The photographer of these portraits claimed he used a 50mm f/1.8 prime with no special lighting equipment:



No matter what I try I can't have the same saturation. The highlights in the models' eyes and on their lips are very difficult to achieve too. Any idea?

Here is one of my attempts: enter image description here

  • "The highlights in the models' eyes" are called "catchlights," if you're looking for a keyword to learn more about that topic. Also, to me they look square (i.e. artificial; perhaps a window or skylight?), especially in the first picture, so I'm curious what answerers can tell us about that. Finally: did you try asking the photographer for suggestions or more details? – drewbenn Nov 15 '11 at 9:46
  • He mentioned that some post-processing was done, but didn't say what. I suspect some photoshopping is needed to achieve this. What kind of editing should I be looking into? – duysurfing Nov 15 '11 at 10:04
  • I embedded the picture from your link into the question, hope you don't mind (feel free to revert if you do). – drewbenn Nov 15 '11 at 10:10
  • I'm not a portrait photographer, so you'll need to get someone else's opinion: I can't see any differences (except the missing catchlights) between your picture and the examples you're trying to emulate. – drewbenn Nov 15 '11 at 10:13
  • I think the other photos have more saturated and vivid colors (albeit somewhat artificial). – duysurfing Nov 15 '11 at 10:32

I can tell you how this was shot, assuming "no special lighting equipment" is true:

  • Choose to shoot on an overcast day, or cloudy (but not dim) day.
  • Shoot outdoor
  • Have the model look straight or slightly up, so the top of her eye reflects the sky, giving the highlight

The lips are not that shinny unless you put some lip gloss on. So I think that is a different matter (its more about choosing the right makeup than lighting the model)

If you show us some of your attempted shots, we can observe your approach and let you know what should you change to achieve the result you want.

Edit: the attempted image you post is underexposed (arguably), and the white balance is off, giving a blueish tint. The hood also makes the light uneven, a good way to counter that would be to use a reflector. Lastly to get catch light you need a light source that is bright, small, placed high and inbetween you and your model. Sometimes you can use the sky if the angle is right, sometimes you can simply use something like a -2EV flash (on camera), or the catch-light card on dedicated external flash units like the 580EXII

Edit: enter image description here I edited your photo to illustrate what you can try.

Basically, you need to light your model's face EVENLY. Illustrated here is one way of doing it, using a fill flash. You can also use a reflector.

If you don't have an external flash, you can use internal flash, but the only way to control the direction of the light is to move the camera.

Finally, for even lighting, you need a lightsource of HUGE surface, that is CLOSE to the subject. In studios people use lights (softbox) as big as a dinning table to light a model's face. Basically, unless you are doing some special effects, you want soft light falling on your model's face. Bigger the light source, closing it is to the model = softer the light.

The key is to light the model with soft light across the face, showing the face in smooth shades. Not too flat, not too harsh, but smooth. Because that way the face looks three dimensional, thus is pleasing and natural.

  • I shot this one with the "nifty fifty" @f/2.8 on an overcast day (a little dim I guess). The model had her lip gloss on. farm6.static.flickr.com/5169/5341897301_83ae0b7991_o_d.jpg – duysurfing Nov 15 '11 at 9:55
  • You link didn't work. Anyway I updated the answer to give you more info. – Gapton Nov 15 '11 at 11:41
  • Thanks for your informative answer. Btw, what do you mean by -2EV flash? Can I do that with the popup flash of my 450D? – duysurfing Nov 16 '11 at 2:34
  • edited again to add info about "Fill Flash" , search it on google should give you good tutorials on how to use fill flash. internal flash can do it, but it is very limited. – Gapton Nov 16 '11 at 5:56
  • Thanks. I'm reading up on the Strobist stuffs per Nicholas' recommendation. I guess by "-2EV" you meant the power of the flash is 2 stop-down from full power, didn't you? – duysurfing Nov 16 '11 at 10:22

To get the catchlight in the eyes in-camera you can:

  1. Have the model look more to the direction of a light source (the sun if outdoors, a window if indoors, a normal light bulb or a flash will all work).

  2. Use a reflector to shine some extra light into the eyes, anything light colored will do (white fabric, a piece of paper, a mirror, the wall of a near by building, etc.)

Just move the model and the reflector (and, if using artificial light the light source) around until you get a catchlight you like.

Obviously you can then make the catchlight more pronounced in post by brightening it, sharpening the eyes also sometimes helps.

Now, it looks to me like there are multiple catchlights in the picture you linked to (I'm not sure because those are small versions), this suggests multiple light sources were used to take the picture (or one light source + reflectors)


No special lighting equipment, or no lighting equipment at all? [cleared up].

It's controlled direct natural light, he'll be in an area where the light is quite naturally diffused but strong enough for punch, he's positioned the models in relation to where the light is falling naturally to emphasis and is probably getting a lot of help from reflective surfaces in the environment (especially for the catchlights in the first).

Also, if those are straight out of the camera he's played with the default image settings, to my eyes they look like they've been gently tweaked to achieve the results. The blacks, whites and colours all look like they've been lifted (the nifty is pretty contrasty at times but no where near that much) and massaged to get the image to where it is.

If you're struggling to do au natural then don't, look at going down the strobist route, it'll achieve a similar result.

  • He actually said "natural light only". He also mentioned some post-processing, but didn't say what. – duysurfing Nov 15 '11 at 9:58
  • 1
    Thanks for your answer and for mentioning strobist. I'm reading up on it now. This community rocks. – duysurfing Nov 15 '11 at 14:26
  • I would say a lot of post processing. Personally, that is the first thing I saw when I clicked on your links. Colour effects filters or some colour tweaking, noise reduction and sharpening. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Nov 17 '11 at 14:54

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