available light, use additional light, go ahead and light him in the front, but he's going fast, so I went it quick action, and I get to have the deep sky in the background. I get to do both at the same time. The different between this shot and this shot, they're both fun, but do you notice that this shots just a little softer in the face and we've got a little bit of a softer sky? And this shot is sharper in the face and a deeper sky. The different is the recycle time on the lights. You saw how fast he's coming, I'm shooting in a burst mode, I'm wide open, that strobe with the B2 is responding really quickly, like really quickly, considering how fast I'm bursting, but it can't recycle that fast. 1/10th a second, 1/10th of a second, the different is the amount of output of light and how I can use that to deepen the sky in the background and make the action sharper. An image like this, this is simply a little bit of a shy boy, you can kind of tell, that's the look you get with a shy kid, like I'm going to get a smile, but I'm going to work for it. I might get a little one out of him but I'm going to really be glad I got that look. This is simply being used with, I have it right here with the outdoor light and I've got a Ice Light, I have the Ice Light, the Westcott Ice Light right here, that's lighting up kind of a darker scene, and I'm able to play with that later in post-processing and play for a look I want. But if I'm not doing this, I'm only going to have the light here and it's going to fall off here and by simply shooting while holding a video light, like the, I don't think they call it a video light, they call them like a portable light, but the Westcott Ice Light I can hold it right there and I can simply and easily take care of that. What's going on if I want to use multiple sources of lighting on the same shoot? We're going back and forth and we're in the studio here, we're on location here, this I'm really shooting close up, this I'm farther back, I need kind of different light sources to make all this happen and they all fit the scene, and so that's what I do. Before I show you this, this is just a fun little BTS to put together photographing a couple kids inside and outside and all the way around, but it's a few minutes, but take a look at not only the feel of photographing children that I love, that I love to convey, I love to experience myself, and I think it has a big impact on images that result from a shoot. But also the way we're using lighting in all these different scenes because if you're just looking at this as a fun shot of photograph kids, which it is, it is very fun to photograph kids and it's a really fun series of shots, this video of photographing kids, but I want you to pay attention to the lighting as well because you'll see how it shifts. Just a quick overview of what I'm thinking about when it comes to lighting. If I have a really solid, simple case where the subject's here, I'm really close, I can tilt a reflector or have somebody else hold a reflector and shoot, I'm going to do that a lot, and I do that a lot. That is the majority of shoots I do is with just a reflector. So simple, 50, 60 dollar reflector, use it all the time. The other thing I'm thinking is if I'm in a situation where a kid's running at me and I'm running backwards and doing a strobe, or a constant light, or a reflector, or any sort of handheld light is just too hard, I can just put on a flash. I'll out on the SB-5000, I'll go ahead and either manual set it or TTL it, and then I'll just run backwards with the kids or run to the left or the right, and it's the easiest way to manage my light. If I have a situation where, you'll see as I'm talking there's a logic, it's this for this, this for this, this for this, if I'm in a situation where I have a larger shaped scene, the subjects aren't moving too much, I can go ahead and plug a B2 here, have somebody hold a B2, a Profoto B2 strobe here, and I can get off all the shots I want with this great, rich constant light that's, not constant light, this great, rich light that's constantly meeting my exposure needs at the time I'm shooting. So if I move farther away from my subject or I change my settings I have a TTL remote on the top of my camera that says okay, this is what's going on guys. If I'm in the studio, like I'm going to be doing right here, you're about to see me do this, I'm using constant light. I am not even going to worry about anything else. I'm going to put them on, what I see is what I get, I get those shots, that's what I'm doing. Did I hit them all? Strobes, constant light, flash, reflector, and then the easiest thing when I talked about the handheld light, just that wand, is if I'm in a darker room, and I don't want to pull any of that in, I can hold it up, light up the situation, be done. I want to add catch light. Everything's about the same, but I want a bit more of a catch light. I hold it closer and I shoot. Pretty simple. But I'm always thinking what's the right light and how do I make it as simple as possible, 'cause I don't want to spend all my time on lighting, I want to spend all my time having fun with these kids, connecting to their energy, and getting the shots that we want to get out of this. So here's a few minute video of doing exactly that. (upbeat energetic music) (chuckling) Alright, if you see there, there's two things happening. One, there's behind the scenes, it's fun, you're moving them all around, there's a great energy to that and I love it. The other thing you may have noticed is that I used four forms of lighting in that video. Even though we're going in and out and doing different things, if you saw in the studio when we started I was using these lights, the flex lights, just simple constant lights, turn them up for what I need. I use them not only as fill lights and main lights, but also as a back light. I put her in front of the light, used it to have like a flood of light coming before her, and I lit her this way, an unconventional way to light, but a really fun way to pull off a different shot. We went outside I was using the reflector, you saw my assistant, Sarah, was holding the reflector in a bunch of different shots, then when we set her up on the bench she was sitting there and I used the Profoto B2 strobes and we had the large umbrella just bouncing light back from the strobes, really simple. You know, why I use the umbrella a lot as the modifier on the strobes when I'm out and about? What would you guess? Eh, I'll just tell you. It's so easy, not because of the light it provides or how deep the umbrella or it's a silver or a white, and all those sort of things. I have set up the softbox that's a square and the rectangle, and the octagon, and the beauty dish, and those are cool things, and sometimes they'll use them, but most of the time, I'm like, let open an umbrella, let me slide in a light, let me turn the light towards the action and starting shooting. I don't want to be a lighting technician, I want to know enough about light to use it well and effectively, but I want to be a shooter, I want to be a photographer, I want to be conducting these portrait sessions in a way that I'm getting that look and feel that I want out of them. So I want to do it simply. And when we had him running back and forth, and running back and forth, because he was running and I was running with him for a lot of it, I had on the flash. I had SB-5000 flash. I wasn't going to pull the strobe back and forth, I'm going with him, so I'm using the flash. Do you see how you can use all these different means of lighting? This one's the Profoto B2 strobe, this is him coming at me, this is dropping with it, this is in the studio with the light right on her, and then you can see the catch light, you see everything's evenly lit, it's broad, but it's effective and it's what I need to get an authentic portrait simply. Just a really quick question a couple people had asked, do you know what size reflector you normally use, or what that good size might be for people starting? Yeah, I usually use about a 42 inch size reflector. I'm a reflector connoisseur, I have all different sizes, but normally I'm never less then like a 20 inch one, and for a large family I will use a big, honking reflector. If you look online and you look up Tamara Lackey, shooting in harsh light, I just did a video with Nation's Photo Lab, that shows me using a giant diffuser, like a seven foot diffuser, and what you can do between that and a large reflector bouncing light back, you can make incredible shots, really rich color, and tones, and detail with two really simple reflectors. One is a diffuser, one was a reflector, but I typically like larger reflectors, the only reason I wouldn't want to grab a large reflector is if I'm in some sort of situation where there's a wind. I'm on a beach, I'm outside, it's a park, it's windier day, I can still use a reflector, but I have to have a smaller size that I can control better, then a big one that's just going to be really hard to hold on to.

Class Description

Each child is unique and needs different techniques to draw out the most authentic portrait. Acclaimed family photographer, Tamara Lackey, talks through how to quickly identify the characteristics of a child and the posing techniques and direction that can lead to a fun session with great results. She’ll cover:

  • The 6 basic personalities that children may show up to a photo shoot with
  • How to draw out a shy child in front of the camera
  • Tips for photographing the children who don’t want to be there
  • Gear and accessory considerations for family shoots
  • How to build to a natural pose

Have the confidence and the technique to capture an authentic child portrait in every session no matter client or their mood!

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Tamara Lackey Posing Book Discount

Nations Photo Lab Discount

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Tamara Lackey brings amazing energy to her teaching and shooting style. She shared a ton of tips and tricks for capturing the true character and personality of each child in both individual and group portraits. I have always found it to be particularly difficult to capture portraits of multiple children that are composed to be both visually interesting and true to their unique story. I learned so much about directing and communicating effectively with child subjects, and how to use my gear and other tools to streamline the process and keep it all fun for the family. No matter how much you think you know about photographing children, this class is an asset that you will not regret! Thank you Tamara Lackey!

Heidi Mikulecky

I love Tamara's tips for working with common personality types found in children. I also love that class allows you to be "fly on the wall" during her photo shoots. It's so helpful for me to see how other photographers engage their subjects (especially children). Tamara brings a ton of energy, excitement and playfulness to her shoots. It opened my eyes to how fun (and how exhausting) a photo shoot can be when you give it your all. Great class!

Sara NAomi

This was an amazing class. Photoshop has been a huge learning curve for me during the past year and it was so helpful to see the quick and easy way you used levels to bring down brightness/hotspots. I will definitely be using it to improve the "ear" on the portrait that you critiqued. Thank you soooooooooo very much Tamara and CL for providing such great content!