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| p.1 #5 · Misty Mountain Critique |
It's a great shot, ideal for a squared front CD cover, but if you wanted a front-back wrap around cover you'd have wanted her slightly right of center (where the spine of the CD case would be) with scenery behind her to go under the notes on the back.
In terms of its holistic look and feel I found the white top to be distracting and the very dark under-filled shadows on her face to be bordering hard edged and unflattering: more R&B bar signer than country singer. For comparison on these points I did this quick edit with adjustment layers, etc.
Toning down all the bright distracting highlights in the white clothing makes the face contrast more. Lightening the shadows on the face and darkening the highlights a bit lowers the highlight>shadow contrast gradient on the face just as a lighting ratio with more fill would have resulting in a overall "softer" impression of her face and demeanor.
Lighting, holistically, is about contrasts and using the contrast gradient over the entire photo and body of the subject to guide the viewer. It starts with clothing / background selection.
As here if you subject is wearing a white shirt there's little you can do with the lighting to make it less distracting, except to pose her with her back to the sun as rim light. Even then when the front was lit with a pair of flashes for key modeling of face and fill to open the shadows it would wind up distracting again on the med. dark background. The best solution is avoid white clothing on dark backgrounds.
If you want the face to contrast as the "star in the spotlight" use clothing darker than the shadows on the skin when shooting on med-dark backgrounds. It's also worth noting here for future reference that if the POV of the camera been lower and she was profiled by the brighter sky the white top would have been less distracting than when seen in front of the darker mountain. The lesson there is: when you can't change the clothing, change the background so the clothing and background tone blend together. That in turn will make the face contrast more.
In terms of lighting and pose in the shot the oblique / short pattern on the face models it's 3D shape very naturally, but if you look critically at the facial angle resulting from where you stood with the camera to capture it you will see the ridge of the nose has started to cover the far eye and the far side of the face, while profiled nicely around the eyes, looks thin and unbalanced lower around the mouth.
There's a lot of variation in the shape of faces and most aren't perfectly symmetrical. So finding the most balanced flattering angle is a process of trial and error starting by looking at the face square and full face, then from both oblique views at the point where the far ear and side of the head seem to disappear. While the angle in this shot is flattering, had the camera been a bit more to the right it would have likely made the chin area wider and more balanced and the overall appearance of the face a bit more flattering. Nit picking perhaps, but that's the difference between good and great that you'll only see by trying to refine the angle like that and them comparing the results...
For example a few years ago I was shooting Barry Black, Chaplain of the U.S. Senate and former Chaplain of the US Navy who was a guest preacher at our church. Like most preachers he rarely stopped talking or moving. I found the spot on the right where I saw I could capture him in an oblique view with "short" lighting with the stage light, but then had to wait until he turned into the light at the most flattering angle...
A more balanced, natural looking and flattering angle...
For those shots I use flash on bracket, gelled to match the tungsten spots, to keep the shadows open and remove a magenta bias in the stage fill lighting on the shadow side. The shadow control via fill results in a full natural (seen by eye) tonal range. An "acid test" for that is to do a B&W conversion which will make less than natural contrast more obvious...
Here's a similar conversion of my before/after edit above...
It's not so much a matter of which looks better — opinions on that will vary — but knowing how to pre-visualize and get either result predictably