I usually take portraits of ordinary people with ordinary skin and ordinary skills when it comes to make up and all that. Sometimes there is a photo model involved, and sometimes a make-up artist and/or stylist/hairdresser as well, but not very often.
Model and make-up artist in one
This time I got many of the above mentioned things in one package, the woman who had booked a portrait session turned out to be a make-up artist with her own salon. She knew a bit or two about skin and make-up, especially how to prepare for a photo shoot and reducing the time I have to spend in post processing with retouching to a minute or less. Almost.
Studio lighting setup for beauty portrait
I had prepared a 3-light setup based on a Profoto Beauty Dish (White Softlight Reflector, no grid) as key light and a large 5 foot Softbox Octa acting as fill from behind the camera. The third light came from behind the model and was used as a hair light and rim light with a large 1×6 foot Strip Softbox with softgrids installed.
The portrait above is taken with only the two frontal lights, to reduce the reflections from the white wall in my small studio, and to create a little more shadow on her left side of the face, I placed a black flag (just a black piece of foam board) on a stand near her just outside the frame.
Behind the scenes
Working in my really small studio space, this was how it looked around her. I wanted to use my favourite portrait lens, the 85mm/1.4 Nikkor (on a full frame Nikon D700), a half body portrait was just what we could manage to fit in. Maybe overkill as she needed a couple of headshots.
Better lighting – less Photoshop
Lately I have been doing more and more portraits where I try to reduce the really dark shadows by using fill light a lot.
It is not always easy when shooting in such a small room where the light tends to bounce everywhere, but when it is working it gives very pleasing results and makes it easier when it comes to retouching.
As I mentioned earlier my clients are mostly ordinary people with no make-up (the men) or make-up not really made for a photo session (the women).
At least not in the sense where it makes the retouching so much easier. So I am trying to find lighting setups that works for all kinds of people without being completely boring. A pleasing light that makes people look good and defines their facial features without showing the flaws too much is my goal. Every minute I can shave off the time spent in Photoshop will be many hours or days in the long run that I can do something else with.
A big fill light
The biggest light modifier I own is the Profoto Softbox Octa (5 foot/150 cm). I usually use it as my main light placed near the subject, together with a reflector on the other side. Maybe a rim light from behind.
This time I put it behind the camera, giving me just enough room to squeeze in between the camera and the Octa. Then I adjusted the light output until it resulted in a good exposure (a little underexposed to be correct), before adding the key light.
The white Beauty Dish was attached to a boom stand, about two meters up or a little more. To lessen the effect a bit from this light, I angled it towards the model’s feet which feathered the light a bit. Had I pointed it directly towards her face, I would have more light on the background as I already was at the lowest setting (or would have been forced to use ND-filters to reduce the light).
Together, the two lights gave good contrast without dark shadows, and two nice catchlights in her eyes as a bonus. The funny thing is that the distance makes the catch light from the big Octa and the relatively small Beautydish equal in size if you look closely in her eyes.
Looking even closer, you can see me in the lower catchlight (standing in front of the big softbox). I have to stand somewhere.
On-axis fill, good for the skin
Now might this model not be the best example as she had prepared a really good makeup, but having fill light coming from the same direction as the camera is angled, the skin looks really good and the retouching part is much easier as there are much less shadows that can make bags under the eyes look big (for example). Almost like a ring flash in a way.
Hair/rim light or no hair/rim light
I prepared this shot with three lights, but used only two for most of her portraits. Adding that third light did give her hair a little more light, but it also worked as a rim light and distracted a bit from her face.
When she turned her body the effect of the rim light was even more visible, and in those shots I think it added something. But for a frontal portrait, two lights are more than enough.
Good make-up – almost no post processing
After I was done in the studio, I transfered the files to my computer and imported them into Lightroom 3 where I adjusted the white balance (from a test image with a grey card). I chose the Portrait profile (best for skin tones I think) for my Nikon D700 and continued retouching in Photoshop CS4.
But there was almost nothing I needed to do there. A little cloning to remove dust, a little more contrast but not much more. I normally try to retouch as little as possible, just removing or hiding things that people don’t want to be there in the first place (bags under the eyes, bad skin or just tiredness). Here she had done all that for me. Thanks.
I will try to use this lighting setup on someone that has no make-up, just to see how good it is on it’s own. It might be my new starting point. Just add a background light, maybe a some colour on the background or more rim light and it will look completely different.