Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Portrait Day Wednesday: Booking, Shooting, and Selling A Portrait - 9 Steps For Shooting Portraits In Sunlight

Good Morning Everybody,
After a Whataburger in Waco yesterday and the 4+ hour drive across the state, I felt about 1/4 Texan by the time we arrived in Dallas at about 3:00 p.m. We had another great crowd in Dallas last night. I was amazed that some attendees had driven over 4 hours to hear the Digital WakeUp Call program. One fellow even drove all the way from Albequerque, NM just to be in attendance.

I have to say, it is quite an honor for me when I meet the people who have made these long journeys, these extraordinary sacrifice of time and effort to hear the DWUC program. My thanks to everyone who was there last night and every night. And especially, my thanks goes out to all who literally go the extra mile(s) to be there too.

Anyway, let's get right to todays post - Booking, Shooting, and Selling A Portrait - 9 Steps For Shooting Portraits In Sunlight

Hit the link below for the rest of the story.

Here we go...

Booking, Shooting, and Selling A Portrait: Shooting In Sunlight - Part 10
Last week I discussed how to bring groups together in a pleasing composition of the family members. In this week's post, let’s discuss how I light the portrait. Let's also add a level of difficulty to the shoot and discuss how to handle the situation in direct sunlight.

Remember in our 8th post I discussed “background selection" - here is the link. That was part of my challenge for this portrait I’m featuring today. I scouted the client’s home and backyard to find the best location for the shot. I really liked the vantage point I settled on for this portrait. I was able to pick up some of the great architectural features of their pool area and was able to include a beautifully landscaped knoll with lots of color in the background as well. Thrown out of focus, the background should look great for the shot.

The challenge was the sun. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky to soften the sun’ s direct rays, but it was still low enough in the sky that I could still deal with it and maybe even use it as an accent light. But it was still quite bright and that presented some shooting issues. The bottom line is this – when I shoot in the direct sun, I’ve got to use a combination of camera and lighting technique along with a little Photoshop to pull off the finished result.

Let me walk you through my 9 steps to pull off this family portrait.
1. My main rule for shooting in the sun is to ALWAYS back-light the subjects. The challenge is when back-lighting the family that the background holds up too.

2. With the subjects back-lighted I have shadowed faces in which I can create the "loop lighting" pattern [link] on their faces with my off-camera flash.

3. I’m going to use the lowest ISO possible which means I’ve got to use my flash – Quantum T5d – at full power to get the maximum light out of my off-camera flash. The low ISO is needed so I can slow the shutter down to it's lowest "syncable" speed and use the widest aperture possible for the shot in this bright light situation. The full power setting on the flash is necessitated because of the working distance of the light to my subjects - more distance means more power.
4. The on-camera flash is hardly ever used simply because the ambient light supplies the fill light.

5. I also can’t use an umbrella since the umbrella fabric cuts the light output by two stops. Remember, I need all the light I can get on the subjects. Without using the shoot through umbrella which I love, I get much sharper edged shadows on my subjects. Look at the close up of mom in this shot. See how sharply defined the “hair” shadow is on her face. Unfortunately, this becomes a Photoshop fix – no way around it.

6. Once I’ve got my lighting and composition strategies worked out, I ask the family members to step in for the shot. I arrange them for the most pleasing group composition and start the photography. Check out the lighting diagram and see exactly where I had the strobe positioned. I bring it in about 30 degrees from the right or the left hand side – depending on how shadows are going to fall on my subjects and their clothing.

7. The next thing is to get the best expressions on everybody’s faces. I’m not opposed to combining expressions to get the best finished portrait. I think I made about three expression swaps on this portrait. Hey, it’s part of the job these days. 8. After getting the image I want, I’ll shoot the family in a few more locations around their home – more on that next week.

9. The final step is to take the image into Photoshop. Now we can soften those shadows, enhance expressions, polish the faces, add the vignetting, and refine the lighting.

Hey gang, that’s about it. It’s not “rocket science”. Be sure to give Friday’s post a read too. It goes right along with today’s post but on Friday I’ll discuss how to fight the "high noon" sun when shooting weddings. Also, don’t forget to check back for tomorrow’s Business Day Thursday – very interesting.

On that note folks, I’m out of here. We’ve got a little time off today because of the short drive to Ft. Worth. Hope to see you there tonight. Adios, -David


  1. David,
    Thank you so much for the seminar last night. I learned so much and know it will only help me improve the quality and creativity of my work.

    Thank you so much for taking your years of experience to help other photographers make their dreams a reality!

    Keep up the good work!


  2. Beautiful photo!!What is the best technique you have found in Photoshop to lighten the harsh shadows that this set up can create?

  3. Great post, David. Assuming you were using manual exposure and under exposed the background a bit?


  4. David,

    I've heard you mention before that you use a loooonng focal length for your portraits, which would put you at a considerable distance from your subjects. If that's the case, is your assistant holding the strobe a lot closer to the subjects than you are? Your diagram has the light right next to you, but I'm just curious as to the power of the light being able to reach the subjects from that far away.


  5. Thanks for the post David. I appreciate you sharing all of these little "bits" that make a huge difference on an actual shoot. I look forward to the rest of the postings.

  6. I have become firmly convinced that "David Ziser" is actually a team of seven people -- how else does he get all this done!

    As usual, great advice. Look forward to seeing you Monday in the home of fast woman and pretty horses.... or is it the other way around! :)

  7. Thanks David. I had a shoot outside yesterday @ 10am (which I thought would be early enough), but even then the glare was so bad. We had to move somewhere else to find shade. But these little tips will be awesome next time around.

  8. Point of clarification:

    Are you using just one flash in this sunlight scenario because of the simplicity of the set up?
    That is to say, are you mitigating the one shadow as opposed to multiple shadows caused by multiple strobes? Just curious.

  9. David, after 28 years in the business and dozens of conventions and seminars I feel qualified to say that you are one of the best! Thanks for a great experience in SA on Monday. You deserve all the accolades that are sent your way. Bless you for opening your heart to all of us.

  10. Hi David, On step 3, are you syncing at the highest-possible sync speed? Thanks, Brian F.