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Old 03-25-2009, 12:18 AM   #1
Christy Talbott Christy Talbott is offline
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Lighting is Different




For the past couple years at least, when taking photos for use as reference for head studies, I try to use a lighting which I'm confident will work well. This I'm afraid tends to make my portraiture a bit formulaic. Nowadays I most often use north (slight northwest) light from my studio windows. I feel I ought to be trying to challenge myself more than I generally do. The other day I took these photos at a client's home. The lighting on both is different than what I'm most used to working with. I feel pretty good (I think!) about the lighting in the baby girl's photo (I'll alter, sweeten her expression just a bit). I'm not sure about the little boy's photo... Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks so much in advance.

Christy
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Old 03-25-2009, 02:27 PM   #2
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Are they going to be two separate portraits, i.e, two head-and-shoulders?
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Old 03-25-2009, 03:42 PM   #3
Christy Talbott Christy Talbott is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexandra Tyng
Are they going to be two separate portraits, i.e, two head-and-shoulders?
Yes, they're going to be separate, hung in the same room but not next to each other.
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Old 03-25-2009, 11:26 PM   #4
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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I think a portrait subject should be lit in a way that both flatters them and brings out their true character. Color and composition can then be used to make each portrait a unique artistic statement. The purpose of the portrait is to best convey a sense of the sitter. Sorry, but I don't think either of these serve that end very well.
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Old 03-26-2009, 12:58 AM   #5
Christy Talbott Christy Talbott is offline
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Thank you for commenting and for your honesty Marvin. Saying that the subject should be lit to flatter and bring out their character does of course make good sense. The photo of the baby isn't truly flattering to her, I thought mostly because of her expression which I don't mind altering.... Can you explain specifically why the lighting doesn't work?

I liked this photo better of the boy; his mom liked the one above. I guess this photo isn't ideal either...?

edit: If I was to use this one, I'd probably turn his eyes to the viewer and give him a more attractive pose by moving and dropping his shoulders somewhat.
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Old 03-26-2009, 06:05 PM   #6
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Lighting is a very involved subject and I don't have the time to go in great detail but here's the gist of what I see:

The little girl's photo has the light coming from the lower right and the side. Lower sourced lighting looks unnatural because in the natural world the light comes from above. They use this kind of lighting in horror movies, but in a much more exaggerated way. Also, the mouth being open is not appealing.

The little boy's lighting is more from the side. Side lighting can work but not so well when you are looking into the shadow side. Side lighting, the way you have it exaggerates the thinness and pointedness of the face.

Lighting for painting is different than lighting for a photo. Photos are more acceptable because we've come to trust that what the camera sees is real. In a painting all bets are off. I know this is an over simplification but the front of the head should be lit to emphasize the form, with at least 3/4 of the face in light. This rule can be broken but should be for a specific reason. Check out old master portraits and see what they did.
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Old 03-26-2009, 06:33 PM   #7
Marvin Mattelson Marvin Mattelson is offline
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Here are some of William McGregor Paxton's portraits utilizing a variety of portrait lighting conditions.

The top, Girl With a Pink Rose, is side lit but looking into the lit side.

The next one, Portrait of Elizabeth Paxton, is 3/4 lit with a second rim light.

The third one, Girl at Table (Detail), is between 3/4 and side lit but you can still see the side plane of her skull (on the darker side) clearly delineated. That avoids the illusion of the narrowing of her facial structure. Compare the cast shadow by her nose with your photos.

The last, Portrait of Louise Converse, is also 3/4 lighting but slightly more frontal. (Side note: For anyone interested, this portrait is currently on view at the Hammer galleries on 57th Street in NYC.)

You can see that Paxton has managed to achieve a great degree of variety in his portraits. One of his axioms was to "always look for a new motif. He is the master!
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Old 03-27-2009, 01:12 AM   #8
Christy Talbott Christy Talbott is offline
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Marvin, the Paxton images are beautiful, incredibly lush, thanks for posting them. The light is great... another thing I notice is how he's looking down at the women a little so that they are looking up at him making their eyes larger and somehow more compelling- A very flattering way to view women and children. And of course we are used to looking down at children, so it is natural to photograph this way. If you get just at eye level I always feel they look a little too mature.

Well, I hate to work from these photos after I just got a definite thumbs down from you! :-) I told my client I'd like to have a few more choices and would be happy to take more photos. She says she likes these with the exception of the baby's expression (we'd discussed closing her jaw and mouth a touch) . She loves the light on the baby's photo! I kind of like it too, but maybe just because I want to try something different. I'll tell her a more experienced painter than I suggests better reference photos. I just did this drawing of my daughter from a photo I took yesterday. This is the light I almost always use....
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Old 03-27-2009, 11:28 AM   #9
Laurel Alanna McBrine Laurel Alanna McBrine is offline
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Hi Christy,

I just wanted to say that your drawing is beautiful - tender and expressive.

Are you going to be drawing or painting the two children in question?
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Old 03-27-2009, 05:37 PM   #10
Christy Talbott Christy Talbott is offline
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Hi Laurel, thank you very much. The two portraits are to be done in pastel. I'll try to arrange another sitting with them, at the studio this time.
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