(The author was a legend into the field of pictorial photography. He had mastery over the art of portraiture. He departed to heavenly above in December-2014)
The aim of a photographer in a portrait is to envision, capture and communicate whatever beauty, strength and worthiness of character his or her subject possesses. The crucial factor in capturing the character of the subject is the rapport between the photographer and the subject.
A pictorial photographer does not aim and end only to idealize his subject as a professional portraitist would do, but attempts to create a character study – a physio-psycho analysis of the subject.
In pictorial portraiture, good technique is an absolute necessity; so also good composition, which is achieved through intelligent elimination.
A good portrait is the end result of careful observance, thought and planning to bring out the personality of the subject and the environment by imaginative interpretation, creative composition and effective use of lighting.
Nature has given us sun as the main source of light producing infinite effects - offers innumerable combinations of lighting - direct sunlight, sunlight with reflected light to fill the shadows or diffused sunlight with reflected light as a key source.
Direct sunlight is very harsh, but is capable of giving striking texture. The quality of sunlight is recognized by its shadow sharpness as also by the highlight acuteness. The direct concentrated rays of the sun1 produce small acute highlights, while sun covered by thin clouds2 or fog acts as broad light source producing broad highlights and soft shadows.
An overcast day3 is conducive in creating portraits of pensive or meditative mood. The handsomest light of all for well-modeled, soft-edged shadowy portraiture is semi-misty sunlight diffused through continuous haze or high clouds – at once brilliant and soft.
On clear days, brilliant sunlight can be softened when filtered through a net or a translucent plastic stretched on a large wooden frame4. This in combination with reflected fill-in light makes for ideal control of outdoor light. The best reflector of all is a broad, chalk-white board or some white fabric large enough to throw an enveloping light over the entire subject. When the sunlight is strong and a diffusing screen is not handy, it is possible to place the subject in shade and direct sunlight from a reflector as a dominant source.
On an overcast sky or in the shade on a bright day, flashlight can take over the role of main light source thus brightening up a flat-lit subject. When the sun is the main light source, flashlight can be a very good fill-in.
Under studio conditions, the key light positioning is usually adjusted to the most favorable presentation of the subject. But photography outdoors requires skillful adjustment of the subject to meet the demands of already established lighting conditions.
(A) Available Light:
Window Light is both soft and moderately directional producing good modeling, in a room with a single window the lighting is so one sided that it creates deep shadows - a `fill-in' reflector5 or artificial light as `fill-in' becomes essential. The softness of light will also depend on the size of the window or its distance from the subject. It is better if the window is a large one than a small one. A north aspect is better than south and an east better than west. A workable arrangement in taking portraits by window light can be set up in a light coloured room that has windows at right angles6 fairly close to each other in its corner. The background can be a wall or a board painted off-white on one side and dark gray on the other. The light coming through the nearer window could act as main/key light and light from the other window plays the role of fill-in.
Reflected light9 has the softest and broadest quality of all and is obtained by turning the lights on to a matt white reflecting surface instead of directly on to the sitter. Its soft quality suits women and children admirably and it can be used for soft shadow less high-key effects.
While placing of the main light, observe the quality of light and modelling, is influenced by the light's distance from the subject. Watching from camera position, the formation of highlights on the forehead, bridge of nose, brows, upper parts of the cheeks and chin determine the distance of this light from the face. A movement of a few inches away from the subject has a considerable effect on the gradation of tones. A light too near burns out all the delicate half tones while too far away gives a flat weak look. For every face, there is a point, which gives the best result - sheen and texture of the skin.
If we have a strong, full of character, male subject, it is logical to have a strong modelling to emphasize his character and this demands low-key lighting and maximum modelling. Pictures full of shadow or darkness (low key pictures) have a greater tendency to create emotional effects than those lighting compositions, which consists predominantly of light and subtle middle tones (high key pictures). Low-key lighting is most effective with a dark background and a dark skinned model with rugged features.
As per general perception, highlights on forehead, nose, cheeks and chin seem to protrude these lighted areas of the face while the parts of the face and neck in the shadow to recede. This tends to create third dimensional telling effect. The best form rendering of a three dimensional object is achieved by a light which meets the line of camera vision at an angle between 45o and 90o.
