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Shoot: Female Portrait

Lesson 3 from: How to Take Amazing Photos with your DSLR

Julia Kelleher

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Lesson Info

3. Shoot: Female Portrait

Lesson Info

Shoot: Female Portrait

- [Julia] Now, what I want to address right out of the gate here is the fact that I'm in a dark room, we're in a studio here at CreativeLive, the, they built a building next door and so it totally ruined the light, so now we don't use the natural light coming into the window. So you see here that I have these continuous lights, right? Don't be intimidated by this, this is strictly a window. Look how pretty, it's a four-by-six window, okay? It's a large window...I'm going to make it even bigger, okay? But think of have such a good smile, he smiled at me back there and I'm like, "Oh, he's giving me so much confidence," I love seeing that smile, thank you. As a speaker, it's like when you get a response from the audience, it's like, "Oh, yay!" It's just that good feeling in your heart. But this is space, I want you to think of this as a window, that's all it is. Your window in your house behaves exactly the same way as this thing, okay? So I am going to go ahead and ...

turn this like this the beautiful part about having these two beautiful Profoto continuous lights is that turning on? It should be turning on. There we go. The beautiful thing about having these two continuous light is that I can pretty much...It's the story my life. Thank you, I'm just not quite strong enough to get it to get up. - [Crew] I got it, I got it. - You got it? Okay. The beautiful thing about having this continuous lights is that I can move them wherever I want, right? So that's the difference between being in a studio versus next to a window. The window is static, you can't move it, right? But you can move your subject, right? So with those of you who don't have softboxes that you can roll around on wheels, you're going to need to roll your subject around on wheels, okay? So, as're so cute. Okay, it's Judy, right? - [Judith] It's Judith. - Judith, excuse me, I apologize. I focus so much on my content that I'm forgetting names, that's really embarrassing. Cute boots, by the way. - Thank you. - So Judith is sitting here, kind of like not entirely back against the light, she's a little sitting forward and what I want maybe that camera can see this. As a matter of fact, I'm going to have you stand up, Judith, I'm going to show something. The position of your light is absolutely critical to creating a beautiful portrait, so Judith, come over here, stand right here. Okay, right there, beautiful. Okay, can you see this, the light on her? Okay, so as we look at Judith standing at the far end of the window, I'm going to call it a window because I think that most people have windows and they don't have expensive HMI Profoto lights, okay? So she's at the back of the window and you can see that the light is pleasing, it's falling across her face really nicely, we have some shadows over here on the right side, but as she begins to come forward...just walk a little bit forward, stop, things are changing a little bit, okay? As a matter of fact, I'm going to turn off this light one more time. Now, look at me. You can see the shadows on the side of her face are starting to get more intense, right? Come forward a bit more. Whoa, now we're like hatchet lighting, it's only of this side of her face is lit, right? Okay? Now come even more forward. Whoa, now we're like all shadowy over here, there's just a little bit of light over here, right? So, placement of your light is critical to creating a good portrait, so I'm going to back her up on my window here. If I put her at the edge of the light, now all of a sudden, all this light in front has a chance to influence the shadow side of her face, okay? If I bring her're such a patient person with me. If I bring her forward, it's all going behind her, isn't it? Okay? So when shooting a portrait next to a window, one of the critical things to do is put your subject at the back of the box, at the back of the window, okay? So now, I see a pleasing light falling over her face and I can shoot a portrait that's going to make her face glow real pretty, okay? So I'm going to put her on a stool so she feels more comfortable and we're going to talk about fall-off more as we get into the class here, so go ahead and have a seat right there. Now, what you'll also notice is that the box is pretty low, like the bottom of the window comes down right about here, right? So that means it's going to light this entire part of her, right? If I jack that light up so that it's just right here and up, now all of a sudden, we're going to have shadow falling down here and her face is going to be the brightest part of the image. The eye is attracted to the highest point of contrast in an image, okay? So contrast, the brightest thing in the image is where your eye is going to go to first, okay? So if I don't want the rest of her body lit and want it to truly be a portrait of just Judith's face... Now, granted, I know you guys don't necessarily have the ability to just jack your window up but what you can do is jack the stool up, right? Or lower the stool I should say, lower the stool down, right? So now all of a sudden, you see...especially this camera here is going to be able to see it, you see how there's more