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Tailer Your Light

Lesson 31 from: Powerful Portraits using Body Language and Lighting

Stacy Pearsall

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Lesson Info

31. Tailer Your Light


Lesson Info

Tailer Your Light

Now, what we're going to discuss is taking all of these foundations and accents and looking at the variety and seeing just how diverse, just as body language is, that light language is. With each and every individual, you're not going to have one canned light per person. I don't operate that way and I tell you that I only use about 10 to 15 minutes per person, I have a lot of decisions to make. It would be a lot easier if I just threw up some Rembrandt light and a reflector and went to town on each and every person, but I'm not doing them any justice. It's not about me. It's about them. Taking this into account, I'm going to tailor all those foundational lights and accents that I talked about to create a mood and a language that best amplifies their personality and persona. I had a young woman come in. She's a former Marine who now switched to doing yoga. She's a yoga instructor and that was really important part of her life and she kinda gave up being, nobody ever gives up being a Mar...

ine, once a Marine always a Marine, they'll say that again and again, however, it was nice to see that she had this side of her. And I was like, well, how can we say that she has this agility, but yet (sighs) just stature that every Marine does that carries from her personality into what she's doing. And just look at that grace. How am I going to create light that works best for her? So I decided to go with this high key background, so that it's almost angelic, almost as if she's floating in the picture. And then I put, made sure her face stayed in shadow because I wanted to just have this profile of her. And then throwing a rim light on there just to catch that line along the side. You may not have light it, lit it, light it? You may not have light it (chuckles). You may not have lit it the same way I did, but that's what I chose. And again, split lighting's really good for somebody who has a little bit of mystery, a little bit of dual personality and as you can see, look at the difference in his face. I didn't go into this when I first showed this example, but now I'm going to. We talked about, whoo! Balance issue, just a second. We talked about how people have two sides of their face. If you look at him here, happy go lucky. If we look at him here, do you see the difference? Not only is it just in shadow, which sends a message through light language, but that duality in one space, the happy side is lit, his more business side is in the dark. Everybody with me? Cool. So, I used clamshell and hair light on her. The hair light isn't necessarily falling on hair. Again, you don't have to have hair to use hair light. It's just kind of adding a little separation. More importantly, it's adding separation on her neck and shoulders. When we're talking about rim light? If it's falling on a face, you're still going to refer to it in those sort of foundational classes. This light is falling on the short side of his face, creating loop light. It's hard light. Hard loop light falling on the short side, creating this rim. So, imagine if he's facing towards you. Short side, shadow's falling here for a loop, but I'm photographing from here. Is that making sense? So I could put paramount, rim, does that make sense? So, it's paramount classic style. I'm shooting from his profile. It's now creating a rim, a paramount rim, okay? So anyway, you can see that on the back side, had I left no light coming from the front, we would lose a lot of information. And something that he feels is a big part of his persona, the flag of his nation and also what made him an American citizen, his time in service. So that to me was a critical aspect of his story and as a portrait journalist, I wouldn't be doing him justice leaving that information out. I don't want it to overpower what's most important, which is him and his personality. However, I'm just gonna pop a little fill, so that I can see it without it being overpowering. Lastly, this is a Rembrandt, you see it? Now, he's facing front and I analyze that face again. Kinda dour on that side. Happy side. Dour side. But what I got was, he had a sense of duality as well. What was I going to focus mainly on? He had small leakage of emotion, which is that what I captured here. Majority of the time, he's the kind of guy that says, "I don't smile." (audience laughs) And that's the smile right there. (audience laughs) Is it a genuine one? How do you know? The crow's feet give it away. Yup, his eyes are engaged in it, correct. Okay. So Mr. Self-Soothing here, I chose to turn him away as he is more of an introvert, definitely quiet. He was like trying to peel layers back from an onion, like really had to work for it. But you can see that in talking with him, we were talking about his brother, and his brother had also served in the military and he was sort of reflecting back on that information. His chin is down in a sort of reflective pose, not necessarily just vulnerable, but he's self-soothing, he's feeling a little uncomfortable, he's averted away, chin's down, eye direction is where? Averted down, correct. So all of these things tend to have a more low-key approach, which is why I chose to go almost all dark with the exception of popping a paramount rim. And then I wanted to make sure I accentuated that self-soothing by having a rim light on that left side. This making sense? Is that smile genuine? Well thought, yes no? No it's not. This is a combination of clamshell and hatchet. She had this beautiful hair flowing underneath a ball cap So I was like, I had this conundrum. How do I showcase her sort of masculine and feminine at the same time? And I got that from her persona, really, a little bit like me. Look at her hands. What are her hands saying? Leave me alone? Why, microphone please. You and I are gonna have a talk. (audience laughs) So you think her hands are together, she's saying? [Female Audience Member] Well, she looks anxious, I