The 10 portrait lighting mistakes that every new photographer makes

The 10 portrait lighting mistakes that every new photographer makes from John Gress on Vimeo.

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Whether your new to lighting or you have been doing it for over 20 years, everybody started off in the same place and everybody made a bunch of mistakes. So if you’re just starting out and you do any of the things I’m about to talk about I’m not mentioning these things to make you feel bad and I’ve made all of these mistakes and occasionally I still make them.

1. Raccoon eyes
One of the most common mistakes that you can make is placing your light too high. As a result you won’t see any illumination on the top sides of your subjects eyelids and if you’re really high you won’t see any illumination on their eyes whatsoever. Lowering the light just slightly will really has your images to come to life but make sure you don’t go so low that lit is striking the underside of your subjects nose.

2. Catch lights
Once you’ve lowered your light enough so that you see illumination on the top sides of your subjects eyelids, you also want to make sure that you see catch lights in their eyes. Simply put, catch flights are reflections of your light. If you don’t see them, just lower the light ever so slightly until they show up, because almost every image it can benefit from a little sparkle.

3. No Fill
A lot of times people take a single flash and they put it off to one side and it creates a lot of shadows which go jet black and there’s absolutely no detail. So what you want to do is use what’s called fill to, well, fill in the shadows.

4. Using green tinted continuous lights
Beginners always like to use continuous lights because a lot of the times they’re quite affordable. But the continuous light kits that are often found online use either a compact fluorescent lightbulbs or cheap LED lightbulbs, like the bulbs you would use in your house. The problem comes from the fact that these lightbulbs may have a green or magenta bias which will lead to your skin tones being the wrong color.

5. You’re Too Flat
Normally the first light anybody uses is a camera mounted flash. You could point it directly at your subject but if you do you’re going to get very very ugly light. Thats why is it far more common for people to bounce it off of a white ceiling. The only problem with this sort of lighting is that often times the light doesn’t really have a direction or a shape to it and you’re just simply getting the job done. If you’re able to move the flash a few feet to the left or right from your camera either using wireless technology or a hard cable it before you bounce it, you will greatly improve your results.

6. You have to bounce off something
I see this one every time I go to a graduation. Some one in a Gian room or outdoors has their bounce flash point towards a distant black ceiling or the sky. In order to bounce light you have to have a nearby surface that reflects light.

7. Too close to a white backdrop
Most photographers have shot on a lit white backdrop and most beginners have had a problem where their images look really hazy, because the backdrop is too bright. If this happens you need to reduce the brightness of your background lights so that the background is just barely brighter than your subjects face.

8. No Seperation
Once the person has lit their subject the background in the recorded photo may be the same color or brightness as their hair or their clothing and then what happens is that the subject blends into the background. So there are a few ways that you can solve this. You could move the subject closer to the background and this will make the background brighter. You could move the subject further away from the background and this will make the background darker. Or you could add a second light generally behind the subject and generally pointed towards the camera. if it’s on the side we called this a kicker or and edge light and if it’s boomed over the subject we would call it a hair light.

9. Red Wall
A common problem that everyone runs into when shooting on location are color casts from objects or walls, referred to as color contamination. You want to make sure that where you position your subject is not adjacent to let’s say an orange accent wall because your shadows could be orange. And you also want to make sure that if you are trying to get a white background that there isn’t a brown floor in front of it that will kick yellow light back into the shot. This is part of the reason why you often will see a white backdrop swept under and in front of the subject. The other reason of course is so that nothing is in the shot other than the subject and the backdrop.

10. Subtly
Good Lighting for the most part is all about subtly. You don’t have to show your work with the force of a hammer all of the time.

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