Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Learning" : A Simple Ambient Light Portrait

A Simple Ambient Light Portrait
Here is a black and white portrait. Let’s analyze the picture
(By -Rohinton Mehta)
The subject looks comfortable and the head is slightly tilted (as it should be). The eyes are not parallel to the top of the frame. This follows an unwritten guideline that an imaginary line running across the center of the eyes shall not run parallel to the top of the frame. Observe the shoulders, slightly tilted to one side. This too is a      
fundamental point to consider when posing your subject. Hands play an important part in posing. Observe how nicely the fingers are clasped. Check out the distance between the top of the head and the frame – not too much, not too little.
Note: Generally, you place the subject at a slight angle to the camera. In this case the author has taken care that the subject’s head is slightly turned and not directly facing the camera.

Camera Position and Lens:
Generally we align the camera at the subject’s eye level, as done here. A higher camera position would have shown more of his balding head, which could be considered wrong. A lower camera position would have placed more emphasis on his clasped hands.
It is important to use the right focal length for the lens. The choice here is perfect. A wider lens used closer to the subject would have made the hands appear larger, which of course would be wrong, unless you were trying for some special effect. The hands are slightly away from the chin and look perfectly natural.

This is an ambient light portrait (though you could replicate the lighting using just one light in a studio, as mentioned later).
Defused day light is from the right of the camera position and is coming down at around 45 degree to the subject. The angular light has cast a soft shadow of the nose, and has also caused the needed highlighted triangle under the subject’s right eye. A large white reflector was placed on the subject’s right to “fill-in” the shadow side of the face. How close or how far you hold this reflector determines the illumination on the shadow side.
If this was studio set-up:
If this was a studio set-up, you would place the (key) light in a similar fashion. With studio light you have to try and simulate the ambient lighting you see in nature. Since you cannot physically change the position of the sun, you change the position of the subject in relation to the sun. With studio lighting – that is, when using artificial lights, the distance between the key light and the subject is very important. If this light is too close, you could lose the specular quality; if too far, the highlights could diminish. Hence, the correct distance is achieved by trial and error while observing the lighting through camera position. Another point to bear in mind with artificial lighting is to try and use “feathered” lighting; that is, set the light in such a way that the edge of the light is used rather than the central area. This is the preferred method of portrait masters as it provides a better modelling to the face.
 The idea is to let the viewer’s eyes concentrate on the main part of the subject- the eyes and face. To achieve this, you can use a dark background and use a second light on the background that would separate the subject from the background. Alternately, if you are using only one light, you can darken the corners during printing as done here. This forces the viewer’s eyes to gaze on the subject’s face.
Observe also the subject is wearing white clothes. White tones draw your attention towards them, and so to avoid that, the white clothes have also been toned down (made to look grey) during printing.

The final presentation is as important as whatever else goes into the making of a picture. A thin white stroke, along with a thicker black border not only stops your attention from wandering out of the frame, it also adds a touch of elegance to the final product.

-- Rohinton Mehta

(Technical Editor-Smart Photography)

(Article courtesy: Smart Photography, December-2010)


  1. Very enlightening article Pankaj ji.
    Also the memories of our late friend Shri Gopal Sharma.

  2. Classic,nicelyframed portrait sir& super usage of light

  3. Very Interesting article and superb image!!!
    Thanks for sharing :-)
    Chandan D.N.Gaonkar

  4. Lovely portrait and the educative postmortem by Mr.Rohinton Mehta.
    B.K. Agrawal