The sole function of fill-in light is to illuminate the shadows; the fill-in light is diffused and placed closer to the camera at lens level and on the side of lens opposite that of the main light. The distance between the fill-in and the subject is adjusted to bring out the effect and contrast desired.
Contrast is difference in the amount of light of ‘main’ that falls on highlight of face and the amount of light (as enhanced by fill-in) falls on shadow side of face. Human eye can see a wide range of contrast, while film/digital sensors can cope up with and record comparatively limited range of contrast. Thus latitude of film/digital sensors dictates the photographer that while positioning the ‘main’ and ‘fill-in’ should not exceed range of contrast (Lighting Ratio), that can be recorded by film/digital sensors – expose to strike appropriate balance between highlights and shadows.
Light ratio is the difference between degrees of brightness of ‘main’ and ‘fill-in’ lights. If the ‘main’ light is twice as bright as the ‘fill-in’, the ratio is 2:1 – an exposure factor of 2 equal to one stop of exposure, i.e. increase exposure by one stop allowing in twice the amount of light. A 3:1 ratio would be a stop and half; 4:1 would be a two stops difference. To arrive at the ratio just multiply or divide by 2. To determine the exposure difference in a ratio of 5:1 divide it by 2. It is 2 ½ stops. A 2 ½ stops difference between the lights multiplied by 2 will be 5 – ratio of 5:1.
Definition of appropriate lighting ratio is very subjective. Following chart shows the most common lighting ratios with exposure differences and how those lighting ratios
The flash should not be bounced too steeply upwards producing a bright circle of light directly above the subject. This acts as a top lighting, casting shadows in eye sockets and tending to emphasize wrinkles and warts.
Background Light10: Background light's purpose is to help provide tonal separation between the subject and the background. The background light is placed between the subject and the background and its exact placement will depend on the effect desired. The light should be covered by the subject's body and in no case seen by the camera lens.
Hair Light11: Head is frequently highlighted by a light from behind or the side, never over the hair into a small hard patch.
(A) Natural Light:
While photographing against natural background, whether indoors, at home or outdoors, keep it as simple as possible.
Alternatively, a medium or dark grey blanket12 stretched taut and free from creases can be used as a background and the desired tone can be achieved by regulating the direction of sunlight on the blanket.
(B) Indoor Available/Artificial:
It is advisable to use a plain background - a white or off white wall or a board13 7 ft. x 5 or 6 ft. painted matt so that it does not create glare or highlights. Tone variations can be introduced by background light.
Middle and light tone backgrounds seem more effective with a variation in their tones. Dark backgrounds produce a somber pensive mysterious feeling while light ones create a happy ethereal dreamy mood.
The posing seat 14 can be - approximately 20 inches high.
Nearly everybody (except the very young) is self- conscious in front of the camera. One of the photographer's main tasks is to make the subject feel at ease and create a rapport, which results in the kind of expression one wishes to capture. Asking the subject to moisten the lips will help not only to relax the muscles of the mouth but will also add lustre to the lips.
Nothing looks more boring than the straightforward view. The first step, therefore, is placing the posing seat at an angle before the subject arrives. Seat the subject and get him or her to turn the head towards the camera but not full face. The body leaning a little forward from the waist towards the camera will make the pose more active and will give a feeling of alertness. The picture appears much more free, easy and livelier if the head is turned slightly to the left or right. For mood depicting picture, it is usually advisable to have face and eyes pointing away from the lens.
The mouth is a very mobile expressive feature capable of conveying the whole range of feelings. Hands can be as expressive and communicative as the face and can form an interesting and revealing part of a picture. The hands play a crucial role by their position in relation to the head to give balance to the composition. Let the subject hold something suitable – handbag, fan, spectacles, book, etc.
A good child-picture is seldom posed. The un-self-conscious and unprompted child gives infinite variety of poses exhibiting expressions of wonder, liveliness, surprise, innocence, etc. Success with children hinges on tactful and sympathetic interaction to their ever fleeting moods and fancies. Too much of direction can over-awe a carefree child to be self-conscious, afraid and un-cooperative.
