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Archive 2013 · Any observations on this portrait?
  
 
cgardner
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p.2 #1 · p.2 #1 · Any observations on this portrait?


The 3D shape of a face is revealed in a photo by the way the facial angle and lighting pattern combine. If you consider wide lopsided looking faces less attractive than slender, symmetrical ones the overall goal of the facial angle / pattern should be to consider all the possible combinations, looking at them with those criteria in mind. There are no rules but by process of elimination of all the less flattering possibilties you'll arrive at the most flattering angle and pattern for that particular face.

Looking at a subject full face before shooting determine if the face is naturally symmetriical or not. To do this look straight at the nose and then look at the ears and other features. Do both sides look the same? If so it's symmetrical. Through the lens of the camera observe how the camera compresses the planes of the head. One of the reasons photographic models and mannikins look good in full face views is because they have narrow jaw angles and small craniums and very little other than the front "mask" of the face from eyes forward is seen in the full face view. When the head is wider than the eye line in back the face looks wider and more oval shaped hiding the shape of the cheekbones that are one of the clues about the 3D shape of a face in the 2D photo.

Her face appears to be naturally symmetrical but because you photographed from an off-center angle vs a "nose at lens" view the camera doesn't capture a symmetrical "full" view. It's what I call a "tweener" - not full and not a slimming flattering oblique view that can be created when combined a 45V/45H key light angle.

The way to see what flatters a subject the most is to look at the face full, then from both sides at the angle you see the > notch of the eye appear, the ( curve of cheek and ) chinline visible and the C ear and side of the jaw disappear. When you move around a face like that the point where the side of the face disappear and it becomes slimmer looking occurs when the camera axis aligns with the angle of the jaw. For that reason it will vary on different faces and will not always result in the nose pointing 45 degrees from the camera. I also look at both profiles where the nose cuts the face in half with nothing seen beyond. I seldom shoot profile portraits but seeing the face sideways from opposite sides helps me see the shape of the chin, cheeks and nose that inform me how best to pose the face in the full or oblique views.

For most average faces oblique / 45-45 combination is usually more flattering than full face views because the 3D shape of the eye-cheek-chin line is revealed on the far side by the camera angle and the precise placement of the key light on the face makes causes the highlight/shadow line on the near side to trace an identical line down the other near cheek from eye-to-chin. It highlights only the front of the face creating a "mask" of highlights that the brain interprets and being thinner than the full-face view and symmetrical. But while more flattering an oblique face angle can come across as less sincere in terms of overall body language message for a logical reason: nearly all inter-personal interaction is full-face to full-face with eyes centered in the orbits. Thus while oblique is more flattering in general full face must be used

In general a business portrait calls for the sincerity of a full face view, but here we have a situation where you want integrate her hands in the photo. So creates an oppotunity not unlike a bride looking at ring or flowers in hand to utilize an obilque facial angle. What I'd do in that situation is try both.

In full face poses the criteria of creating symmetry argues for a centered lighting pattern because putting a sideways pattern on a naturally symmetrical face create a net asymentry. Consider that seeing 3D in a 2D lighting pattern is really just an optical illusion. When a centered on nose key light creates a downward pattern on a nose-to-camera facial angle on a naturally symmetrical face all the clues in the photo to 3D shape are symmetrical. But if the face or light are off center the clues will not be symmetrical. When key light is placed to the side at 45 from the nose or even further around for the type of "Rembrandt" pattern used here the net effect of pose is to make the two sides of the face look different. It's not something you'll consciously notice until you try and compare a perfectly centered face with a perfectly centered lighting pattern with the sideways patterns.

The things to change here next time?

