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Portrait photography, IMHO, is up there in degrees of difficulty with wildlife and sports/action photography … but at least, when faced with a tiger or a pole vaulter, you don’t have to face a possibly irate subject when you’ve finished the shot. Hopefully!
With portrait photography you not only have to face the sitter during and after the session but you also have to deal with that particular person if they’re also the client!
The book’s author Mark Cleghorn has been a pro photographer for over 30 years, specialising in ‘creative’ wedding and portrait photography. He is a member of a number of pro associations and has won a number of awards for his work as well as running many training workshops and seminars.
In Cleghorn’s view ‘Understanding the fundamentals of posing and lighting is crucial to successful portrait photography.’
You might also add the stricture — KISS! His own personal motto is ‘Natural light before reflector, reflector before flash, and flash as a last resort.’ He also suggests you should understand how to use and manipulate natural ambient light before you complicate things with technology …. Got me!
The chapter headings are informative:
First up, choosing a camera and lenses. The advice is that while a bulky, expensive medium format camera gives a better quality of image and delivers huge file sizes that are perfect for advertising, they are overkill for a simple portrait.
The DSLR is a preferable choice due to its comparatively reasonable cost, moderate size, along with access to a wide range of lenses and access to complete camera control.
This is followed by a rundown of the three types of flash available: accessory, shoe-mounted; power pack kits; monolights. Considerable detail is given on how to modify their flash output, the use of gels, metering, softboxes, reflectors, snoots and spotlights, diffusion, etc.
A key chapter covers posing and expression, which is where the human interface is at its most important and Cleghorn displays his extreme knowledge of the human figure and how to show it off at its best: ‘Every pose … starts with the feet, as it is the way in which the subject stands that determines whether or not he or she looks comfortable.’
His advice on how to photograph children is golden: keep things simple, allow the expressions to tell the story, work on the same level and, with very young children, encourage them to move around the studio, make it seem like a game.
And how to cope with problems like a subject’s bald head, spectacles, double chins, squinting and those who are obviously overweight, disabled subjects, those with ‘sleepy eyes’, big ears or noses and (with couples) differing heights. The advice is magic!
Moving on to lighting, there’s detailed discussion on how to place lights, control fill, hair and backlights and control their output. Low, mid and high key lighting is covered in considerable detail, with excellent examples shown.
Some off the wall techniques are demonstrated, like the projection of another image onto the subject, introducing a surreal effect. The use of a single light source and softlight are discussed as well as the role of the cross processing effect achievable in Photoshop.
Quite a few pages are given over to the searching for and use of suitable locations, natural exteriors and shooting in the home.
I often wonder, having read such a useful book, as to the sanity of such a high end and obviously successful photographer in this field in giving away such seriously useful hints, tips and advice.
This is the ‘go to’ book on the subject!
Author: M Cleghorn.
Size: 28x22x1cm. 128 pages.
ISBN 978 1 4547 0243 6.
Price: get a price on Portrait Photography: Secrets of Posing & Lighting at Amazon (currently 36% off).