Five Tips for Better Studio Portraits by Tim Gibbons

Peggy Farren 2012-11-22

1. Safety! Let's talk safety. Nothing ends your studio session faster than burning your eyebrows off from an improperly discharged 1600 watt second power pack. I've seen it happen and it's not good. If you need a visual think Young Frankenstein's "It's ALIVE!"

Read and UNDERSTAND how your equipment works. All flashes, from speedlights to power packs, generate a bright burst of light from highly charged internal capacitors. I won't bore you with the engineering of this equipment but I will say, "when charged they hold a lot of juice!" Don't ever try to open up ANYTHING because you want to see if you can fix it. You can't. Don't try. Send it to someone who can.

Understand Photography Studio Model Shoot

2. Love the Big Light. I always ask my students what they consider "Big Light" to be. They all answer, the Sun. Nope. Wrong. The Sun is Small Light. Sure, if you were on Mercury it might be Big Light but here on Earth it is small. Big Light is, ideally, a light source bigger than the subject. A simple umbrella can be Big Light if used correctly. Don't place it 20 feet from your subject if you're trying to light someone's face. Move it up to their head. Point blank comes to mind. Big Light softens wrinkles and imperfections and adds big beautiful catch lights to the eyes.

3. Eyes are the door to the soul. That being said, always focus on a person's eyes. It doesn't matter if only one eye is in focus, or better yet, they have only one eye. Focus on the front eyeball and you will capture their soul.

Studio Lighting Photography Class

4. Mug shots are for criminals so don't pretend you are Dirty Harry. Always turn your subject slightly to avoid the straight-on-deer-in-the-headlight-look. Even a slight turn can slim down the figure and offer depth to the image. Lowering the forward shoulder adds the illusion that the sitter is engaging the viewer.

5. The back ground is there for a reason. Your job is to make the viewer understand your reasoning. As my wife often reminds me," Don't be unreasonable!" An overly busy background can distract from the subject while an overly simplistic one can leave your image lacking emotion. A high-paid executive in an Armani suit will seem a little out of place if put in front of a soft pink roll of seamless paper. However, lying down on a floor covered in money may convey playfulness, it may not be the personality you wish to reveal from someone who has such high financial responsibilities. The final image is your story. Just make sure you are using the correct words.

With any art form, breaking the rules is not only part of the creative process but also necessary to keep yourself ahead of the pack. Please, by all means, be creative, discover and experiment. Just don't bend them so far you go beyond your limits, the limits of your equipment or the limits of your subject.

Happy shooting. - Tim Gibbons Tim Gibbons Photography

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Peggy Farren is an award winning, professional photographer, instructor, writer and speaker.

With over 17 years as a full-time professional photographer, Peggy offers photography training through her training center, “Understand Photography”.

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