For SYMMETRICAL full face views you need to start by pointing the camera directly at the subject's nose not slightly off center and then complement the symmetry of the camera angle with an equally symmetical key light over camera centered lighting pattern. Sideways patterns in full face view are called for if a face isn't naturally symmetrical. If it isn't putting the key light on the narrower side of the face will make the face look more balanced because the way the brain processes the clues in the lighting pattern. What makes a symmetrical face look lopsided with a sideways pattern can trick the brain of the viewer into thinking a naturally lopsided face is more symmetrical. That's how you make people look better in photos than they do in person

A problem with older / heavy subjects is the double chin. There's a simple trick that will hide them in a portrait. Stand on a step-stool when taking the photo and have the subject look at the camera. Looking up tightens the neck like a facelift and will take off 10 years and 20 pounds automatically. The cameara // face angle will still be parallel as it was on the ground. The downward angle will put the head over the body more and foreshorted the body a bit, both things which flatter a wide body it in the type of squared off pose using in full face shots.

Let's consider goals and clothing / background / pose choices here. The primary focal point is the face, the secondary one the hands. Ideally you want viewer to find and dwell on face then follow arms to hands. But once at the hands you need to create a different path up the other arm back to the face so the primary focal point is the first and last impression. Here the exaggerated size of the hands an their their distance from the face creates a "ping-pong" linear bouncing back and forth rather than the smoother cirular path down one arm and up the other back to the face. Also by exaggerating the size of the hands by posing them closer to the camera than the face and making them brighter with the lighting pattern you create a situation where perceputally the hands are the stronger focal point.

The star of the show on a dark stage is whatever winds up in the "spotlight". You set the "stage" with your clothing and background choices. On background darker than the face the viewer will be attracted to the highlighted areas. If you want the face to be a stonger focal point than hands you'd want to feather the key light so the face winds up brighter. You can control how much the hands will pull attention off the face by how much the contrast with the background relative to the face. Hidden in shadow the viewer will not be distracted by them and pulled off the face quickly. When hands are illuminated brighter that the face the viewer will not dwell long or react as strongly to the face before being distracted from the hands or be as likely to return back to the face for a second look.

What controls the eye movement dynamic is relative contrast with the background, distance between the focal points and leading lines. If you pose hands very close to a face the viewer sees both at the same time and doesn't need to wander off the face. Conversely the further you put hands from face the greater the back and forth linear bouncing between them will be.

Leading lines in a composition are like a sign with an arrow on it telling where the viewer should go next. It's an ingrained instinct to make "eye contact" with strangers to gauge their intent. Eye motion studies show that happens in photos also. That predicts the face will be the first focal point where the eye of the viewer dwells. What tells their brain where to go next? The contrast of secondary focal points or distractions with the background and the leading lines of the area. There are two arms so which will they follow in the photo. That is controlled with pose and with lighting. That's how in a portrait you can create a circluar eye path that will go from face, down one arm, to the hands to see what they are dong, then back up the other arm to the face. The trip up the other arm vs. a linear ping-pong back up the first is what creates a relaxed vs. tense impression of the subject.

Once the dymamic between face and hands is sorted out you need to consider what else distracts from those to focal points. What contrasts in tone and color with the skin tones here? The red shawl. What makes in even more of a distraction? The color contrast with the blue background. It's not an overt distraction just one that subconscious makes the brain divert attention off the face and hands to look at the clothing.

The solution? Find ways to make the background and clothing blend together in color and tone and at the same time contrast with the color and tone of the face. A red background would make the shawl less of a distraction, but competes and overpowers the skin tone. A blue shawl / background would be a better choice because the shawl wouldn't contrast with background and warm skin will contrast with both. A gray background and shawl would eliminate the distraction of color entirely create color contast with the skin. Color portraits on neutral backgrounds add the element of color contrast a B&W will lack. In a B&W photo all the contrast clues must be created with tone of the clothing and how it is illuminated by the lighting pattern.

The take-away here is to think in terms goals like flattering the subject and the relative importance of the face, hands or other content in the frame and how the viewer's eye is likey to travel between them. That eye path tells the story. In a conventional portrait the message is simple: look at my face. So in a conventinoal portrait hands are a distraction. Here the hands are part of the story and you need to consider and control how soon after seeing the face they will distract from it, whether a stranger will understand what the hands do: painter, musician, healer? Hard to for a stranger to tell here without some "tool of the trade" in the hands to provide a clue, or some clue in the context of the background. Finally consider if you want the viewer to go back to the face for another look and give them a clue to take a different path to get there with tonal gradient and leading line clues.









