Lighting, Posing, Composition, It’s all or nothing!

I often hear students and young photographers discussing which is more important in the creation of a portrait, lighting, posing or composition?  While a hobbyist, or person that creates portraits for fun has the luxury of having strengths and weaknesses or just completely avoiding one of these three vital areas of a professional portrait, when you accept money to create a professional portrait that really isn’t an option.

Go out on any Saturday or Sunday to a local park and you will see herds of picture takers that don’t have a clue about lighting.  I recently saw one young photographer `showing the ropes` to an even younger photographers about the skill of lighting the face in direct sun in the middle of the day.  I guess I missed that course in college!  Lighting makes the difference between a photograph/snapshot and a portrait!  You have to be able to see the light, it’s direction, intensity and characteristic and know how all of  that will translate in the portrait.  You must be able to tell when you can use natural light, when you must add to the natural light to make it usable and when you must replace the natural light completely.  You must know what tools to use to create the most natural and beautiful lighting.  Notice I didn’t say which one was easiest!  Any bone-head can use a TTL flash outdoor and create wedding`ish looking snap shots, but when you are creating portraits you must have a professional lighting.

Inside the studio, you must master lighting from many types of lighting sources.  I don’t mean using different sizes of light boxes, but different types of lighting styles that produce different looks.  From traditional studio lighting, to more glamorous styles, you must have the knowledge of what to do with the equipment you have.  So many young photographers invest thousands in the “right equipment”  (whatever that is) and invest practically nothing in the knowledge of how to use it.  By the looks of their portraits, the would have been better off with an old digital camera, and a light bulb in a card board box, with a sheet over the end to diffuse the light and investing their money and time on what to do with that cheap light.

Posing is a problem area for many photographers, which has given way to the “hey…go stand over there” style of posing.  You must control the pose or control the situation in which the subject will be interacting in.  Candid, doesn’t mean crap!  Candid photography that looks like a snap shot has the same value as those snap shots that Uncle Harry does at home!  Posing requires professional direction, relying on your subject ability to recall the poses from episodes of Top Model isn’t really what a professional does.  You must know how to arrange the human body to achieve the look you want.  You can have perfect lighting, but if the pose makes the subject look uncomfortable you have just created crap that won’t sell and since a professional likes to get paid, you have just wasted your time and the client’s, as well as further driving down the public perception of professional photographers!

Composition requires you to understand posing because the two work together.  You pose for the composition and compose to the pose and both require you to think and plan before you ever pick up a camera.  It is known fact that photographers are capable of complex thought (well at least some), however studies show that brain activity is reduced by 75% once a camera is placed into their hands.  OK….I made that up, there is no such study, but you watch photographers and you have to believe it’s true.  When they pick up a camera it’s like watching Rambo with a machine gun in his hands with two guys in front of him….”why use two bullets when the gun holds 250?”  The problem is that you have to edit and deal with all those extra images, which is a huge waste of time….not smart for a business person.

The basic idea here is that you should plan everything about the image you area creating before you ever pick up the camera.  I don’t care if you are working at a wedding or with a child, you have to know the direction of light, the pose or interaction you are wanting to capture in a workable composition.  You have to see or envision the image in your mind before you ever pick up the camera.  The camera only captures what your mind has created.  The line between crap and art is found in the area from one ear to another!

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on April 4, 2011.

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