Monthly Archives: April 2013

Portrait photography: finding the front light

In my previous post “Portrait photography: before and after pictures”, I showed the difference studio lighting can make in a portrait.
But the lighting equipment used to take these photographs is quite heavy and cumbersome, and hence it is not always practical to carry along.
The good news is that it is possible to find natural light settings that are also very flattering to women.
For example, one needs to look for something to block the light coming from above,  because that light produces dark eyes, sometimes referred to as ‘racoon eyes’. The model then can face the direction the light is coming from. This front lighting is similar to the kind of lighting used in the beauty studio lighting set up, and works very well for women.
A few weeks back, I did a portfolio shoot for Beth, who is represented by Superior Model Management in Glasgow. The shoot presented the perfect opportunity to use this kind of light.
We went to the Meadows park, Edinburgh, and the pic below shows the location where the shoot took place. The roof perfectly blocks the light coming from above, and thus one gets soft light coming from the sides.

The Meadows, Edinburgh

The roof blocks the light coming from above, preventing the ‘raccoon’ eyes

I simply had my model Beth face the direction of the light, and the resulting portraits are shown below.

Portrait of Model with soft fromt light

Beth from Superior Model Management, Glasgow

Beth from Superior Model Management, Glasgow

Beth from Superior Model Management, Glasgow

Portrait of Model

Beth from Superior Model Management, Glasgow

This location allows one to take nice portrait photographs on a sunny or cloudy day, which is wonderful since the weather around Edinburgh can be a tad temperamental….




Portrait photography: before and after pictures

When I was a graduate student, my PhD supervisor would put various scientific articles people sent him prior to publication in my physics department mailbox (that was before the days of online publishing!). The articles covered many topics in physics, most of which were outside of my area of specialization. But my brain was constantly fed new information and inspiration, and I found it both productive and enjoyable. So I’ve kept looking for new information and inspiration ever since, from as many sources as possible.

I find Sydney based portrait photographer Sue Bryce very inspirational, from both the personal and professional standpoint. Sue’s beautiful photographs of women of all ages show what can be achieved with good posing, lighting, hair and makeup. In order to demonstrate the value she gave her clients, she started posting before/after shots on her website.

In a recent personal project in collaboration with the Evolution 10 hair salon in Cameron Toll, Edinburgh, I decided to try my own version of the before/after concept of portrait photography, to see for myself what could be achieved with proper lighting.

Portrait Photography, Chloe's before and after pictures

Chloe’s before and after portraits

Portrait Photography, Natasha's before and after pictures

Natasha’s before and after portraits

The shoot took place at the Cameron Toll shopping centre in Edinburgh. In the ‘before’ picture, the models don’t have any makeup, their hair is not styled, and the photograph was taken with whatever available light there was at the shopping mall. The models then had their hair and makeup done, and their ‘after’ photograph was taken with proper studio lighting. The lighting set up I used goes by the name of ‘beauty lighting’ and really makes women shine.


Image making vs image taking


The above image of actor/musician/composer/friend Jim Bryce is one of my most popular photographs to date.

As an actor, Jim had to have standard actor head shots taken every so often. He called them ‘mugshots’. Needless to say that he didn’t like the idea of another ‘mugshot’ for this project. Anything but, in fact.

So we set out to find concepts for photographs that would better suit Jim’s personality. There is a significant difference between taking a picture and making one. The making of a photograph requires some planning and thought. Jim and I had a number of conversations about it, trying to think of as many ideas and concepts as possible.

I no longer remember precisely how Liu Bolin came into our conversation. He might have been in the news at the time. In any event, Liu Bolin is a Chinese artist who can paint himself to blend in any background. He provided the inspiration for the above photograph. We didn’t want Jim to completely blend in the background, like Liu Bolin does, but to appear to come out of it.

Since Jim is an avid book reader, we thought it would be appropriate for him to appear to come out of his bookcase. We tried a similar shot with a wall, but the bookcase picture we made worked out much better in the end.

Black & White Muse

If you had a look at my portfolio, you undoubtedly noticed I love color.

But I’d like to be able to take good black & white photographs as well. Black & white is really popular amongst musicians, and since I do music photography, I’d like to be able to serve my clients better. And it’s always good to get out of your comfort zone. That’s how you progress.

Ironically, the digital revolution has been good to black & white photography, because in the digital darkroom one has much more control over the conversion process from a color to a monochrome image.

David Nightingale of Chromasia is a world expert in post-processing in general and black & white photography in particular. He is also a former academic turned photographer. What’s not to like about him? So I never thought twice about taking David’s online class “The Art of Black & White Photography”, and it was well worth it. But I needed some more practice after the class to better assimilate some of the material, and experiment on my own.

So I called on my muse, Maria. I have done more personal shoots with her than with anyone else. Not only does she photograph very well, but Maria has a wonderful personality and lots of ideas. For a long time, she had wanted to do a shoot in South Queensferry with the Forth Bridge as the background. I’m always on the lookout for new locations, and since I had never done a photo shoot there, I was very happy to try.

One type of picture I really like in black & white is high key portraits. On the day, the sky was overcast (welcome to Scotland!), so it would provide a light if not blown out background when the model’s face was correctly exposed. The wind was blowing as well, so we used it to our advantage to get the following shot:


Black & white is wonderful for creating moody, atmospheric photographs. I think that is one of the main reasons black & white appeals to musicians. I also learned from David Nightingale some great tips for toning black & white photographs, i.e adding just a touch of color. In the next set up, we set out to produce some moody images, with off camera lighting. I quite like the picture below:


Old habits die hard, and since Maria had brought a beautiful red dress, I just had get some color pictures.

It’s essential to give direction to the people you photograph, since they cannot see what you see through the lens. But with people who are comfortable in front of the camera, like Maria, you can give them some freedom to express themselves, and they will surprise you with the results. The photograph below is one of my most popular images on Model Mayhem:


Oil and Smoke at Joseph Pearce’s Bar

I like to challenge myself photographically, and close-up/macro photography offers plenty of those. But since that genre of photography isn’t part of my core activities, I had always postponed delving into the close-up world.

I needed to make a commitment, and as fate would have it, a few months ago, Bryan F. Peterson of the Perfect Picture School of Photography was offering his close-up photography class again for one last time. So I jumped at the opportunity. If you don’t know Bryan, he is a wonderful photographer, instructor and best selling author. Look him up on the web!

That class turned out to be a gold mine of visual ideas. One of Bryan’s assignment for the class was to photograph oil drops in water, using a colorful and out of focus background. At the time, I chose to do another assignment, but swore try out this idea after the class. A few weeks before Christmas time, I was able to find some colorful gift wrapping paper to use as a background and try it out.


Click on image to enlarge

It’s a very simple idea, but the results are quite striking.

In “Creative Digital Photography: 52 Weekend Projects” by Chris Gatcum, I came across another close-up photography idea that I wanted to try. Photographing smoke from an incense stick. Like most close-up work, this requires a lot of patience. And very good hand/eye coordination since the auto focus on your camera is of no help and one has to focus manually.


Click on image to enlarge

The two pictures above show some of the wonderful shapes the smoke from a incense stick can take. Note that I changed the colors in Photoshop to obtain more vivid images.

Seven of these images of oil drops and smoke are on exhibit at Joseph Pearce’s bar in Edinburgh until the beginning of June. They are part of the Edinburgh Science Festival & Spring exhibition organized by Vanessa Davila of “Delicartessen”.


Oil & Smoke pictures at Joseph Pearce’s bar.