shadow falling down low. Now if I move this light even closer to her. Now go ahead and turn your nose towards the light, perfect. Now I'm going to have more shadow falling down low and her face will be the brightest part of the image. We'll also notice how close the light is to her face, right? The light is close to her face because, and I'm going to talk about this more so don't freak out, the inverse square law. How many of you know it? She just looked at me like, "What? Really, did I just go and sign up for a math class? This is not right!" I promise I will not even tell you the math, okay? All the inverse square law is, is that light has a funny way of behaving. The light disappears, like falls off, gets weaker, much more right here than it does right here, okay? That's all it's saying. There's a dramatic fall off, we call it "weakening of the light," within the first two feet, it's like 75%. And we'll see this when we talk about groups later on today because when I shoot a group, I'm going to have them way over out here because there's less fall off over time so they'll all be evenly lit. If I did a group right here where she's right here and they're right here, right here, right here, she's going to have the most light on her and this guy is going to be pitch-black dark and then my exposures all jacked up, right? So placement of your light and the angle of it is so critical to creating a good portrait depending on how many subjects you have in an image, okay? Depending on the features of the person. Now, Judith is getting older, right? We've got some wrinkles on her face. I know me too, it's getting there. - I'm good with it. - Oh, she's like, "I'm good with it." But on a woman like this, I have to be very careful about not accentuating that, okay? And if I make the if I brought her forward like we did earlier, that light skimming across her face like that, it's going to make shadows in all these beautiful wrinkles of hers and while sometimes that's the effect you want, if she wants a portrait headshot for her website or something that shows her as this powerful business person or whatever, I'm not going to put a bunch of wrinkles on her face, okay? So I'm going to angle my light a little bit more towards her to soften the shadows of her wrinkles. Do you see that? So now, all of a sudden, the wrinkles in her face are not as pronounced. That's why we all look so dang good with on-camera flash. You guys ever done an iPhone picture where you do the flash pictures and you like, "Oh, I look so young, there's no wrinkles?" That's because they're blasting them so they have no shadow with them which means you can't see them, okay? Obviously, forward-facing flash is not the most flattering light in the world but it does remove wrinkles. That's why a lot of women love it because it makes them look so young, okay? So the goal as a professional photographer is to minimize that while still maintaining the integrity of the person, okay? So let's shoot Miss Beautiful Judith. The other thing we need to consider is her glasses, okay? And this is why at first I was a little hesitant to make her my first subject because those glasses can be a Bi-la-la-la, yeah. PETA. A PETA, okay? Because they're actually pretty anti-reflective which I like about it, so let's go ahead and shoot this and go from there. Now, right now I just want to talk about light and have you see the light, we'll talk about posing here once we're done with the light, okay? So we're going to do this in small baby steps. Now, one of the issues with getting your light this close is that you're like, "Oh, it's in the way of my shot," so sometimes you have to back off just a little bit so there's room for the camera to actually operate. Very nice. Now, I might need a step stool at some point, I don't need it right this second but if someone could grab me a step stool, that would be awesome. Okay. Actually, I can't do it, I can't not pose you. Go ahead and put's a thing, you're actually're sitting really cute but I just want you to turn your body towards the audience for me just a little bit. Perfect, okay. Why do you think I did that? - (inaudible) - Yeah, because I'm tweaking her. I'm s-curving her, I want things going in different directions, okay? And one of the basic rules of thumb that I started off with, and this is a great rule of thumb to start with, is always put a woman's back to the light. So turn your back to the light all the way, nice and strong. Now, drop the shoulder and turn your nose this way. Perfect, a little bit more. It's going to be tough, I know sometimes it might be too much. Yeah, so obviously, I'm exaggerating the angle so I'll go ahead and take a shot of this, it's a pretty portrait of her. Let me make sure I get my exposure correct, I think I'm good. Am I good? Okay, let's see my shot. Oh, thank you, JC, I appreciate it. There we go, it's a little hot. With tethering, you can't chimp. Now, back in the day when we shot film, how could you chimp? But now I'm so used to it, I'm like, "Ah!" Okay, go ahead and pop that up one more time, I just want you to see the light for the moment. There we go, that's a little less exposed but...okay, so you can see on the right side of her face is a nice shadow. Okay, now, one of my issues with this portrait is the fact that her nose is pointing away from the light, what is that doing? It's making...this is the difference between short light and broad