Monday, February 21, 2011

10 Keys To Unique Portraits

No matter what type of photography you like, at one point or another, you’ll find yourself shooting a portrait.
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
10 Keys To Unique Portraits

I used my truck as a blind, shooting out an open window at the models, but staying perfectly dry inside. Falling snowflakes added a new dimension to the images and made the photos pop.

The next time light rain or snow is falling, try shooting a portrait in these conditions for something different.

9. Use "edgy" light
Similar to unique locations, your choice of lighting also can result in non-cliché portraits. Soft light sources are flattering and make subjects look good. I use this type of light for many portraits. But after I have the soft light shot, I start thinking outside the box with my lighting. What other ways can I light my subject?

This is an exercise in breaking the rules, doing things that would make most portrait photographers cringe. I’ll be the first to admit that when I teach my lighting workshops and see students using bare-bulb flash from radical angles, I think, “Oh, boy, this is going to be a disaster.” But I let them shoot anyway since a lot of learning is accomplished by making mistakes. The real shocker is when I look at their images later and they look great. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

10. Lightpaint your model
If you don’t own any flashes, try lightpainting your subject. All you need is an inexpensive flashlight and a dark room, and you’re ready to go.

Lightpainting involves setting your camera on a tripod, opening up the shutter for a minute or more and illuminating your subject with a flashlight. Try adding light to select parts of your subject to create some contrast and uneven lighting. Also lightpaint the background behind your subject to add more depth and interest to the shot. Try covering your flashlights with colored gels for more effects.

Bring It All Together
I just had a client ask me to photograph a local band for their album cover. He said they were looking for something different, edgy—nothing mainstream and boring. Perfect! I’m thinking of having them float in a pool at night and shoot straight down from a high step ladder. I’ll use some hard-edged lights with blue gels underwater for the background and gridded lights to illuminate each of their faces. Maybe I should have some water snakes slithering in the pool with them. This shot is going to be way outside the box!

Tom Bol is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Colorado. You can see more of his photography at

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