Fall in love with light, and people will fall in love with your portraits

Light is everything in photography. There is no images without any light, just black abyss. It sets the mood, it defines the scene and story, it shapes your thoughts, it directs you eyes, it moves your soul, it determines the energy flow throughout the image, it defines and complements the body language. Everything revolves around light and its quality in a photo. I am often asked by my photography students, what settings did you use for this image, or worse - what camera settings and aperture do you use in your portraits. And I hate hearing those questions not because the answer to it is I do not know but I do not want to know. I simply do not care. Neither should you. I honestly do not remember my camera settings because they are so deliciously unimportant. Instead, I remember the atmosphere, the shadows and how light fell on the model, or what shapes I saw, moments and flashes of images that my mind captured first and then they were recorded with a camera. Camera is a just tool, light is a journey. if you are lost in the scenery, you will not remember that you even hold a walking stick, let alone being aware of how you should be using it.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Learning your camera essentials is important, naturally, but to be honest, once the camera is set and all the annoying deep menu options and whistles are sorted out, all you will fiddle with is three values, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. So instead of thinking what camera settings you should be using, think of how the scene that you see feels. Is the light falling on your model in away that everything looks balanced and seems harmonious? If not, then change the lights, move yourself, change the angle. Learn how camera sees the world through the specific focal length and aperture and use it creatively. Learn to capture what you want by experimenting wit the camera settings and lenses, not the other way round.

model: Viktoria

model: Viktoria

Do not let the camera hold you back or define the limits of your artistic sense. It may take time, but it is worth it. I had a client recently who asked me if I have experience shooting Asians. It was so clear to me she had no clue on what it is all about. I replied: I shoot personalities not races, I shoot moments not expectations. Every time I shoot, I always bear two things in mind - light quality and environment. Model is my last worry, though it is very important to have all 3 elements in sync, other wise your images may not make much sense. It is the emphasis that you put on the subject of your photo by means of light what matters, and it is irrelevant whether it is a face, a gesture, a vista, or just few random stones on a beach. Fall in love with light and how it is being cast, and the rest will fall into place.

model: Erika Ito

model: Erika Ito

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Portrait photography is about capturing souls with your lens, not faces

Portrait photographs are are real life situations. some will make you smile and are pleasant to look at, while others will make you think, recollect or even dream. Capturing faces can be fun, but capturing souls is simply an enticing experience. Those are split seconds when your model is warped, zoned out, somewhere else in her past or future, traveling through memories or past experiences, her desires or wishes. Those are the moments when the time pauses for a second yet the captured expression itself is timeless. When the photo you have captured truly moves the model emotionally when she looks at it, then you know you have dug deep enough to touch her thoughts. And this is what I call a great portrait.

model: Iselita

model: Iselita

Photographing people without their social masks, real people, takes time and patience, it also requires mutual understanding, connection and good communication. You have to reach way past their private zones, to where whatever you say or do will have a direct impact on their mood. The emotional distance between people is what kills images, and as a portrait photographer you should learn how to minimize that distance to zero without having your model retracting to her shell of safety. Trust is essential here, feeling of comfort, and most importantly peace and quiet. This is mainly why I detest shooting portraits in areas crawling with people. It depends on the assignment or idea behind the shoot, and also on how many times I worked with a given model, but generally I avoid crowded spaces. Studio would sound like a good solution but studios have this clinical "I am about to get shot" feel. Outdoor sets, on the other hand,  have so many distractions where elements of city or nature that bring memories. Women react to sounds, smells, and those could easily project images, even more so for those with developed artistic side.

model: Nami

model: Nami

Another way to capture moody and intriguing images is by evoking emotions. Do not talk to your model, instead talk with your model. Even better, forget she is a model and think of her as a girl or a woman. Engage her mind, intrigue her, make her laugh or revive some memories by simply having a chat about anything that you both find interesting. It is all about disabling the defense mechanisms and removing shields of "gee I hope my lipstick isn't crooked". Make her forget not only that you are photographing her, make her forget you are even there. If you manage this for a brief time, then you got yourself superb images. Learn their face, how light falls on it and how shadows are created, use that to your advantage. Face expressions can be amazing but when complimented by appropriate colors and light they can be mesmerizing. If you think of human face expression as an art, then think of each photograph as a single frame from a story. It has to be self contained, but also open enough for a viewer to be able to adopt it to their own life story,. It always makes me laugh when people interpret poetry or paintings. What a bunch of fools. It's art, you are supposed to absorb it not analyze it. If a portrait photograph makes people dissipate emotionally, then you are not a photographer anymore, you are an artist.

model: Iselita

model: Iselita

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Create illusion of natural light with flashes and capture stunning portraits

Just like in life everything in excess is usually not the best thing. The same goes to artificial lights in photography. I love outdoor portraits, but I also like to mix lights for ultimate control of mood and emotions in my photos. Flash photography is often disliked by many people and the reason for it is simple. It is not about mastering flashes and exposure, but about falling in love with light and effects that you can create with it. Set exposure and measure light with your soul not the light meter. That is the key. Attune to your model's mood or evoke one, whatever you do the light quality should complement it, without drawing too much attention. You are painting with light, not following math equasions.