light, okay? When a woman's nose is away from the light, I'm shooting into the lit side of her face which makes her face look wider, right? Go ahead and turn your knees towards me. Perfect, so you can stop right there. Now turn your nose towards the light, chin down just a touch. Now I've got a lot of good light coming on so I'm going to go ahead and move this just a touch like that. I know it's hard to...oh, my light is starting to fall over but it's okay, it's all right, we'll work with it. It's all right because I actually kind of like it. Like actually, I kind of like it. Now go ahead and drop your chin just a little bit for me, Judith, perfect. Now, because I have such a big powerful softbox here, it's not showing a ton but this is the shadow side of her face, okay? So if turn your nose towards my light, if you look now you can see there's...because I'm turning her nose into the light, I'm seeing less shadow on the left side of her face, this side of her face, but if you look closely, it's a very soft contrast especially because these lights are so powerful, or so big, I should say, so that's why we're not seeing the shadow as intense and strong on that side of her face, okay? And that's kind of what we want, we want a soft contrast ratio on a portrait that's like a headshot type thing. But this is the fun of lighting is that you can get as dramatic as you want. If I put a big V-flat up here and you know what V-flat is? Big piece of foam core, just a big piece of cardboard, that's all it is, up here, it would block the light and make my light source smaller which would be a much more dramatic look as a portrait but because she's an older woman and I don't want to accentuate the wrinkles on her face necessarily, sometimes you do. There's some really cool portraits of people in their 90s who are just amazingly wrinkled, I'm sure you've seen it, that is a smaller light source, okay? More dramatic lighting, okay? So that's the beautiful part about lighting is that you can influence it so greatly with how you position it, how you block it off or not, and how you angle the subject. Now, when I put her nose into the light, it makes the shadow side of her face less shadowy but you can still see the shadows, like if I run my hand right there, you can see those shadows on her face, okay? If I bring her nose more towards me and chin forward and down, the shadows on the side of her face are even more dramatic. Do you see that? Okay? So to make a pleasing portrait of a woman, I'm bringing her nose this way...a little bit more, a little bit more, chin down, eyes at me. Perfect, that's a little bit better, now we're seeing less shadow on that side of her face and it's a more pleasing rendition of what her face is as far as for a beautiful beauty portrait of a woman, okay? Makes sense? Okay, so let me...I'm, like, so tempted to move you up and down because of...there we go, to move you up and down but I don't want you to have to get up 5,000 times. - That's just fine. - She's like, "I'm good, I can do it, okay." So camera setting wise, I'm using a 105 1.4 lens Nikon, okay? This is their brand new portrait lens that came out, it's very expensive lens, I apologize but the reason I love it is because it's that 105-millimeter length, it adds that compression and that 1.4 capability. What does that mean? It means, you know how when your shutter goes "Oh-oh" when it opens? "Click-click," like that? It opens really wide. That's all that 1.4 means, okay? So it opens nice and wide and that's why the thing is so honking big on the outside, you see that? It's like really fat, okay? That's a more expensive piece of glass to create, hence the reason it's more expensive to buy but it's also the reason the portraits turn out with that out-of-focus background so beautifully, okay? And that's why I always say invest in lenses before you invest in a body. Obviously, you need a body to shoot images but my point is upgrade your lenses before anything else, only upgrade your body when you absolutely have to. This D750 I've been using for two years now ever since they first came out because I needed a new camera and I've been debating, "Oh, I should go for the T5, I should go for the T5, it's so cool, it's so cool," and then I'm like, "I don't need a new body, I'd much rather get a killer new lens," okay? Because that's what's going to really create amazing images, okay? So let's go ahead and create a beautiful portrait, I need my stool, where'd it go? Oh, thank you. Settings wise, I'm at ISO 320, I'm shooting at f2 and my shutter speed right now is 640, okay? So I know with that shutter speed I'm going to be able to capture action. Now, clearly she's not moving but the bigger thing is shutter shake. You guys don't know what shutter shake is? And that might be my terminology for it but my shutter shake...we can do the shutter shake. When your hand is holding a camera like this and your shutter speed is too slow, you cannot hold your camera steady enough to not do this and that makes it look out of focus and you'll be just killing yourself going, "What is wrong? I know I was in focus, why isn't it happening? Why can I not get anything in focus?" It's not the focus, it's shutter shake, okay? So always shoot at a shutter speed...this is just a religion to me, 1/125th or faster. Now, every once in awhile I will go down to 1/80th but oh, I know I'm pushing my luck if I do that. Now, if you're on a tripod, better, but even then your subject cannot stay perfectly still, so they might move. So not only is it you who is moving, they're moving slightly, so even if you're locked down on a slow shutter speed shooting a person, it's really challenging. Now, landscape totally different story, the scene, unless it's crazy windy or there's water but a lot of people will do that, they'll lock down on a tripod, open the shutter speed really slow and let that water go by and it makes that effervescent look of the water, that's a slow shutter speed effect, okay? With the portrait, I always stick to fast, so let's see what else do I need to explain. 