portraits & shadows---technique

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a basic beginners question, but one i have dealt with for a good number of years-------the absence of shadows utilizing strobes or actual shadows w/strobes-----i suppose it's a matter of style or one's own way of seeing or what's in vogue, but technically, is the lighting which wrapes around a subject (portrait)leaving no shadows or just a hint of shadows, correct?? if i have shadows, perhaps from the key light or perhaps from the more distant strobe-----should they be moved around to lessen the shadows? curious.

raymond a. bleesz

-- raymond a. bleesz (bleesz@vail.net), March 31, 2000


All that matters is "Does the finished image 'work' for you?" Albert Watson does some amazing work with a very hard light: deep, craggy shadows abound. Annie Liebowitz does some amazing work in which while the light is directional, you don't really notice any shadowing.I don't usually light keys so I have no idea what a key light is. I wouldn't worry about what is or is not in vogue unless that is what somebody is asking you to reproduce.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), March 31, 2000.

Didn't mean to leave everything in italics.Sorry.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), March 31, 2000.

This is a little tricky to discuss without showing examples. My training came from the more or less classic school which borrows heavily from the old masters in painting. The human figure is three-dimensional but canvas and paper are two-dimensional. To portray the three-dimensional human figure on two-dimensional media, both the artist and photographer use light and shadow. If they do it well, the final work will have the illusion of three dimensions and will seem to project from the flat surface. Photographic portrait lighting is typically discussed in terms of ratios between highlight and shadow. A low ratio indicates little shadow (as you describe) and is sometimes called "flat". A high ratio has deep shadows and can be called "hard", "harsh" or "contrasty". The three-dimensional ratio is somewhere in between. I am leaving out the numerical ratio references on purpose as it's a pretty lengthy topic. Regardless of the ratio used, none can be considered "correct". The impact of the finished portrait comes from a multitude of variables.

-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), March 31, 2000.

Take a look at the classic black and white portraits of the movie stars during the "Golden Years" in Hollywood. Very dramatic use of light and shadow, so-called "classic" portrait lighting set-ups.

I think the more or less shadowless light from umbrella reflectors evolved as color portraiture demanded a much shortened contrast range from what black and white film could handle.

-- Tony Brent (ajbrent@mich.com), April 02, 2000.

Raymond, I am not a portraitist and you certainly know more than me, but have occasionally made some for friends or so. Here's my one cent advice, something that gave me lovely, natural results: a large soft box on the left side, three quarter forward and parallel to the lens(can be a tungsten source on a sheet of translucent, for B&W, or a large window with nylon curtain), and a reflector opposite. An other light source from the back, above, opposite angle from the main. It is easy to work on the ammount of shadows and their angle by distancing the subject from the key source and from the reflector and modifying their angle as well.

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), April 02, 2000.

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