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Matching Light for the Subject

Lesson 32 from: Powerful Portraits using Body Language and Lighting

Stacy Pearsall

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Lesson Info

32. Matching Light for the Subject


Lesson Info

Matching Light for the Subject

We covered so much ground between the body language segments and talking about the language of light. Now we're going to actually try and do assessments about interpreting personalities and discovering how light, when used properly or improperly, can sway our perception of an individual, and how we can be doing favors for people and maybe not so great either on the same token. So, this segment's all about finding the right light, okay. Right now this is really great light on me, thank you very much, lighting crew. Sometimes it doesn't come that easily, because when applying storytelling to portraiture you're really working with a limited subject matter. Unlike, say, landscapes, a mountain landscape or a desert landscape, you have points of interest, you have dimension and depth depending on leading lines and framing and all the other additions in one frame, then you have maybe a human element to that, color or black or white, doesn't matter, but then you have the light and the tone, wh...

ich Mother Nature's giving to you. In portraiture, it's just you and the person. So we only have a limited way to accentuate an individual's personality, and as you can see by these examples each and every one of them demonstrates an individuality. When we discover through body language an individual's personality, we're going to then consider how light may accentuate one's personality, or maybe give the wrong impression. First instincts, left or right? Right. You said right? Show of hands, right. Show of hands, left. Well there's, okay, all right. So the majority says they prefer the right. Now, I would like to engage you to provide a word that describes that individual on the right. Pass that microphone around for me, please. Attentive. Attentive, okay. Intense. Before moving the mic on, what is it about the image that says intense? To me it's, I think, the direct eye contact, just like he's looking right at you, like he's studying you, there's something going on in his brain while he's thinking and looking at you. So it is more of a body language. Yeah. Okay. Anybody else have, yeah? Contemplative. Okay. He seems like he's contemplating, like there's a lot going on, like with his fingers, how his finger is lifted off of his arm right there. Oh, I like that you noticed that. Okay, and what's more, does anybody have any other inputs? Curious. Curious? Curious. Is it the brow maybe that says that? What is it? Expression in the eyes, and then the hand up like he's getting ready to ask a question. Okay. I think he looks approachable but guarded. Okay, why? Well, the guarded, I think it's like he's approachable 'cause he's opening up his neck here, but he's guarded 'cause he's kind of looking away, so it was kinda giving me two messages. Okay. And then I think your lighting really emphasized that, also. And how? Well, the part that is open with his neck but it's in shadow, so it's kinda like I'm open, but I'm dark, so I thought that-- Thank you for noticing that. (laughs) Okay, I wanna pass it on, there was a couple of hands that said they liked the left. Kenna, why the left? So, I think he looks, even though he looks guarded, I liked his smirk or smile, that actually made him seem a little bit lighter. Okay, is it a genuine smile? I see a lot of heads shaking in the no gesture. How do we know that? You keep goin' by the crow's feet. So, in a way, the individual on the left is who I met initially. I got him in my chair and we were just talking, and this is when I'm going through just kinda getting him accustomed to lights, for instance, and so I'm trying to drill down through conversation and connection who he is personally, and through that what you can see here is that guardedness, and there's a briefly good, half-committed emotion of almost guarded happiness, right? But look at his posture, let's start from the very fundamental, basic, when we talked about body posture the very first segment of the very first day, and the more he is trying to get away from that situation, okay. So if we're looking at the whole body, he is literally saying, whoa, you stay there, I'm gonna be back here and we will never meet. Knowing this, however, knowing that there is a small leak of emotion and being observant through body language I realized that I needed to accentuate that he is somewhat approachable, that he is a nice guy, but he definitely has his boundaries. As you said, that duality, that he's open, but he's still guarded, and by not only incorporating body language but also the use of light and creating shadows that help amplify that, the image I used was on the right. There's no right or wrong, for those who liked the left, but the right is who I knew was his personality. And I wait for those subtle nuances, for that slight lift of the hand, that little gesture, all of those mean engagement. Now it's not in any specific order, ya'll, (laughs) so, we're not going left versus right. However, which do you gravitate towards? Hands on the left? Hands on the right? Ooh, we're kinda split. Okay. If you could describe a word that maybe best fits her, what you think you interpret through these pictures, what would it be? For the left I said kind of like intriguing. Intrigued? Mysterious, a little bit. Mysterious. I would say confident on the left. Why, why? 