640, f2, at 320, I'm tethered, so I'm going to...there we go, beautiful portrait, good girl. Now go ahead and turn your body a little more towards the audience. I want you to put all your weight on the front seat bone. Yes, good girl. You see what that did? By making her just put her weight on her front seat bone, I just dropped 10 pounds off her thigh, right? Let me show you. I don't think can do it, let's get the other stool. I want the audience to see this really well. Here, let me get this stool. Okay, you guys are the camera, okay? I'm the subject. If I sit on a stool like this, my hip is the closest thing to the camera, oh, joy, that looks great. But the minute I do this, whoo-hoo, I just drop 10 pounds off that little thigh, thank you. Okay? Just the shift of the weight can make such a difference, so my goal with any woman is to always have the hips slightly away from the camera, okay? And when you first start posing standing, if I put my weight on my front foot like I told you to sit on your front seat bone, oh, my weight is on my front foot. Nice. The minute I shift the weight to my back foot, now my hips are shoving away from the camera and I have again dropped a few pounds off my midsection, okay? So it's the opposite standing versus sitting: standing, the foot away from the camera, sitting, sit on the seat bone that's towards the camera. Now, some people will go like this, so you got to watch it but just a little bit of weight...she did it beautifully, a little bit of weight and that will drop down, make a woman look much slimmer, okay? And sometimes, guys need it too, I mean sometimes guys need it too. I think every woman wants it though. Perfect, beautiful. Okay, so now I focused on her hips and that line there. Now, will I necessarily shoot that for a headshot? Probably not, but it still makes her body line look better by shifting the weight forward on the stool, okay? So now what I want you to do is just put your hands by your side and drop the right shoulder. Perfect. By dropping the right shoulder, I have now created a more pleasing line. Do you see that? Okay, I'm going to go ahead and fix your shirt here. And everybody wants to know what to do with your hands, they're like, "What would I do with my hands?" Like, the less you pay attention to them, so will the viewer looking at the image, okay? Because I used to be in television news where I would do the weather and sometimes you're just talking about the weather, but if I was talking about the weather like this, "blah-blah-blah," then all people were doing was looking at my hands. If I talked about the weather like this, "Oh, there's a low and a front coming in, you should be aware that icy roads will be in effect from tomorrow morning through tomorrow afternoon because the temperature will not hit above 32 degrees," you're listening to what I'm saying. "Be careful, it's going to be below 32 degrees all day tomorrow." Get my point? You don't focus on me on what I'm saying, you're focused on the hand movements, okay? So it's the same thing with portraits and hands are one of those funny things. Hands can really ruin an image. Have you ever seen that? Where somebody's hands are like...the rule of thumb is that you should never see the back of a woman's hand, okay? Honestly, I think it's a little silly, I mean the hands can be just as pleasing as long as they're not looking like man claws anywhere or bear claws, I should say more appropriately, then you're good. Excuse me, man, I didn't mean to, that was...I probably shouldn't have said that. Man claws, you know like man hands, they are like really big, no woman wants man hands I guess is what I'm saying. We all want these delicate fingers with these long nails, blah-blah-blah, and the rule of thumb says that if you see the back of a woman's hand, it's more pleasing to the eye and feminine than this side of the hand, okay? Like seeing this. So what I often do is just have someone to hang their hands...if I'm just doing a head and shoulder shot, I'll just have them hang their hands nice and low and give them the whole weather analogy, or what I'll do is I'll just say, "You know, just cross your hands comfortably over your lap, beautiful." Okay? That is not the correct posing of the hands but I don't care, I want her comfortable more than anything, okay? Perfect. So now, we've got the shoulders, we've dropped her shoulders a little bit, so we started with her booty and her legs, right? Then we came up to her hands, I dropped the right shoulder, I'm still...the feeling of shoving the hips towards the background is probably pretty prominent in your body, you can feel that, right? - Yeah, like pilates. - Yeah, a little bit of pilates pose and I always tell people, "What feels good doesn't look good and what