guess. Okay, anxious. How tightly bound are her hands? I'm kinda like, bad in my throat. They are pretty close together. Kinda like tight. So, when someone's fingers are together, they're feeling a little tension? Maybe a little like don't really quite comfort in that. What else is this position telling you? She's creating a barrier? So what is, oh no yeah grab that microphone. Well, yeah it looks like she's kinda protecting herself a little bit with the barrier and kind of not showing her neck. I mean, I know there's a scarf there, but that side. Right, so she's kind of blocking right? She's blocking? Her head is, her head is resting on hand, which means that she's what? Allegedly engaged? (audience laughs) There is a lot of mixed messages going on in this a lot so, the reason I chose a mixture of lights, I wanted to show this fine line in her personality. I wasn't gonna get a genuine smile. No matter how hard I tried. And complete and utter candor, there are some that that is their personality. They're not going to reveal themselves to you. And the reason I'm sharing this is because we're gonna face that over the course and you can't get discouraged by that. You can't let one in set the tone for the rest of the shoots that you have. You just have to embrace. I talked in a prior segment about energy and how when we encounter somebody who has an energy that doesn't jibe with us, it can shift our energy. What you want to do is take control of that energy and shift it the other way around. So, I did my best to create light. I used hatchet to not only separate from the background, but also to catch highlights on her hair and almost kind of have this sort of flowy look to it, but I also did just a straightforward light because I wanted, I wanted to show it all. Everything about it. I didn't wanna hide much. And then I just wanted to let all of her non verbal speak to the situation. Okay. Let's talk about low-key, hard light, does not mean harsh, correct? So we've got some short Rembrandt. Now his nose is a little bit on the smaller stature side, which is why that shadow casts a little bit differently. Rim light to catch, but he's not wearing a shirt (giggles). But also fill, just a little pop forward, so that we can see his motorcycle jacket, so that we can read the tattoos on his skin. But I also kept the majority of his face and shadow because he had a tendency to avert his eyes. Not feeling comfortable in this situation. So imagine this particular gentleman talking, recalling his time in conflict and it being painful. Yesterday, when we talked about eyes, for instance, we said that when somebody closes their eyes, what are they doing? Blocking conversation, they're blocking emotion, they're blocking thought and memory. So knowing that he averted his eyes and he did that, rather than force him to do something he's not, or be someone he's not, I'm going to embrace that in my photo shoot, create light that best amplifies that and embrace it. When I thought about how I was going to incorporate his personality, I knew that I wanted to, how's he standing? An air of confidence, right? Almost an air of like utter self confidence. His legs, which you can't see, but you can kind of tell are in the sort of open position, which means what? Almost aggressive maybe? Stand your ground? So, it's strange right? From here down is completely different from here up. However, I knew that I'm going to take who he was, which is that neck down. Military man, Battle hardened man, to who he is now, a human who has experienced some inhumane experiences, it's very revealing, and try and combine both of those. Is this making sense? When you saw this image, is that the kind of message you got? I kind of gave it away now, but. Okay, what is this, before I give you away the story, what do you think about this particular situation? This gentleman. What can you tell me about him? Grab a microphone. Anybody. To me it looks like he has an easy time making light of any situation kinda he can laugh it all off. He's been through a lot. Let's break it down piece by piece. You said he looks like a happy go lucky guy that could just brush anything off. What was it about this that said that? Well, he's got a nice little smirk, like he probably just got done telling a story and could kinda laugh about it. It looks like that's the kind of moment you got. Okay, good. What else? The twinkle in the eye. The twinkle in the eye. Isn't he the sweetest? Okay, now you said there was something about his, you think he had some sort of life's experience. Let's elaborate on that just a little bit. What was it about the actual portrait itself or the mood of the lighting that made you come to that conclusion. Well, I was talking in particular, I guess about his facial expressions. He just, I don't know, he reminds me of just kind of an older gentleman that can, I don't know, look back on life in a positive way rather than look back on life in a negative way. And then, yeah, now that we're talking about lighting today, it looks like you took that energy and applied it to the light and you, you got a nice, yeah. Okay. On the sides with the hatchet. I like your observations. Does anybody else have anything else to add? [Female Audience Member] He looks to me like he's satisfied with his life. Satisfied, oh that's a nice observation. I would say that that's what I got from him too. That he was just kind of tickled pink about everything. And he came in full uniform, from head to toe, covered up boots and I was a little bit thrown by that, but what he constantly had was a smile the whole time. I had a lot of decisions to make. Is this hard or soft light? [Female Audience Member] Medium? Medium? (audience laughs) Okay. And what's the foundation light on it? [Female Audience Member] Rembrandt? It's pretty close to a Rembrandt. It's not quite connecting. He is full front. It's sort of a modified between a loop and a Rembrandt, sort of right on the cusp. Is it hard or soft? Did we say? We said it was medium. You guys are so non committal. (audience laughs) Okay. Is there a hard line on the shadows? No. Maybe here, but it's quite soft. Charlie's snoring. It's actually, it's