20 Tips for Home Studio Portraits

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Guest Post by Ann Marie DiLorenzo

 At the Canon booth at the 2018 Photo Plus show in NYC, Rick Sammon promised the audience that he’d give at least 10 tips during his presentation. Well, Rick actually gave 20 tips. Here they are!

Note: For the portraits in this post, Rick used a Canon speedlite in a Westcott Apollo Soft Box.

1) When you think you need 2 lights, use 1 light. When you think you need 3, use 2. (A Frank Doorhof quote)


2) Be aware of other lighting in the room; you want your speedites lights to be the main source of light.

3) Umbrella spreads light evenly; soft box allows you to control and shape the light. 

4) If you want an interesting portrait, don’t light the subject’s entire face. 

5) For a portrait with few shadows on your subject’s face, you want the subject’s nose to follow the light; have their nose face the lighting source.  

6) The size of a subject’s pupils affects our impression of the subject. The advantage of using a speed light is that the pupil doesn’t have time to close down, making the photo more inviting. 

7) Never touch the model. 

8) The larger the light source, the softer the light. The closer the light source is to the subject, the softer the light.  For a soft constant light source, check out this Westcott lighting kit.

9) In lighting, inches matter. 

10) Shadows are the souls of the picture. 

11) Never underestimate the value of a good model.  

12) Use your camera like a drone - move the camera up and down to effect the viewer’s perception of the subject. If you move the camera down lower, the model has you get a greater sense of power. 

13) When looking through the viewfinder or at your LCD monitor, use border patrol - look at the boundaries of the photo and make sure what you want is in, or not in, the 

14) Don’t amputate the subjects at the joints.  

15) Name of the game is to fill the frame. Fill the frame with the subject.

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16) The background can make or break the shot. 

17) Most important thing in a photo is the mood/feeling. Backgrounds create moods. 

18) Dead center is deadly. If you place the subject in the center of the frame, the viewer’s eye gets stuck on the subject and doesn’t look at other things in the photo. 

19) Use gels over the light source (speed light)  - red or blue to create an effect. 

20) Focus on the subject’s eyes in a portrait.

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Want more tips on home studio portraits? Check out Rick’s KelbyOne on-line classes.

Gearin' Up for My Utah National & State Parks Road Trip

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah.

Susan and I are heading out next week for another awesome road trip, where we’ll be exploring Utah’s State and National Parks. Photos to come.

For now, I thought I’d share with you “what’s in my carry-on bag” to give you an idea of the gear I use for landscape photography - and why. Here goes.

Canon R (mirrorless) with new 24-105mm IS lens - my new “go to” camera/lens for travel photography.

Canon R lens adapter ring - so I can use all my Canon lenses on the R.

Canon 5D Mark IV - for shooting videos and stills.

Canon 16-35mm lens - my main landscape lens.

Canon 24-105mm IS lens - for tighter landscape shots.

Two Canon battery chargers and a total of four batteries, so I always have power.

Really Right Stuff ball head - in case my luggage is delayed, I can buy a tripod on site and still use my RRS ball head. I never lose site of my ball head. I do pack my tripod in my checked luggage.

Delkin Devices SD and Compact Flash cards/card reader - to safeguard my photographs.

Goblin Valley State Park, UT.

Goblin Valley State Park, UT.

Black Rapid strap - for easy camera handling when I am not using my tripod.

Breakthough Photography magnetic ND and polarizing filters - for long exposures and to reduce glare/darken a blue sky.

Two head-mounted flashlights - one for me, one for Susan.

Canon G7 X - for fun shots along the road.

Allen wrenches - for tightening my tripod legs and camera plates.

Platypod - for low-level, creative shooting.

Blower to keep my sensors clean - and lens cleaning cloths to keep my lenses clean.

I have another bag for my computer stuff. So I have a total of two carry-on bags.

All this gear fits in my Backlight 26L MindShift camera bag, shown above.

For great deals on gear, check out Adorama - more than a camera store.

All my gear is listed here.

Needs some tips on travel photography? Check out my KelbyOne classes.

Explore the light,

One Photo – 14 Photo Tips

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Here's a favorite photo from one of my China photo workshops. I thought it would be fun to see how many tips I could give for this one photo. Here goes:

1) Get a Good Guide. My guides, Andy and Mia Beales, chose the location and time of day (predawn) for a picture-perfect scene.

2) Seek Separation. Notice how the two cormorant fishermen are perfectly separated. That's not by accident. We directed the fishermen into that position. Learn more about composition in my KelbyOne class, 20 Time-Proven Rules of Composition.

2) Frame It! Framing a subject in a scene helps that subject to stand out. On shore, I chose a position that showed the fisherman in the foreground framed by brighter background light.

3) Include the Background. The mountains in the background add a "sense of place" to the scene. Cover the mountains with your hand and see how it changes the "sense of place" of the picture.

4) Go for Gesture. Gesture is important in people photography, as well as in animal photography. Notice the gesture of the foreground fisherman's hand, and see how the background fisherman is holding his arms. Again, we directed the fishermen, as a movie director would direct his actors.

5) Crop Creatively - The areas above, below, and to the left and right of this scene did not add anything to the impact of this image. Cropping creatively was the answer to making a more interesting photograph.

6) Mood Matters Most - Taken in the predawn light, my original file (Canon 5D Mark IV) had a blue-grey cast. To enhance the mood of the scene, I boosted the blues.

7) Include Reflections - When you have a good reflection, include it in the scene. Had I cut off the top of the foreground fisherman's head reflected in the water, the picture would look as though it was missing something.

8) Expose for the Highlights - Activate your camera's highlight alert and make sure you have no "blinkies," which indicate overexposed areas in a scene. If you get "blinkies," reduce your exposure, bit by bit, until they are gone. Here I was shooting on the Av mode and set my exposure compensation to -1 EV.

9) Get it all in focus - This photograph looks like the scene looked to my eyes - everything in focus. Choose an aperture that will get everything in focus, if you want that effect. Here: Canon 24-70mm f/4 lens set at f/7.1 Focal length was set at 45mm.

10) Don't Be Afraid of Noise – Photographing in low light at high ISO settings usually means that you'll get a bit of noise in your photographs. Fear not, you can reduce noise in Photoshop, Lightroom and with plug-ins.

11) Envision the End Result - Before you shoot, envision the end result - in-camera and in the digital darkroom. I talk about that in my book, Creative Visualization.

12) Compose Using the Rule of Thirds - Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over a frame and place the main subject where the lines intersect, as they would for the foreground fisherman.

Explore the light,

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P.S. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at our predawn photo shoot. Good fun and great pictures was had by all.

Virtual Iceland Photo Workshop - Trip Planner

Here's a cool idea for all those who ever wanted to do an Iceland workshop – but who also like the freedom of traveling alone or with a buddy . . . and who don't have the budget for a live Iceland workshop, which can be very expensive. It's an on-line virtual photo workshop where I help you – before and after your trip – make photographs like the ones in my Iceland Photo Gallery.

What's included:
• Our stop-by-stop itinerary. With this itinerary I can also help you plan your trip.
• One-hour Skype session before your trip where we discuss your trip and I review your photographs.
• I need your Skype name and a link for a gallery of your best images.
• One-hour Skype session after your trip where I review your new photographs and offer composition, exposure and processing suggestions.

Cost for the virtual photo workshop is $199 payable via paypal. Shoot me an email to arrange your virtual photo workshop.

I also give virtual photo workshops to Route 66, Oregon Coast, Botswana and Kenya.

Explore the light,