looks good doesn't feel good," okay? So it will feel awkward but it looks great, is kind of the comment I say a lot to my clients and that's a development of trust, they have to trust you, okay? So now we have to focus on the face, so right now with her pointing her nose towards you guys, she is broad lit. Now, she's a thin woman, so we could easily shoot this like this, do a beautiful portrait broad lit like this and it would be gorgeous, okay? On heavier set people, men and women, short lighting them, so turning her face towards the light a little bit and this can be hard for some people, so be aware of them feeling like an owl, like, turning her head all the way around, so be careful like that. I just want the chin to connect to the shoulder, perfect. Now, Judith, this is tip, shoulders to shoulder, this is turn. Nobody gets it right, so don't worry if you don't get it right. Why am I saying that? Because I'm challenging her to get it right. - I did a wrong thing. - No, you didn't do the wrong thing. I always say nobody gets it right to challenge them to try to get it right because they hear, "Don't worry, nobody gets it right," and then they're like, "Oh, I'm the one that's going to get it right." You know what I mean? Perfect. No, you didn't do anything wrong, you were great. Beautiful. Okay, so tip your head just a little bit that way and turn it this way. Perfect. Chin forward and down, beautiful, and just close your eyes. Beautiful. Don't move, just listen to my voice. And oftentimes, I will have my subjects close their eyes because it takes the element of being shot out of the equation, okay? All she's doing right now is focused on her body and not on me. People are very self-conscious about being photographed so when you close their eyes, they all of a sudden get very centered. You try it, close your eyes. All of a sudden, you're not aware visually of your surroundings and you just feel your body, you feel what it's doing, if I told you to tweak your left shoulder back, that's all you would be doing, it wouldn't matter what it looked like to you because your eyes are closed, okay? So when I do that, I make her close her eyes, I make her focus on herself and not on the fact she's having her picture taken, now she's going to give me a more genuine expression. Okay, so Judith, just listen to me, keep your eyes closed. Nose towards the light, just turn it a little bit. Beautiful, my dear. Get my stool out, just listen to my voice, you're doing fantastic. And I always talk my subjects through what I'm doing, okay? I want her to know that I'm always there for her and that she's not doing anything wrong, that I'm the one who's adjusting myself and that she just needs to be patient with me because I'm screwing things up and I need to fix it, it's pretty much what I tell her, okay? Perfect, beautiful. And I'm going to take a quick test shot to make sure I like it and then Judith, I want you to chin forward and down just a touch more. Perfect, not too much, beautiful, close those eyes for me. On the count of three, your eyes are going to come to me, one, two, three. Perfect. Little soft sweet smile, connect that chin to that shoulder. Beautiful, beautiful. Awesome, okay. And that's a basic portrait of Judith, we have lots to choose from. Because of the angle of the light and the way I've tilted her chin down, we don't see the reflection of the glasses, I don't have a strong catchlight in her eyes which is bothering me a little bit, so this is where I would tweak the lights or I would move her back in a different position away from the light to get the results I wanted. Do you see that? Okay, so we have a little bit of a catchlight in this left eye of hers, camera right eye, but I'm not seeing it over here and a lot of that is because I dropped her chin down a little bit low and my light is not quite in the right position to take advantage of that, okay? So what can I do with my light to make it better? If it's a window and it's fixed, clearly, I have to move her, right? So what I would do is she has a little bit of a hooded eye over here, okay? So that's a lot of the reason that we're not seeing the catchlight in that eye because when I look at her here, I see the catchlight beautifully, I just don't see it in this one. So what I can do is put her chin up a little bit, there we go, a little bit more towards the light. Up a little bit, perfect, and then I can shoot from a higher angle. Does that make sense? So it's all about positioning, so I'll go ahead and try to do that. Okay, there we go. And then chin down just to...perfect, that's plenty. Awesome. And when I shoot that, because it's just a quick shot of her, you can see that the catchlight now exists in that eye. Did you see that? And all I did was increase my angle, bring her chin up so that the light could be seen, nose towards the light, beautiful, just a little bit more nose towards the light, gorgeous. Beautiful, and then the big bright eyes, and we have the catchlight one more time, okay? So it's truly lighting position, camera angle, lighting angle, posing angle. Those three things. Camera angle, lighting angle...oh, and the reason the lighting angle change is because I changed her, right? I could have easily moved this but I'm trying to keep it in the same spot so you guys understand if it's a window, you can't move it. And the posing angle, I can change her to make the catchlight come in the eye.