model: Mina

model: Mina

It depends on the effect you are going for but if you want to create an illusion of natural light with flashes then the key is to tone down the flash power and (often) use color gels that will complement colors or shift them to your liking. This photo that you can see above was shot few minutes before the sun dissapeared behind the horizon. The ligth was too weak to shoot crystal clear portrait but the light color was amazing, and the softness was too good to ruin it. I shot this at 1/250 so max shutter speed that my camera syncs with the flash (HSS would not give me enough power from one flash gun). I had to dial down the flash manually untill it felt right, I do have light meter but honestly I rarely use it. I used double diffusion with CTO gel for the flash to warm the light up. I callibrated WB with XRITE color checker before applying the gel, so then the orange cast would add on top of the corrected color. That gave the illusion of sunset color. Photo was cross processed so the final tones have shifted anyways (see the video below which shows my photoshop editing workflow) but it is important to have a good color base, esepcially for portraits. 

Experiment with light and forget about TTL if you are not in a hurry. And quite frankly I never am. I create image after image and time doesnt bother me. I do not care how long I have to shoot to get what I want. Also, you should master photo editing and preferably in Photoshop or any program that gives you superb control over layers and offers non destructive editing. Leave Lightroom for lazy people and those who edit their photos in bulk. They lack respect for their own work. Portrait editing is an art and requires time (see my 5h long in-depth photoshop tutorial on portrait editing), patience and vision. Get it right in camera for me means two things: to capture beautiful light and natural body language. The rest I not only can, but WANT to play with in photoshop. I love doing it.

Go outside and learn how the light works, study it and appreciate what it can do and what you can do with it. You will see world in a completely new light.

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Use photoshop to create what you want, not what others tell you is right.

If I do not say this no one else will. Fuck what others think. Photo retouching is an art and as an artist you are free to do what you feel is right. It is you who decides which way to go, and all you need to listen to is your intuition and heart. Art is about searching your path, constant improvement via experimenting. There is no room for fear and concern about what someone may think. Most of the people have an artistic sense of a boiled potato anyways, and are so jaded and brainwashed with constant flow of junk on Instacrap that they do not know what is art and what isn't anymore. They cannot function without being told, because it makes them feel safe and attached to a trend or social circle. There will always be those who appreciate your art and those who don't. You do not create for them, you create to stay alive and content. you create because you cannot live otherwise.

model: Apple

model: Apple

For me photoshop is like a gateway to freedom of expression. It all starts with a blank sheet or some raw ingredients in a form of images and I can do whatever I please. Every image has its energy, its aura and it will guide you though the process. Sometimes I immediately know how I want to edit an image, and often I shoot with a vision of editing. Nonetheless I may just change my mind half way, or wait even few weeks until I grow up to editing certain photo. Just like a seed planted in your imagination photos will grow on you.

All that however does not excuse ignorance and pigheadedness. Keep learning, discovering, looking around you and listening to your models. Some of them can have seriously cool ideas, just like the model you see on the photo above. She said "can you make me matte black in photoshop?" And I thought "hell yeah". Lots of them are performers or artists. Those ideas will challenge your creativity and skill. Artists should be like kids who learn while and through playing. Be mindful in your play but at the same time lose yourself in it.

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How to capture sumblime ethereal moments with your portrait phootgraphy

Do you need dreamy meadows and morning sun piercing through the fog to capture very soft and ethereal images with white vignetting around the edges to empasise the softness? Not really. In fact low key dramatic images that remove the background can be even more sublime than anything else. So what is the secret then? The mood and the post processing. And post processing is VERY important. The mood is something that you capture or evoke. It is happening during the shoot. As a photographer you need to build a connection with your models and learn their body language. How they react, behave, their face mimics, emotions and how to spark them, and so on. This is why I usually work alone, one on one with whomever I photograph. For me portrait photography is like ambient music, it is a one giant tunnel you walk into, or a beam of channeled energy that cannot be disconnected. If a model gets distracted, there goes your shoot or at least a theme.

model: Eccaia

model: Eccaia

The post processing is a massively important. Regardless of how soft your lighting may be if you do not know how to deal with harsh shadow transitions and how to accent certain areas like reflections in the eyes, or how to make other parts of the image become less visible and intrusive, you will not be able to achieve this result. It is a combination of mattified skin, smoothed out highlights and shadows, very selective contrasting and balancing the darkest and the brightest tones. Black and white is not always the way to go. Light and mood in your image is like music. Listen to it, and then you will know what genre it belongs to.

Last but not least, the composition must be in symbiosis with the mood and editing. You need to place your model in the frame according to the feel you are going for, or even better so - the feel you are capturing. Sometimes photographers focus so hard on what they envisioned that they are blinded to what is actually happening. Capture images like an artist not like a craftsman. Capture what you feel not what you see. Be like attentive and sensitive to what is going on in front of your lens, and learn how to adjust instinctively. It is good to have a concept for the shoot, but spontaneous moments make the best photos. It should not be your job to know how not to miss them. It should be your second nature and passion.