Jan 18, 2013 at 02:41 PM
cgardner
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p.2 #2 · p.2 #2 · Any observations on this portrait?


Here are some examples in line with my advice. A neighbor asked me to photograph her son. The kilt was his communion outfit. The prayerbook and rosary a gift from grandma which like the hands in your shot was a focal point she wanted to feature.

When there's time I start every session with a centered lighting pattern. Both lights back around 8ft above and below the lens with relatively small modifiers; a 22" dish with a sock diffuser and a 24x32 softbox. I've included this test shot because the light positions can be seen in the catchlights in the eye. In addition to the key and fill there's a 16x22 SB with 40 degree egg crate grid and 12" circle mask on a boom overhead and to the right:







In terms of cause and effect using the light so far away and both centered creates very gradual front>back shadow gradients. Keeping the lights close to the same incident strength on the face creates a 1+1:1 = 2:1 reflected ratio in places like under the chin where the downward key light can't wrap.

Contrary to conventional wisdom I use a very small fill source, my 22" dish most of the time, for a practical reason. Big fill sources create big distracting and hard to remove secondary catchlights in the eyes. Because of that many photographers predicate fill placement eliminating the reflection of the fill source in the eyes, not on where it is ideally placed (near axis, filling everything the camera sees). I place my fill centered and chin level for full and oblique views, moving it to the front of the face for profiles where I want to keep the side facing camera dark and to create the same front > back fill gradient over the cheekbones that frontal fill creates in a full face or oblique view when centered at chin level.

Back when I first got my dish I did comparison testing with a the softbox and being lazy just swapped them as key and fill. I discovered that the shallow dish used as fill back at camera bounced light off the ceiling and walls creating wrap around fill and at the same time a very small catchlight that was easy to retouch out of the center of the pupil. So in terms of cause and effect it acts like a big source but without the big catchlights.

I start with a centered pattern because it allows the subject freedom of movement without creating shadow problems on the face as a sideways key light does when the subject looks the other direction. It gives the subject a chance to relax and me a chance to evaluate the symmetry of the face in centered light and plan the next lighting strategy. In the shot below his face isn't "nose straight into the camera" as I suggest to create symmetry and as a result the face doesn't look symmetrical (unequal ears) but it was one of the better expressions and I use it here more to illustrate the lighting...







Squared off shoulders and crossed arms create confident dominant body language (something you better have if you are 9 and Momma dresses you in a skirt). But the very light perceptually soft look of the lighting is more kid-like than grown-up; the implied message I was trying for here. The near hand isn't posed well because he didn't follow my instructions to hold it so it was sideways to the camera as I set it up.

Here are two variations with something in the hands, one looking at the object, the other looking at the camera:






The first one I did while both lights were centered, as evidenced by how the nose shadow is falling back behind the nose. That make the side of the face lighter than the far side so I toned down the side of the face in post processing with a masked adjustment layer. Front hand is posed nicely, but the thumb in back sticks up oddly and distracts... The devil is in the small details like that. Note how the oblique view changes the impression of the 3D shape of the face by revealing the compound curve from eye notch > over cheekbone. His just are not very prominent when the face is relaxed.






The shot above was taken after having him take a break so I could reset the lights in a sideways key pattern. His face is naturally symmetrical so the left or right oblique views with key light would look similar. Here the fact he's looking into the camera changes both the message and the eye movement dynamic between the normal primary focal point (face) and secondary focal point (book). As mention before oblique views can come across as less sincere than full face. Part of that impression comes from the eyes, which if not centered in the orbits seem "shifty eyed". The trick is to have the subject not look directly at the camera but at a spot on the wall about half way between the direction the nose is pointing and the camera so sclera (white) is seen on both sides of the iris. First you pose the face to the camera then "cheat" the eyes away from it. Despite not actually looking directly at the camera the more centered-in-orbit eyes read as more "normal" in the photo because we interact with people full face and see centered irises. His eyes are centered as well as they could be..

