Lesson Of The Month
Creating Warm Light For Portraits

Lesson Of The Month

1 (Above), 2 (Below)
Photos © 2002, Ben Clay, All Rights Reserved

There are many factors that go into creating a good indoor portrait, lighting being one of the most important. For those who shoot black and white, lighting mainly consists of controlling the gradations, contrast, and tonal ranges. For those of you who shoot in color, however, your lighting also determines how the color of your skin tones will be rendered.

You can affect the color in a portrait in many ways: with various films (traditional shooting), with white balance settings (digital shooting), with colored filters over your lens, with colored gels over your lights, with adjustments in digital software, and with adjustments in printer settings.

For this demonstration, I asked my wife, Heather, to pose for me in one of the rooms in our house. Most people think you need to have a lot of space when using lighting equipment, but we were able to shoot this portrait in an average-sized room with an 8-foot ceiling.

First, I connected a Quantum Q-Flash to a Photoflex 3-foot OctoDome3 softbox, attached it to a Photoflex LiteStand and positioned it close to Heather, pointing slightly downward. The OctoDome3 is a great portrait light because it produces an even, diffused light that's as wide as it is tall and has a much narrower profile than a traditional softbox, allowing you to shoot more freely in limited spaces.

After placing sheets of foamcore in the window frames to prevent the outside light from interfering, I connected a Quantum Radio Slave receiver to the Q-Flash and mounted the transmitter to the hot shoe of the camera. I set the White Balance in the camera to daylight (5500ÞKelvin) to match the color temperature of the strobe, adjusted my aperture and shutter speed settings for a good exposure, and took shots (#1 and #2).

3 (Above), 4 (Below)

Notice the effects of just this one light source. The OctoDome3 has diffused the light from the Q-Flash and has rendered a soft, natural-looking effect similar to a window light. Upon examination of the reflections in her eyes, however, you will not see a square reflection common to other softboxes, but rather a circular one. To some, this may be preferable over square reflections.

Next, I wanted to fill in some of the shadow areas of Heather's face, but I also didn't want to minimize the sense of dimension of her face. So I took a 22" MultiDisc with the silver side showing, attached it to a LiteDisc Holder and LiteStand, and positioned it toward the back of her head so that the light from the OctoDome3 would bounce back from behind her face (#3 and #4).

5 (Above), 6 (Below)

Without changing my camera settings, I took another shot (#5).

Notice how the MultiDisc has defined the left side of Heather's face, and yet the shot still has a sense of dimension to it. Had I brought the LiteDisc a little farther forward, it may not have worked as well as it does here.

After reviewing the result on the back of the camera, we decided that she should put her hair up to better reveal her neckline. Once she was ready, I took another shot (#6).

7 (Above), 8 (Below)

The tonal range and contrast levels looked good to me, but now I wanted to warm up her skin tones. Fortunately, I was shooting with the new Photoflex OctoDome3 softbox, which allows you to place silver or gold panels over the white walls of the interior of the softbox. I didn't want to warm up the shot too much, so I inserted a combination of silver and gold into the OctoDome3 (#7 and #8).

To balance the warm light of the OctoDome3, I flipped the cover on the MultiDisc and used the soft gold side to fill in the shadows instead of the silver side. Without any other changes, I took my final shot (#9).


Notice the difference the panels and the soft gold reflector make. Heather's skin tones have warmed up considerably, but not so much that it looks unnatural.

This lesson will be posted in the free public section of the Web Photo School at: www.webphotoschool.com. You will be able to enlarge the photos from thumbnails. If you would like to continue your digital step by step education lessons on editing, printing, and e-mailing your photos it will be on the private section of the Web Photo School. To enroll for WPS just go to www.shutterbug.net and click on WPS Free Lessons.

Technical Equipment
Camera/Media: Olympus E-20N digital camera; sturdy tripod; 128MB CompactFlash card
Lighting: Photoflex 3-foot Octo-Dome3 softbox; Quantum Q-Flash strobe and power pack; Quantum wireless radio slave sync; Photoflex 22" MultiDisc; Photoflex LiteDisc Holder; 2 Photoflex LS-2214 Lite-Stands