'Cause she's looking a little bit like-- Her chin's up. Yeah. Good, okay, anybody else? I was gonna say strength for the left. Strength, and why? I don't wanna say cockiness, but yeah, I think confidence, like you said, was the right way, that's what I would say as well. And how did you come to that interpretation? The chin and the eyebrow, I thought. The sort of quirk of the eyebrow, okay. Let's consider for a minute the tenor and the tone and the light choices. Are these any impacts on how you perceive this person, left versus right? The left is low key, and the right is high key. Thank you for that, and there's a difference, there's more, who else wants to analyze it? I would say on the left, because of the lighting, she looks kind of aloof and slightly distant from what's happening. Okay. Whereas on the right, there's a little bit more of a sort of quizzical expression on her face, questioning almost. Okay, these are all fantastic observations, I think we have one more observation here. On the left it's the harsher light, and on the right it's a softer light, I mean, she almost looks like a different person. Exactly. We know it's the same person 'cause of the hair and what she's wearing and her earrings, and even the facial structure, but I would say the angle from which I'm shooting her on the left, versus the angle from which I'm shooting her on the right, the direction of her chin versus left and right, eye direction versus left and right, and you may not notice, we all brought the eyebrow up, both left and right. Her eyebrow doesn't change from here to there, you see the angle is the same, that's her resting, natural face. Light changed how we perceived that to be. One is fierce, one is quizzical. That combined with eye direction also gave us a different perspective on her as an individual. So for me, knowing who she is the one on the left I think presents a more tough girl version of herself, the one on the right is actually who I felt I engaged with more. There's no right or wrong answer, we're going to take what we're seeing and it's going to skew our thoughts. Let's play, are you guys liking this game a little bit? Okay, good. Hands for the left. Hands for the right. Who doesn't like it at all? (audience laughs) It's kinda scary on both of 'em, right? Okay, let's break this down a little bit. What is it about the left, what's a word that comes to mind, what is a feeling you're feeling when you see the image on the left? Fake smile, forced emotion. Forced emotion. False smile. False smile. Yeah. Okay, now, I don't wanna know what you perceive it to be, I wanna hear a word that makes you feel. What does it make you feel? Scared. Uncomfortable. Why? The false smile. It's deception, right? You feel uncomfortable because that's not real. I saw a mic coming over here. I was gonna say dodgy, like untrustworthy. Do you feel that the emotions you're sensing from image number one, are sort of more reflected in reality in the image on the right? Is this making sense? So, do you feel the image on the right gives you the same heebie jeebies, because it's actually who he is, versus who he thinks he is? Makin' sense? Yep. Okay. We're stepping it up, ya'll. (laughs) We have three different body angles, three different types of light. Without thinking too much, hands for number one. Hands for number two. Hands for number three. Okay, so we're down to two and three, we've eliminated one. We don't like one because? Too dramatic? Like, too much drama. Yeah, that doesn't fit. Okay, so number two. We like it because? Or how do we respond to it emotionally? What's the feeling? Serenity. Serenity. I see hope. Hope. Joy. Joy, okay. How about three? Happiness. Happiness. Positive, beauty. Positive, beauty. Bubbly. Bubbly? I think the first two actually kinda make me sad, and the last one makes me happy, and I'm thinking that's probably two sides of her, but I could see they would all be really great for different reasons. I like that you denoted the first two that make you feel sad. Let's go back to the very foundation of light and mood. We associate high key and less ratio with our warmer months, our longer months, our longer daylight. When the lights are bright, we're feeling much more animated, we're here in the present, it's a daytime situation, we have more energy, more endorphins. When the lights go down, it's time for sleep, shorter days of the year, it's a little bit more low key, right? So these, again, have an emotional response when we view an image. So coming and narrowing down from two to three, two I heard hope and inspiration. Perfect, 'cause when I was talking to her she was in that mindset, okay, and so she's kind of averting her eyes and looking to the future a little bit. On the right hand side she's square on to me and just letting it all hang out. Bubbly, you guys nailed it. But you're also right. Each one of these images could work to illustrate a different facet of her. It's my job to identify who she is to others the most. So, I know you weren't there, you kinda had to be there, but for me it's the one on the far right. Okay. Number one? Number two? Number three? (laughs) Oh yeah! Oh, I love you guys. Okay. Let's talk about number three. Actually, let's back up and talk about number one. I would like you to tell me some emotions that you're feeling when you view number one. Go ahead. Sad. Okay. Is that because of his expression, you think? I feel like the lighting is dramatic, too. Right. Anybody else? I think for me the lighting doesn't quite work with number one, 'cause it's like, he's like in shadow or hiding something but when you look into his eye his eye doesn't look like he's hiding