I didn't need to change the lights much to capture the profile shot below. I just used the hair light on the boom as the "key" light and moved the 24x36 SB with 20" circle mask over to the right in front of the face and slightly behind the nose from camera position:







The idea behind profile shots is to cut the head EXACTLY in half with the pose with no odd bits of brow sticking out to ruin the illusion of symmetry -- the brain just assumes the other side looks exactly the same. The goal in lighting the face is to make the one eye and mouth the focal points. That's done in part by keeping the side of the nose and head very dark so the brighter eye contrasts. Moving the fill to the front of the face prevents any specularity on the ear which would create distractions. The most common mistakes I see in profiles are having the face turned past profile and seeing parts of the far side if the face and having the key light too far around towards the camera and highlighting the side of the nose facing the camera which makes the nose a distraction from the smaller eye.

As with the oblique shot for a more natural appearance of the eye it must be "cheated" until it looks normal. Looking straight ahead the eyeball would be seen in profile and the iris would be see much or at all. So you have the subject look towards the camera as much as possible and the iris is seen and the eye looks more normal.

Here are few shots closer in age / build to your subject. The man is in his 80s, the woman her 70s.







When posing an older or heavy set couple posing options are more limited. Facing / \ torsos with full face views put the heads too far away from each other and twist the neck too much (wrinkles). So the back to front pose that keeps the head straight to the shoulders both facing the same direction into the key light is by process of elimination the better strategy. The clothing she's wearing isn't particularly flattering because it's mine. They were house guest and hadn't planned on a photo session. He had the coat. I supplied the brown shirt and what she is wearing from my closest. That goes to what I mentioned about trying to match outfits with color of background and contrast the faces.












There wasn't time to move the lights for a centered strategy for the individual shots and the key light is about 45 above /45 to the right with centered fill about chin level. I was standing on a stool with the camera about 7ft off the ground with them looking up for the "instant" face lift trick. Compare with the couple shot taken from a lower POV. Also note the fact his face is dead straight to the camera make both ears identical creates a more symmetrical appearance than in her shot where she's turn a few degrees off center.

His face is naturally symmetrical, hers isn't wider on the left (camera right). So the side the key light is on wouldn't matter as much for him because both would look similar. But for her the better strategy would have been to put the key light on the left (narrower side) to make it seem larger and more equal with the physically larger opposite side. This was one of my earlier studio light sessions and analyzing the results post-factor help me better understand the cause and effect perceptually.



Jan 18, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Ernie Aubert
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p.2 #3 · p.2 #3 · Any observations on this portrait?


Thanks, Chuck! I think it's going to be a career just to digest what you've presented in these two posts! I'm sure seeing confirmation that I don't know very much!


Jan 18, 2013 at 08:48 PM
cgardner
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p.2 #4 · p.2 #4 · Any observations on this portrait?


cgardner wrote:
Here are some examples in line with my advice. A neighbor asked me to photograph her son. The kilt was his communion outfit. The prayerbook and rosary a gift from grandma which like the hands in your shot was a focal point she wanted to feature.

When there's time I start every session with a centered lighting pattern. Both lights back around 8ft above and below the lens with relatively small modifiers; a 22" dish with a sock diffuser and a 24x32 softbox. I've included this test shot because the light positions can be seen in the catchlights in the eye.
...Show more



Jan 18, 2013 at 08:56 PM
cgardner
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p.2 #5 · p.2 #5 · Any observations on this portrait?


cgardner wrote:
Here are some examples in line with my advice. A neighbor asked me to photograph her son. The kilt was his communion outfit. The prayerbook and rosary a gift from grandma which like the hands in your shot was a focal point she wanted to feature.

When there's time I start every session with a centered lighting pattern. Both lights back around 8ft above and below the lens with relatively small modifiers; a 22" dish with a sock diffuser and a 24x32 softbox. I've included this test shot because the light positions can be seen in the catchlights in the eye.
...Show more



Jan 18, 2013 at 08:59 PM
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