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For more tutorials and how to videos check out my photoshop and photography tips and tricks YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEOVGZ2rpLhR7gSPvaexxxQ

 

Create drama and mood in your portraits with cinematic color grading in photoshop

Photo retouching is a complex art and it comes with countless options and possibilities. In fact, the only limitation is your skills and imagination. Color grading is one of the last steps in my editing workflow in photoshop. It is best to leave coloring and toning until the image is fully edited. Any changes to contrast, sharpness, vignetting, etc. will amplify or reduce colors and saturation. Those always effect toning and mood of the photo so again it is best to wait till you are sure that the image is finalized. 

model: Apple Nicole

model: Apple Nicole

Having said that, very often it happens so that I revise my editing either after I finish working on it, or the next day. While retouching a photo I change the zoom very often, so I switch between details and global scale all the time. It is possible to miss certain things when I am redirect a narrow focus to a problem area. It is essential to review your work after you are happy with the final result. If you are a obsessed with details like I am, you will always find something to be fine tuned.

The way you color grade your image will depend on the model, mood, lighting, retouching style, your photoshop knowledge, artistic concept and vision the photo was taken with, and so on. There is no recipe for photo toning and no preset that should be applied. Every single time you will encounter different colors on your images, so the color values that you will apply during toning should match those. Applying presets and photoshop actions is a lazy way out and produces rather poor results. Take your time, look at the building blocks of the image and try to sense what type of toning would fit this particular photo. It is your art and your decision, do not let presets created by others mindlessly decide for you.

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Importance of matching colors and tones with the mood of a photo

Human skin is very complex in terms of tonal shifts and colors. Depending on the light used during the shoot, you can achieve different results. Light decides everything: mood, composition,  colors, tonal shifts, and so on. Then, during photo retouching, you will need to deal with things like color casts, skin blotchiness, imperfections of skin texture, shadow and highlight bending and uneven transitions between them, discoloration in highlights and excessive saturation in shadows, difference of skin color temperature or even hue depending on the size of the light source used, etc.

model: Nami

model: Nami

Photo retouching is an extremely powerful tool which allows me to complete my artistic vision. I do not care about how things should look like, all I care about is what feel and mood I want to convey. Photo retouching should not be a result of happy accident or what you think others will find appropriate, but a creative tool for finalizing YOUR idea. The same as with photography rules, you master those to break them. Composing a photo is like falling in love, you feel it, you do not think about it or analyze it. There are no limits to art, as long as it does not feel forced or fake. Photography and photo editing should be naturally inspired by what you see and what it makes you feel like. This is also why taking time to choose photo for retouching is of no less importance than the editing process. Not rushing through the retouch or using photoshop presets mindlessly will only benefit you at the end.

If the toning does not match the mood of the photo it will be a visual cacophony. You are composing a symphony, and all the instruments have to be in tune with one another. But understanding all this is not enough. You need a good connection with your model or client, a connection strong enough for you to either capture an emotion that is real and not staged, a moment in between if you will, or be able to evoke it. Only then you will fully understand the mood of your own photo. At that stage a direction in which you should take your retouching will become clear.

Private photoshop workshops via skype - http://www.ryuurui.com/photo-retouching-lessons.html

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Low key portrait photography - harmony of light and shadows

I am not too fond of typical studio shots, with almost flat lighting on the model and plain white background. Those kind of shots are mostly used for ads in magazines, in which the model is removed from the background and the image can be manipulated in every way possible. The problem is that those kind from shots are on the boring side. The light is dull, they all look the same, there is no power, no drama, no impact. Naturally there are exceptions, like amazing models, interesting perspective or angle, great hair or makeup, or amazing fashion design that model is wearing. This is why I love dramatic and moody lighting, shadows, mystery and all that. Shadows provide another set of clothes for a model, or just a cloak if she is nude. It is quite complicated to work with speed lights in low key, as if the model moves only by one or two centimeters it can throw off the entire composition, especially if hard light is considered. Low key photography is also great for learning controlling the light in a very precise way. Once you master low key photography, you can shoot anything. Girls living in Tokyo area or models building their folio who are interested in a photoshoot like this, please message me directly and we can schedule a shoot. You do not have to be a pro.

Flash photography outdoor beauty portrait photoshoot in Tokyo

I love all types of portrait photography, and I too think that natural light is simply amazing and hard to beat, however, flash photography offers so much more control that is is difficult to pass on. If you are a natural light photographer only you are limiting yourself very substantially to the ambient light, i.e. available light. Once the night comes, and the wonderful city lights pop out, you are packing and going home. Now flash photography allows me to shoot all day, 24/7 regardless the light. In fact, I can create night during a sunny day, remove ugly distraction from he background, and control the power, ration and colors of the light. I can set up white balance to one setting, slap on a gel or two on my speed lights and create mood that otherwise would be impossible to capture. Here is a portrait of Nicole, a model and a singer from Scotland taken outside on the evening street of Shibuya in central Tokyo. If you are visiting Tokyo and wish to have spectacular photographs taken, that will make you feel great not only about yourself but also create unforgettable memoirs from your travels, then contact me and book a shoot!

model: Nicole

model: Nicole

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