anything, or that there's a different personality at all. Exactly, yeah. So again, I share some of these that don't work so that you can see that light, you'll know it when you put it on there and you're like oh, this does not work, because he's a very telling person. What is it about number three that draws you to it? Yes, start here. The very slight tilt in his head. Thank you! It's so nuanced, right, but now you're looking and you're seeing it. We talked about just how, just the smallest difference from being straight up and down to just that, and what does tilting mean? Tilting means you're listening, you're engaged, you're opening your neck, you're being a little bit vulnerable. It is so nuanced, but it makes a huge difference, huge, especially when it's just you and them and the portrait. Do you mind just bringing you chin this way just a little bit, and then tilting your head. Good, now come back a little bit. Good, now rotate this way. These small, no, no, not so much, just real slow, real slow. Yeah, now come back. We're talking about hairline differences between here and here, can make all the difference about whether somebody's closed off or open, and that is, these are very, very subtle, but we unanimously picked the very last one solely because, and not just his chin angle, look at his shoulders. Straight, straight, angled. Straight, straight, angled. Ya'll seein' it? Good. We have a question? You want me to go back? Yeah. It's just that the tilt almost make him look like he's smiling, even if his mouth is in the exact same position, but because he's tilting it looks like he is smiling. That's a very good observation as well. Okay. We're gonna go a little faster, ya'll. One? Two? Three? Wow, that's pretty even across the board. Ya'll need to get together and conversate. Okay, so let's talk about, let's talk about the middle for instance. You can't hardly see his eyes, he's so in profile, and his upper eyelid is almost masking being able to see eye, so what is it about number two that draws you to it? There's a slight wrap around on his, like his expressions near his eyes Okay, so you can see his expression through that, despite that, okay. Do you think that his facial expression is in line with that posture? Let's break it down a little. His shoulder's up a little bit, so, maybe kind of leaning away a little bit? Okay. How about number three, those who like number three? All right you guys, somebody raised their hand for number three. I did not like number three very much, and it's mostly, I think the eyes are, I don't know, I feel like it's not really showing his when you separate the sides of the face, and so-- You nailed it, thank you for saying that, thank you so much, okay. We have two sides to our face, sort of the mullet as I was joking around earlier, your happy side and your sad side. If we look at him, that frontal face, it's actually really quite prevalent with his face. So, if we think about that the reason I positioned him in this 3/4 pose and then put the light on the short side just accentuating just slightly that sort of business side of him, this is how I saw him, definitely more business than party, okay, so I put his business side to camera and I used a low key, a little bit harder light, because the definition between the light and the shadow is definitely quite defined. So, with that, what makes, sorry, how does number one make you feel? When you walk into a, go ahead. You know, I feel like he's in charge and so I feel like I can relax 'cause he's gonna lead the way. Exactly. He was a military leader, he was a leader in business, a boss, and that's the airs in which he carried himself, and I'm not gonna fight that, I'm going to take a step back and really find a way to embrace that. The other two are nice pictures of an individual, they are not his personality. They're lit well, they are not his personality, so again, it comes back to what are we creating? We're creating other people's stories based off their personalities, watching body language and using the mood of light. To the left, anybody? To the right? Okay. I think that the left is an example of having him come in and getting to break the ice a little bit. For me, he's the kinda guy that just does not smile, and I'm not gonna force an emotion on somebody that doesn't happen frequently, if ever. This example on the left is actually in my opinion very over-lit, it's almost overpowering his personality, which is very subdued and very quiet, which is why I turned all the other lights off and just went with one. He's a simple man with simple emotions, and the mood should be simple too. First? Second? Third? You guys like the second, I like the second one too. And what is it? Is it the light, is it the gesture, is it the personality, or the combination of all of those? Combinations. Exactly. It's not over-lit, it's simple, he's genuinely smiling, genuinely engaged, his body posture is angled and open, his chin is up but not aggressive, and there's just something really coy about it, right? That's exactly who he is. I saw some faces change, there was leaks of emotion. (audience laughs) How about the left? The right? Let's talk about this seriously. We're gonna have a serious and genuine conversation, ya'll. If we talk about, have you seen the president, he, like, aged overnight. Think about President Obama, a young, vivacious man, coming into office, almost all dark hair. By the time he left, he was nearly white. Didn't he earn all those gray hairs through the work that he put in? Isn't that something telling about him as an individual in his life's experience? We earn the wrinkles we get