Every human face has certain peculiarities of feature. However, while making a pictorial portrait, one can make use of these. Even very ordinary features have some angles that are more pleasing than others – emphasize them. To make the best of what is in front of the camera, slight adjustment of head and camera has its effect on the features. A long nose looks longer if the head is tilted down; a short nose looks shorter if the head is raised. A broad nose looks broader if taken full front to the camera with shadow-less lighting. Turning it sideways and putting part of it in shadow seemingly reduces its width. Avoid having the tip of the nose coincide with the contour of the cheek or project only slightly beyond it.
For head-and-shoulders portrait keep optical axis of the lens at the height of the subject’s lips and tip of the nose. By placing a camera slightly lower the level of eyes of the subject apparently adds to his height and dignity. Raise the camera above the center of the face to help elongate the nose, narrow the chin, reduce fullness of the jaws, or broaden the forehead. Lower the camera if it is advisable to shorten the nose, reduce the width and height of the forehead, or accentuate the chin and neck. Long neck requires a high viewpoint to make it appear shorter. Hair will make the face appear longer if curved over cheeks or combed off forehead.
The photographer studies closely the features of face of the subject, to make a “living” portrait by not only idealizing but, if need be, by emphasizing the facial oddities. To create ‘character study’ the pictorial photographer attempts to depict subject’s characteristic likeness by judiciously combining: (a) proper posing, (b) effective lighting and (c) instinctively positioning of camera appropriately.
Finally, a good portrait is that which captures some individualism in the subject. It is a consciously created image of the subject. The personality of the sitter, the environment, the composition, and the choice and quality of lighting all contribute to the final result.
Portraiture: Helpful Tips on Corrective Steps
The primary goal in portrait photography is to possibly present the subject in a favorable manner. It is rare to find in an individual some one or more aspects, which will not provide an agreeable and interesting portrait. Watch for and find by turning him from full face to profile and capture it.
The problem is combining the pose, lighting, and camera viewpoint to show the subject to best advantage. Because the photogenic qualities of each person's face vary, certain corrective techniques in posing, lighting, and camera heights can be used to improve the quality of the portrait. Changing the camera viewpoint, combined with proper lighting and pose, can create amazing alteration in the pictured appearance of any face.
The following corrective techniques can be used to correct common problems. A challenge to the portraitist occurs when the subject's facial structure requires employing more than one of these corrective measures and procedures at the same time. The best remedy may often be to use only the most effective of the two. While making a ‘pictorial’ portrait one may wish to make use of one or more of these irregularities.
Face has lengthening appearance when it is lowered
Double Chins and Heavy/Round Face
Avoid low camera angles.
Shoot three-quarter view, light side of face away from camera. Use three-quarter or side lighting
To make Face appear wider
Hair low on forehead
To make Face appear longer
Hair combed off forehead
Oval Face with a weak Chin
Turn the head until the far ear is totally hidden.
Shield light from exposed ear. Blend ear into background
Avoid high camera angles.
Use low-camera viewpoint. Use three-quarter or side lighting. Apply dark makeup to tip of nose
Turn head to one side so makeup is not apparent. Position modeling light high to cast shadows at ends of lips
Poor or Crooked Teeth
Include poses with a pensive, closed mouth expression.
Reassess the teeth under various lighting angles, looking for protrusive and uneven teeth.
Lazy or Weak Eye
Deep Set Eyes
Looking up slightly
Avoid high ratio lighting.
Large or protruding Eyes
Deep set Eyes
Bags under Eyes
Cross Eyed or defective Eye
Light side of face toward camera to place other eye in shadow
Glasses and Eye-wear
Use high front, three-quarter, or side lighting to eliminate reflections
Raise the temple piece up slightly to angle lenses down tilt head downward
Tilt the glasses and raise the earpieces slightly above ears (the ear pieces can be hidden into the long hair of the subject).
Shoot full-face pose to prevent lenses from splitting cheek line. Use indirect diffused lighting.
Removal of lenses from the frames may also be helpful.
Turn bad side of face from camera. Apply makeup to a pimple or sore spot.
-- K. G. Maheshwari