No photos of Gene Simmons here, K.I.S.S. as we all know is an abbreviation that stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. At this point I need to say that this blog is primarily aimed at fellow photographers. I have a garage and contained within are countless pieces of studio gear - light stands, strobes, reflectors, umbrellas, backdrops, that kind of thing. A long time ago I realised that studio portraits weren't my thing. I'm okay at them, but it does seem to overcomplicate things to create something that should be rather simple, additionally the subject isn't going to feel relaxed once surrounded by all those strobes and reflectors. I'm not in any way knocking studio work, there are some superb practitioners and there are clients who demand it. Where would magazines such as Vogue be without studio photography and the talent that produces those perfect fashion pictures, well I for one much preferred the work of William Klein, a passionate Street/Life Photographer whose spell at Vogue changed the way they did things by taking the models out onto the streets.
I digress, my point was that I prefer natural light for portraits, specifically diffused window light. I know we all know, but it's worth reminding ourselves of this technique. Surroundings that the subject is comfortable with can, I believe, improve the final result. The other day I was asked by a client to visit their home and take some family portraits and group shots. A lot were taken outside, we had a great location, but it was grey and the light very flat, having said that we got some very nice results. I'm not going to show those as I want to stay on theme, The moment I walked into the cottage I saw my "window" of opportunity (so to speak!). Some beautiful light from a side window with further light coming from large window at the bottom of the room. Effectively my small Main Light to the side and Fill Light coming from the end of the room, both defused by that aforementioned grey cloudy sky making for a beautiful and crucially soft light. Here's some from the shoot, all taken wide open at f/0.95.
So, in all these shots the small main light is coming from the subjects right and the fill light from behind me the photographer. I was extremely fortunate with this client, a wonderful, relaxed and happy family who didn't mind having their photographs taken. As you can see with this one, now if that's not a winning smile I don't know what is -
The good news is that it doesn't only have to be the children who look good, grown ups benefit too, not only that it works in colour as well -
Preferably you want your subject slightly away from the window, so parallel to it, and placed back a few feet from where the window ends. Hopefully you can see that from the previous two of this radiant grandmother who is looking out of said window. Another shot, here he's looking at me and the fill light - I'm not sure if my explanation is making sense, tricky without a diagram!
One thing I will say is that manual focus wide-open with the Leica Noctilux isn't for the fainthearted...I got a bit cocky and missed my focus on one of the outside sessions and believe me I kicked myself, one has to concentrate, literally stay focussed! Sometimes f/2.8 or f/4 just to play it safe are preferable and brings me back to keeping it simple stupid! Then again I could have easily attached the Leica Summicron 35mm. No risk no reward they say, so the Noctilux stayed on and wide open in order to get some more dramatic results, easy except when, and rightly so, your client expects results. Anyway I really like this set - I know, I actually like some of my own work, who knew! The images produced on this shoot are really what I'm aiming for in a portrait; fairly good technique, great light and to bring out the subjects personality. I'll leave you with my favourite, one of a young man who was an absolute joy to photograph, as were the whole family -
As usual I would be delighted to read any comments and my sincere thanks go to anyone taking the time to read my blog.
All images can be opened by clicking on the thumbnails and are taken using a Leica M with a Noctilux 50mm lens fitted.