Esther Beaton


Making great people photos

There are so many factors that go into good “people” shots. People photos for geographic magazines are a bit different from standard portraits. Sometimes they are raw photojournalism, but usually they fall into a genre called “environmental portraiture”. I’ve done this for so long now that I’ve come to really love it. The essential elements are: a) the lighting, b) the activity (the pose, the props) and c) the background (the environment). 

Environmental Portrait with Mixed Lighting

During my recent assignment, I thought I’d experiment with mixed lighting, which means a mixture of colours. Technically it means you haven’t matched the different colours of different light sources. But you can also deliberately create mixed lighting for effect.

The most basic way to do this is to change the colour of the ambient light in camera and the other colour on the light source itself. A really common match is blue vs orange – especially because warm tones are most complementary to skin. 

mixed lighting opposite colours
To deliberately mix lighting for effect, dial in one colour on your camera, then add the opposite colour to your light source. (By the way, in the final shot, he has a more traditional pose and is looking towards the light.)

I met my subject at a location which I thought had lots of background interest relevant to the story. I set the camera for a heavy blue balance. I then attached an orange filter to a TTL Speedlight, added a softbox as well, and positioned the unit off to one side. Most of the work was in getting the two exposures to match up. 

The result looked OK on the camera’s monitor but on the computer it just looked a bit brassy. Easy, just use Lightroom to desaturate the whole image a bit! 

In the end, do you think it was worth it? Imagine if it was all bland, neutral tones. Pretty boring huh? Well, I think it’s OK, but don’t worry, I’ll keep working this method  – you can never stop learning and practicing. 

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