through the trials and tribulations that we go through in our lives. We put so much emphasis on beauty, and looking beautiful, and being silky and smooth, and we overlook the story the lines are saying on our face. For me, I'm not gonna let my subjects look haggard, but I'm also not going to overdo it so much that it takes away from who they are and the wrinkles they earned, because that in itself is a story. If I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't choose either of these. Does that blow your mind? (laughs) Simply because, on the left, it's unflattering, we look at that and we say okay, the light position has basically amplified everything, and it's unforgiving, and she's a beautiful woman. But for me, the light on the right is almost disingenuous. She earned those wrinkles on her face from the life experience that she did and had. For me, on the right, it's too glamorous. If I could go back and shoot it again, and again, I have 10 minutes to make these critical choices, I sometimes don't call it right, I would've found a nice happy medium between those two. I do love the moment in her face on the right, which is why I'm drawn to it more than the left. However, both of these were two very different moments and two very different parts of our conversation and exchange. On the left she was talking about her military service, and obviously that's reflected in the stoic nature of her face. That said, it's also punctuated by the light as well. On the right, her gesture, her facial gesture matches that sort of glamorous light, is this making sense? Good. Who likes number one? Number two? Number three? Okay, so we had like one or two for one, the majority for number two, and maybe like one for number three. This is an example of how I would have shot the previous slide, that happy medium in the middle. Cool? On the left, anybody? On the right? Yes, so good. Okay, you guys are rockin' it. Just a little more complicated. On the left? On the right? Ooh, this is interesting. Okay, they're two very different people, are they not? Is the smile genuine? Is that what detracted you from it, you're saying it's not genuine, is that what detracted you from the left? I don't know. Did you like the left? I'm just not sure, actually. Okay, you're a little confused. Yeah, I'm not sure which one. Are you afraid this is a quiz and you're gonna get it wrong? Yeah, I don't wanna get a bad note. Okay. Would anybody like to share why they like one over another? Can we pass the mic back? I like the one on the right better, it just seems like she's more deep in thought and it's more genuine to her. Cool. What is it about the left that feels unnatural? It just feels posed, like just, you know, she's very nervous. Okay. So maybe that tense smile she's wearing, that fear in her mouth a little bit, and her brows are sort of tightened up-- Right, and no expression in her eyes, really. I mean, she's looking, but you don't feel that emotion. Right. But on the right you feel it more? Yeah, she's definitely, like, in a reflective mood or something. Right, good, okay. Number one? Number two? Ooh, okay, number three? Oh, all right. So, number one's off the table, it's not genuine at all. I think we're getting accustomed to seeing through personifications, right? You guys are getting so good at this. Now you're never gonna be able to overlook it, so when your friends give you that, you're gonna be like, come on, tell me the truth. And I love calling people out. But anyway, number two is, it's actually a genuine smile, he's engaging the muscles around his eyes and he's kind of trying to hold back a little bit, which is kinda cute, his body posture is nice, angled, chin up. But that, to me, wasn't necessarily a dominant portion of his personality. To me, number three was a little bit more telling. Two and three are close, and again, you're going to run into this for yourselves as photographers, where it's gonna be a tough decision for you. Both of these are facets of his personality, which one's more dominant?

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

The Foundations of Light (PDF)
The Accents of Light (PDF)

Ratings and Reviews

Julie V

I had the chance to sit in the audience and absolutely loved this class! First of all, Stacy is very funny and is really good at explaining and showing examples of the body language. I loved learning about how to read people faces and body to know more about them. And recommended the class to my husband who is a therapist for this reason. The other part of the class was so awakening, I never really thought about how having the wrong lighting for someone's personality would bring something off on the picture. Once again, Stacy was amazing at explaining why this lighting would work with one person and not another by showing us examples. If you want to bring your subject personality into life on photos, I highly recommend this class!

a Creativelive Student

This class is amazing! Stacy is an awesome person and listening to her teach and review the class concepts was so easy and fun and entertaining! It is jam packed with information on how to connect with talent and clients. Plus you get to see Stacy in action with subjects in the Demo and Shoot videos. I highly recommend this class! I learned so much and feel so much more comfortable and confident working with a variety of people now.

Jovi Jhash

wow, what an amazing class to learn from. you covered all from body language to storytelling and to reveal almost the true souls of the subjects through portraits. Amazing work and thank you so much, Stacy and creative live team. Stay blessed

Student Work