Shooting Portraits & Glamour Under Unavailable Light

by | Oct 6, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

When you look at portraits of people in (what’s left of) magazines or books or maybe your iPad, did you ever notice how some particular images grab your attention? These are the special photographs that force me to take a second look and make me wonder wonder how it was made.

I’ve found that sometimes —and maybe —best portraits are made using available light, unavailable light, available darkness, low light, or whatever euphemism you prefer to use. It doesn’t matter what you call any of these challenging lighting conditions, the truth is that there’s almost always something rewarding about the process.

  • First, there is the thrill of overcoming any technical challenges that might prevent you from producing a well-exposed image.
  • Second, photographs made under conditions different from the “f/16 and the sun over your right shoulder” instruction-sheet standard typically have a more eye-catching look.
  • Third, since most outdoor photographs are made during the middle of the day, taking the time to search out other than “normal” lighting conditions can produce photographs that will make yours look different than the rest of the pack.

And that’s just outdoors. Just as challenging can be the prospect of working indoors under different kinds and different amounts of light.

How I Made this Shot: Shooting available light portraits under low and mixed lighting conditions can be a challenge too. This glamour image of Dusty was shot in the dining room of my former home with most of the light coming from a window in the door she’s standing next to. There was some tungsten lighting in the dining room but the original color JPEG (before my current RAW+JPEG shooting regime) shown above right looks mostly color correct, if a bit underexposed, when shot in AWB mode. By the way, her reflection is from a framed poster, not a mirror and you can only get this effect at certain camera angles with me standing in the living room but I’ve used it with other models too. (So much for originality.)

The camera used was my old Canon EOS 50D with the redoubtable EF 85mm f/1.8 lens. Exposure was 1/250 sec at f/2.8 and ISO 400, with a plus 0.5 stop exposure compensation. It could/should have used a full stop so I applied the technique found in my how-to post, Correcting Underexposed Portraits, which features an image that was shot in this very same location. This portrait of Dusty was retouched, cropped, then converted to monochrome with Silver Efex Pro adding a touch of the Glamour Glow filter from Color Efex Pro because I wanted to add some drama to the portrait and black and white does this well. I think, anyway.

October is National Book Month and if you can see your way clear, please purchase on of my books on Amazon to help support this blog. My out-of-print film-based book Part-Time Glamour Photography: Full-Time Income, is available new for $28.99 with used copies selling for $10.60 as I write this. Yes, this book about shooting using film cameras but there’s still lots of useful information and that used price is hard to beat! The newer, digital oriented Joe Farace’s Glamour Photography, is available new for $20.99 or starting at $8.91 used. The Kindle version is $19.99 for those preferring a digital format.