Portrait. In the studio.

Love shooting portraits and I tried something a little different with my lights during this session. I used a smaller softbox and put it directly over my models face and slightly in front of her.  Pretty much standard beauty lighting. My subject is sitting at a portrait table and there's a white card laying on the table to provide enough fill back onto her face. Uncharacteristically, I used a hair light (also in a small softbox) and, of course, there is soft gridded background light directed up from a low angle behind my subject's chair onto the canvas background.

I worked at f5.6 on my Zeiss 150mm Planar because that aperture seems to be the perfect intersection of sharp and shallow. And by that I mean that the facial details are sharp where you want them (eyes, nose, mouth) but the depth of field is shallow enough to drop the background detail out of your brain's discomfort zone.

Although most of our portrait work is (by client request) in color these days we do have clients who see the big, square black and white portraits on my website and request that we do old school portraits. This is something I'm nearly always happy to do, unless a short deadline is part of the mix.

There is something very visually comforting to me about composing within the confines of the square. Faces just seem to fit better.

I'm setting up the studio right now (in between writing this blog and going out to eat Mexican food for lunch...) to shoot a series of test portraits on black and white film. I'm using big banks of LED lights punched through really nice diffusion because I want to see how the color curve of the light sources effects the panchromatic response of the film. I'm curious to know if the non-linear nature of the light source will have pronounced effects on the rendering of skin tone and the contrast of the overall image.

It may be silly to want to know about techniques that soon may be irrelevant but that's one of the many little quirks of personality that I live with. If the skin tone rendering is good I'll be interested in shooting more black and white film. I still have three or four hundred rolls in the fridge.

On a topical note...

Swim practice was wonderfully neutral and calm this morning. We have a hard and fast set of rules, learned and implemented for over two decades, of absolutely no political discussions before, during or after swim practice. We love everyone we swim with too much to let our personal opinions about politics and political parties to intrude. But that still leaves us a lot to talk about. Not everything requires a continuous dialogue... Having safe zones from all the contention keeps us all a bit healthier.

And finally, Thanks to reader, Frank, for helping me edit down a recent post. His input was valuable to me and probably added to your enjoyment as a reader of the VSL. A tip of the coffee cup to him.


  1. thanks for explaining the light setup I think smaller light is better for black peoples skin as they create more specular. But I couldnt understand how you used the hair light, again from the back?

    1. The hair light is over her and perhaps three feet behind the back of her head.

  2. A beeeeuuutiful portrait, Kirk!

  3. Where do you find all these attractive people? Not just pretty, but sweet, pleasant!
    Your a very fortunate guy. but I guess you know that.

    1. They just wander in from the street and ask, "excuse me, can you take my portrait?" I rarely turn them down...


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