Ratings and Reviews


Julia is an amazing teacher!!!! Funny, go with the flow, honest, and obviously so gifted at what she does. That came through and also inspired those feelings in me as a novice photographer. I left her class feeling excited to play with my camera and appreciate that she encouraged me to use what I have now and get good before spending tons of money on fancier stuff. I also love that she showed how everyday materials from Home Depot can make for great images. I particularly appreciated the 2nd day on product photography, social media images and the short demos in PhotoShop. Please do a full class on just this Julia/Creative Live!!!!!

Brandon Couch

So first off I've been doing photography for a little bit now and only shot in manual 20% of the time and was okay with it. Since coming to this class and seeing how manual mode isn't scary, it is everything you need and want in the life of photography, I now will not use anything else. The team at Creative Live is amazing and Julia's love for other starting and even professional photographers is amazing. She would sit and talk to us together and individually and really loves those who love photography. I would recommend this class and any other one of Julia's classes here on CreativeLive. I can't wait to come back. Was AMAZING!!! LIFE CHANGING!!!

a Creativelive Student

What an awesome class! I am not a beginner and am currently making a living as a photographer and was interested in this class because #1 Julia is such a great teacher with such talent and #2 I was expecting to take away some valuable information to pass along to my little after school beinning photo club. I am happy to report Julia did not disappoint:-) What actually happened was that I learned so many things that I probably should have known being a seasoned professional that I lost track of my original intention of why I was there. I couldn't wait to pull out my camera and try all of the new things that I had just learned. The color balancing and the little dot showing when your camera (Nikon) was manually focused alone was worth the price. I enjoyed every minute of this course. Thanks Julia! Anyone would benefit from this course....

Student Work