actually, you guys are so good. You're right. It's a modification of both because what had happened is that I've used hard light, but I pushed fill into it to soften the shadows. So, it's kind of in this medium realm. He is a man who has had a ton of life's experiences, World War II veteran. I put a hatchet on him because I wanted to accentuate this sort of past with the present. Again, I'm really sort of philosophical that way. Y'all don't have to embrace my way, that's just how I like to do it and I used hard light from the front, pushed a little bit of fill into the shadows to soften it so, you can still see a little bit of a hard light happening here, but it's soft enough on that grin that we can see a little of that duality. And short side loop. This is one light only, right? Paramount and hair light. I'm just gonna fly through these 'cause I think you're getting the concept, right? Remember I said that you can have any number of combinations of lights. So you can have multiple accent lights and you're only ever gonna have one foundational light. You can modify that foundational light to be on the cusp of one or the other, that's okay. Just try and make it thoughtful. Be thoughtful in how you're approaching that light and why you're doing it. Again, it's not about making just pretty light on people for the sake of making pretty light on people. You wanna use the mood of the light to accentuate the personality. So, here is this absolutely amazing woman. Fighter pilot from the Navy, kind of a soft edge about her as well. So, here she's in this very masculine uniform and she has a masculine air about her, but I can see the femininity as well and I kinda wanted to embrace a little bit of both. This is loop clamshell. So, I've got the light here. It's not quite connecting on the cheek, so it's not Rembrandt, but then I wanted to make sure that I'm accentuating what he feels is an important part. Again, empowering our subjects to let me know who they are. I'm going to kick a little light up underneath call the clamshell and accentuate what he thinks is important, are his medals. This is paramount, hatchet lighting. She's hilarious. She likes to knit. It's like her therapy for herself and I'm like well okay, why don't you just grab your most recent knitting project, have a seat and just go to town and work on that. So, here she is knitting and through talking with her and watching her, I find again, duality. This, so many two sides to us, many layers of our personalities and we can embrace all of those. It doesn't have to be one dimensional. Especially like our light. Broad, rim, and fill. Okay. So, I'm lighting on the broad side of the face, that's the face nearest to camera. You can see that he's a tall, sort of narrow fella, so broad lighting's okay in this instance. Throwing a rim light on the other side and then filling in the shadows. I don't necessariLy want it to be too dramatic. And then lastly, a pretty straightforward clamshell. I wanna make sure that each and every one of you know that there isn't a right or wrong answer. Each and every one of us would never photograph a subject the same. Just because we interpret the world around us differently and we also, while body language is universal and we have those cues, we may read into cues differently as well. People come to us for our style and our view on the world as photographers, right? So we all have our own unique perspective. Embrace that part. You don't, these tips that I'm giving you are just that. These are what I've learned over the course of my 20 years and hopefully you'll take and embrace these tips into the work that you're doing in a thoughtful way and just really take it up to another level. And always be you. At the end of the day, no matter whether we share the same vision or not, it's about the subject, it's not about you. It's about the subject, not about you. I had a question about some of the profile shots that you get. So, it looked like in the demo earlier that, you know, you, sorry what was, Rick? Rick, yeah. So, when you sat Rick down and then you decided to switch to the profile shot, is that because you recognized in the beginning that there was some eye aversion or do you look for eye aversion and then choose to move someone to profile? 'Cause just sitting someone down profile, right off the bat, you know, Yeah. How does that work? No, the profile really has nothing to do with eye aversion. The profile has to do with one's body posture. So, we talked about the different angles, remember? We talked about in the previous segment about how we angle our body toward people. If we come straight on and direct, we have a more aggressive approach, a more dominant approach. If we angle ourselves even ever so slightly. Even if it's just our hips, it's more welcoming, more open. If we are turned completely away, we're either feeling a little disengaged, we're feeling a little tense, we're kind of averting, maybe introvert. It isn't a negative thing. This is all personality driven. But, if I'm turned completely away, however, that means I'm ready to head for the door. So for me, profile position is just amplifying a part of somebody's personality that is a little bit more introspective and maybe even has an air of pride. To me, that's a pride position and it's not something that I turn immediately to. It's after talking to them because I want to be engaging my subject, the minute I put them into a profile position, it's almost disengaging body-wise. I don't want to go right into that 'cause I'm literally turning my subject away from me and physically disengaging them from me. I wanna save that for, I wanna build up to that because the minute I pivot their body away, they're going back into their own thoughts. Did you feel that that happened to you? I think a little, but I didn't lose the connection with you at all. Good. It was fine. Right, but essentially when I do turn people, I'm definitely aware that that disconnection could happen. If I'm doing my job right and establishing that relationship first, we can maintain a thread of connection, which is why I don't immediately go to profiles.

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