Getting the perfect Light for a mans portrait

This article is a guest post by Joel Dryer, check out more info about Joel at the bottom of the page. In this blog post we are going to take a behind the scenes look at an editorial men’s fashion spread, and look at some tips for establishing precise light ratios using a light meter.

The shoot was held on location at a local area builder’s office. The office provided the perfect backdrop for the shoot, but did not offer a lot of room for equipment. In addition to being a bit tight, we were unable to re-position the furniture.

Wide shot of location for shoot

Wide shot of location for shoot

The feel the magazine wanted was a dramatic, high-contrast look, so I decided against big soft boxes for the main lights in favor of simple reflectors and grids. From this, I chose a simple three light setup which included a key, a fill and kicker.

I had room on camera left to place the main key light, but did not have much room for a kicker opposite camera right; however, there was a window.

As luck had it, the office window overlooked a back patio that had electrical outlets, so I did not have to rely on a generator or battery pack. The only problem was that the patio was a bit lower in elevation than the office window, so I had to extend my 13′ light stand up to its near maximum height.

To secure the stand, I Velcroed several 10 lb ankle weights to the stand’s legs. Ankle weights are a great and inexpensive alternative to sandbags. The set I use cost about $20 at Walmart, and came with Velcro straps for easy attachment to light stands or boom arms.

Since the strobe was outside the window and placed a distance from the model, I attached a radio slave and set it to full power. (The strobe was rated at 600ws)

Back in the office, I took an incident meter reading from the location of the model. The dome of the meter was retracted and pointed towards the light. The reading read f5.6 at ISO 100. I decided that this would be a good base to build my lighting ratios, so I set my camera to match the readings on the light meter.

Here is a simple chart to help you know how and when to use the dome on your light meter

Dome Position Dome Direction – When Taking Reading Application
Dome in Point at light Used for measuring one light at a time to establish light ratios
Dome out Place in front of subject with dome facing camera Used for measuring and averaging multiple lights at once for proper exposure

As far as the shutter speed, I set my camera to 1/160th of a second because I did not want to capture much ambient light. (When using strobes, the shutter speed only controls the brightness of the ambient light.)

When Meters Lie

Even though I set my camera to match the meter reading I took from the kicker light, I knew that it would appear overexposed once I took the picture. Why would it not be properly exposed?

It all has to do with the angle of incidence being equal to the angle of reflection. Parts of the kicker side of the face appear overexposed because the skin acts like a crude mirror, reflecting the light from the strobe back into the camera.

So how does this apply to metering? Let’s take a birds-eye view of our scene and draw a circle around our subject. From our camera’s perspective, we can take incident readings 90 degrees in either direction without having to worry about the angle of incidence effecting our incident readings. The opposite is true for the red portion of the circle. As your light moves past 90 degrees, the angle of incidence can start to effect the meter’s readings.

The best way to accurately measure the brightness of a kicker or back light on a subject is to use a reflective spot meter. Most mid-range meters have available attachments that will let you take spot readings, while the more expensive models usually have spot functionality built in. If you do not have a spot meter you can estimate the specular reflection from your kicker and back lights will be at least 2 stops over what your incident meter shows.

metering-diagram

The “safe zone” of light placement, before the angle of incidence can start to effect incident meter readings

Breaking down the scene

The first light I set in the scene was the kicker light, which was located outside the window towards camera right.

Position of kicker light

Position of kicker light

Test shot of model with kicker light

Test shot of model with kicker light

For the fill light, I wanted it to look directionless and soft. The goal was to open up the dark shadows just enough to show some detail. The fill light was fitted with a medium soft box and placed behind and slightly to the right of the camera.

Position of Fill Light

Position of Fill Light

Since most of the elements in the scene were dark brown, including the suit the model was going to wear, I could not set my fill light much lower than my base exposure of f5.6. If I had set it lower the elements in the shadow areas would quickly go black. I set the fill light to 1 1/3 stop lower than my base exposure, which read f3.5 on my light meter.

Test shot of model with fill and kicker light

Test shot of model with fill and kicker light

The last light I set up was the key light. I placed this light in an open doorway, towards camera left and slightly above the model. I wanted to keep the light on the model and off the walls, so I fitted the light with a 20 degree grid to control the spill.

Position of key light

Position of key light

Since most of the scene was dark brown, I decided to have the key light 1 stop over my camera’s base exposure. I adjusted the light until it registered at f8 on my light meter.

Test shot of model with key and kicker. No fill. Notice how the shadows go completely black without the fill light.

Test shot of model with key and kicker. No fill. Notice how the shadows go completely black without the fill light.

Putting it all together

Once the lighting was in place, the model was dressed and the shoot began.

 Shot with all three lights set and in place. Before and after adjustments in Lightroom.

Shot with all three lights set and in place. Before and after adjustments in Lightroom.

Shot with all three lights set and in place. Before and after adjustments in Lightroom.

Shot with all three lights set and in place. Before and after adjustments in Lightroom.

In closing, I would encourage photographers to look at “proper” exposure in relative terms rather than absolute. In this cover shot, not one light was metered and set to the “proper” exposure of f5.6. You are the painter of light and your picture is open to your interpretation. The meter is there to give you a constant to start from, and from that constant you can create your masterpiece.


about-picJoel Dryer is a professional commercial photographer, cinematographer, producer and the founder of Digital Beret Studios. The goal of Digital Beret Studios is to provide easy to understand, in-depth training that helps photographers create images that look like cinematic movies. Discover more at www.digitalberet.com

Remember to share our articles on Facebook, Twitter or +1 them on Google.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Author: Joel Dryer

Joel Dryer is a professional commercial photographer, cinematographer, producer and the founder of Digital Beret Studios. The goal of Digital Beret Studios is to provide easy to understand, in-depth training that helps photographers create images that look like cinematic movies. Discover more at www.digitalberet.com

Share This Post On
Loading Facebook Comments ...

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *