How to compose with light in order to create stunning portrait photos

Difference between a good portrait photo or headshot and an amazing one is almost entirely down to the quality of light. Yes the background is essential, and so is the body language, but if light is poorly directed and its quality (hard, soft, diffused, focused, etc.) is not complimentary to the rest of the image then all will fall apart. To create an outstanding image you not only have to know how to operate with light, but also why and when to use specific techniques that will result in a natural and undisturbed energy flow through the whole image. In other words, when you look at it it has to feel natural, and you should not see any element that stands out to the extent that it dominates the photo in a negative way.

 model: Nata

model: Nata

When I work with a new model and I have no idea how to light her face yet, I experiment and search, the I discover and conclude. Everyone has a different face features, and they come with various types of personality. This will require different lighting each time for each person. If you mount your light on spot A and place yourself in spot B every time you shoot, only because it is your safe spot and you know you captured decent images last time and 100 times before it, you will learn nothing and remain medicore at best. Think of your photography as a boat and your model as the wind. Set her lose and don't force posing, and let her steer you in a general direction of what she feels is natural in terms of positioning and body language. Then become a sail and adjust your course. Sailing against the wind is possible but why on earth would you do that.

 model: June

model: June

Light should not only direct the eye around the photo but it should be an integral part of the entire composition. If you think about it, there would not be a photo without light. On the other hand even the most amazing model placed in a bad light will look terrible. So you have to be sensitive to body language, yes, but poses and angles that you capture those poses from have to be in symbiosis with the light and its quality. Do not copy and photograph what you can, capture what you feel you should in a given moment. Do not photograph what your eyes see, but follow your heart instead. If you appreciate the subtle differences of light angles, intensity, direction, and so on, your portraits will look much more rich, defined, and peaceful at the same time, regardless of how dynamic the message or subject of the photo is.

 model: Saari

model: Saari

Editing is essential for your progress, and I cannot stress this enough. Forget Lightroom and leave it for lazy people. Diving into Photoshop will not only allow you to refine what you have captured in much better and more professional ways than Lightroom ever could but also will do something outstanding- it will slow you down and let you gaze at the image for longer time. You will improve your sense of composition, lighting, understanding body language and help you to narrow down and target your own shortcoming as an artist. Just like a tripod is great for studying architecture photography, Photoshop is amazing for improving your portraiture. Do not mass produce your images but create them. Not only that, if you start working with frequency separation techniques, which are the only way to professionally edit a portrait image or a headshot, you will discover how you can fix issues with shadows and even reshape face features. This is a superb way of learning the light and how it works.

Contact me directly for one-to-one online photoshop tutorials via desktop sharing.
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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

Contact me directly for one-to-one online photoshop tutorials via desktop sharing.
Portrait photography service, Tokyo - website
http://www.portrait-photography-tokyo.com/
Photography workshops in Tokyo: http://www.ryuurui.com/photography-workshops.html
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What are the key elements of a great portrait photo

Photography is all about light. That is it. Light determines composition, mood, colors, depth, and so on. Without light, all you would see is a black rectangle. However, once the light is cast, more elements come into play. Portrait photography is not about photographing faces. It is about photographing emotions, moments, personalities. If you focus on the face only, you lose depth and story. Face is not the subject here, the moment is. Just like when you photograph dancers, you capture movement, energy, gesture and composition, balance and grace, power and momentum. You do not photograph legs or arms.

 model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Psychology plays massive part in portrait photography. Your job, as portrait photographer, is to search deep under the surface of social masks that everyone wears. They make people feel safe and invulnerable. You have to learn how to strip them off even just for a moment. Similarly to how street photography is about waiting and predicting a happening, portrait photography is about capturing and evoking split seconds of feelings and moods. Knowledge of body language is as important here as the ability of connecting with another human being. That connection has to be sincere so they feel comfortable and loosen their guard. This cannot be done in a haste, so do not rush your portrait shoots. This is also why I do not agree with charging per hour. It feels like mass production to me. I charge per each final image, and yes, post processing is the second reason here. 

It is said that the best portraits are taken when people do not realise they are being photographed. True, but for me this is a bit too invasive. One of the reasons why I am not comfortable with street portraiture, even though I do appreciate it's raw beauty, is because it feels unfair and even vulgar to invade other people privacy. It does not feel fair to me to steal those moments. I want to witness them, evoke and experience them, be a living part of them. Only then I can truly understand who is that I am photographing. In portrait photography the model knows that she or he is being stalked with a lens. And yes it is way more difficult to take a natural looking photo this way, but that is why a specific set of skills is required.

 model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Key elements of portrait photo for me would be complementing light, natural body language, undisturbed flow of energy through the photo, and impeccable post processing. Perfect exposure has nothing to do with image being good. Far from it. Mindless following of "photography rules" will also get you nowhere. Photography is an art, not a science, even though there is science behind it. The energy flow relates to all elements including the background,, which is often overlooked and yet so important. Post processing is huge and I would never allow to be photographed by someone who does not edit their own photos. They are either lazy, too focused on squeezing more shoots to make more money, or simply lack artistic vision. I do not just shoot and edit, I shoot with a vision of editing. When I am asked to pass RAW unedited images to a client I am actually being insulted. I do not produce snapshots, I create photographs.

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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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Harmony between soft and dramatic light in balck and white portrait photography

Two extremes co-existing together in perfect harmony. Symbiosis in dichotomy. This photo is from a recent shoot with an American artist and model Mandy Jane. We set the shoot for 7 am in Yokohama. It was gloomy, rainy and cold, so we had to shoot anywhere with a roof over our heads. Most of the shots are from the underground tunnels in Minato Mirai. We searched for any place with good light, be it natural from outside, artificial or mixed. There is no perfect weather, light or place to shoot. If you understand how light works and how to control it or use it to your advantage, then you can shoot anywhere and anytime. But you can go even one step further, and reshape the light or change the quality of light in photoshop. This is why the skill of shooting with a vision of post processing is so important in my workflow.

Taking a great photo is as complex as sensing how to post process it. This shot was lit by natural light, with delicate influence of artificial ambient light. Light is soft and supple. It was coming through a huge entrance to the underground passages. Now, the light on Mandy's face is soft and delicate, just like her distant and remote expression. Light on the metal blinds at the background, is also soft, but their shape creates dramatic conversation between light and shadow. I purposely softened the light hitting the model even further, because I knew that I want to change the light quality of the background to much more powerful and hard. Parallel horizontal lines create another contrast, because they introduce stability and harmony. This photo expresses a quite intimate moment in a powerful and dramatic setting, but cocooned in a strong vignette which encloses the scene. This is also why I photoshopped out the bottom line which was too bright, and darkened the top one, and also warped the whole left hand side of the photo outwards.

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How to retouch a male portrait in photoshop - a few quick tips & speed art video

First thing to realize is that you should usually retouch women and men differently. Most of the retouching techniques are identical, but they are applied with different strength or in a slightly different manner. For instance, the most obvious would be skin retouching, which is a huge part of any portrait editing workflow in photoshop. In most cases, for girls, you will emphasize smoothing not only tonal transitions but also invest lots of time on skin texture smoothing, preferably via the taxing process of micro dodging and burning. Now, men usually look better in hard light and with rougher skin texture. Sometimes you will even want to enhance that roughness, it all depends on what sort of effect you want to achieve. Since women look better in soft light (although not always), naturally you will want to make therm appeal softer. That leads to the contrast (for example though macro dodging and burning) and micro contrast intensity issue (it is a rather vulgar comparison but think here in terms of clarity slider), which can be easily cranked up when you work on male portraits. Even tonal transitions can be harsher in male portraits, but this is not always the case. You will also spend more time on removing imperfections and skin blemishes in female portraits. For men, you can either remove them, or reduce their visual impact, or leave them as they are. Regardless on what you decide, always pay attention to the mood and light

quality in the photo, and the purpose the photo will serve. This applies to both sexes. For instance if you are shooting a headshot for an actor, you will want to stick to the original as close as possible, where in a promotional portrait for commercial website, you will want to make your model look as good as possible, and draw the attention of the viewer to their personality and aura, rather than face features. Below video is a speed art of a portrait edit in photoshop that I did for a friend of mine, a fellow photographer John Becker. The aim of the photo was to display him as a professional with a really sunny and outgoing personality (a mixture of confidence with accessibility), which is exactly who he is in reality.. Black and white high contrast edit allowed me to redirect the attention from the face features to face expression and the eyes. I also lowered the tonal value of the background. The light was very soft, so soft you could call it dull. I had to be really careful with skin retouching and I did very little of micro dodging. At the end of the video you can see a RAW file and final image comparison, so you can easily assess how soft the light was (only ambient light was used, no modifiers or reflectors). If you would like to learn more about professional portrait editing techniques watch my full length in-depth 5.5h long tutorial. Here is a link to a quick guide video.

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Finding a composition for a portrait photo in the chaos of shapes around you

For me portrait photography is about balance between body language of the model, quality of light and harmony of background elements. All pieces of the puzzle have to live in symbiosis. When I am out shooting I look for spots where one element is missing, and that element is my model. Just like in street photography, where one finds a place and then waits for that special moment to happen. That moment is the missing element of the composition or a story that I am trying to convey. Finding that balance and harmony is the most difficult thing to teach, because it will depend on how artistic or sensitive a person is. The same goes to everything in photography really, it is all about finding e perfect balance. Even more difficult is to understand, or be able to feel rather, how to introduce imperfections into the composition to create a perfect harmony. It really is a matter of sensing and weighting all segments of a photograph together. A great exercise to do is to pick one location, and without moving much try to find as many photographs as you can. Then , go back home, open them on your PC and think which elements fit and which do not. What mistakes you made, which elements you have not noticed when you pressed the shutter. Model: Nami

 model: Nami

model: Nami

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The art of boudoir portrait photography - how to choose the right photographer?

I look at boudoir and nude photography as I look at my Japanese calligraphy art. It is all about undisturbed energy flow, grace of lines and curves, and the balance between the mood and the form. It is a dialogue between the model and the space around her. I really enjoy capturing people at those unique moments when they zone out for a split second, moments when their mind is somewhere else. Then all I do is photograph the lines and shapes their body forms dressed in highlights and shadows in connection with their thought flow, linking what you can see and what you can only imagine. If you follow me on my blogs you know well that photo retouching plays a huge role in my photography art, and I absolutely love taking my time to retouch every single photo. I find the photo editing process extremely creative and exciting. I hear photographers saying so many times *I would rather be out there shooting than in front of my Pc editing*. I could not disagree with this more! Taking a photo is only a small step in a vast creative process of visualising and realising the final image. I believe that when a photographer starts using automated presets to edit 10s or 100s of photos with a few clicks of a mouse, he or she turns something that could be very unique into a very common and rather dull image. We are very jaded and consumed so much as a human race, that most of us cannot distinguish anymore between art and and a visual insult on our sensitivity. People are confused rushing through life, being too busy to take their time to think what they really like deep inside, and instead they follow the general trend appreciated by the masses. Do not be a sheep and feel it yourself. Art should not be about speed and efficiency, but the the emotion it evokes when you look at it. I do not want to have to rush through the photoshoot, which is why I set my fees to per final edited photo count and not per hour. The final result is so important for me, that I am and will refuse anyone who is approaching me for mere snapshots, or asking me to shoot for 3h and pass 50 or 70 photos to them. As an artist I actually find such requests somewhere between sad and insulting. Portrait photography is all about psychology, sparking a moment, telling a captivating story, capturing an image that will make you wonder or pause for a while, but it also has to allow one achieve artistic fulfillment. This simply cannot be rushed. It takes time to get to know who you shoot, combat their camera fear, lack of confidence, and other issues that a model or client may have. I care more about my images than those who pay for them, in fact I care so much I can take even an hour only to browse through a few shots and think which image from a series of images of a certain look I want to edit. Photo editing is a long process if done properly. A single portrait can take anywhere between 1.5 to 4 or more hours. Extremely creative portrait photography manipulations can take a whole day. There are many ways in which an image can be retouched, from a more traditional way like the one you can see below, to a fantasy theme. When you pick a photographer do not base your decision on the price, but the style and quality of his or her portfolio, the skills and passion that drives them, creativity and attention to details, and last but not least their personality. You should not only enjoy the final photos, but also the experience of being photographed. 

 Eline

Eline

How to capture movement on photos and make it look natural and balanced

When you film moving people in any type of motion, there is a good chance that they will look natural. Now a still photo is a whole different story. Most of photos showing movement will look unnatural and unbalanced, and that is because they freeze one frame of a sequence of moves that only if combined together in fast motion bring balance to that action. In this photo I was photographing a performing belly dancer and shot maybe 25 frames out of which 2 were fairly good, but still not good enough for me to call it a perfect shot. So, I realized that if I combine 3 photos into one in photoshop and select gestures that would show continuity and add some meaning and reason for this pose it will make more sense and balance the photo. Knowledge of how to post process your photos will not only vastly improve the look of your images and give them a unique look, but it gives you freedom of following your vision as an artist, not just a photographer. If you are interested in learning photoshop, contact me for more info.

 model: Lena

model: Lena

Black and white or color - how to decide on photo post processing

It is said that if a photo does not look good in color, it could still look decent in black and white. Indeed, but only to some extend, but even if it is so it's usually down to pushing it. The truth is that if you want to have great results in black and white, you should post process your photo in color first. If you capture something really interesting, and the shot is slightly out of focus or the composition is off, sure thing, convert it to black and white, throw some filters and call it art. But if you are serious about your portfolio or the quality of your photography art, then you will want your photos to look amazing regardless of whether they are in back and white or color. For me, black and white conversion takes LONGER, than editing photos in color. I make sure I got my shot tuned in color version, and then I work on black and white. I usually decide on post processing in the very moment of capturing the image, especially that retouching is an integral and essential ingredient of a successful image. If you want to learn more about black and white conversion watch my full length in-depth photoshop video tutorial.

Tranquility - the unique beauty of older people portrait photography

Kids and old people - the best you can capture on camera. Kids because they are so pure, so unpredictable, so honest and raw and so everywhere in the same second. Old people because they are like kids, but with suitcases of life experience written all over their faces, no ego, no masks, just peace and tranquility. I captured this image today at Narita san temple complex near Tokyo, one of my favorite photography spots, and most amazing temples in Japan. I do not know who this lady is or what is her name or what was she thinking about before she spotted me taking her photos, so make your own story.

My Japanese calligraphy teacher - Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟)

I have been studying Japanese calligraphy for about 14 years now, and from the very beginning I was extremely lucky to be accepted by Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟) .as his disciple.  I have spent over 20 years of my life in various schools, including two universities, overseas schools, etc., yet still he is hands down the best teacher and mentor I have ever head. Grand Master Esshuu is so peaceful and humble that one can almost forget how insanely knowledgeable this man really is. He is a descendant of great Japanese Masters, historical Japanese calligraphers, such as Grand Master Kusabe Meikaku 日下部鳴鶴 (1938 - 1922), who had 3000 disciples and was known as one of the Three Brushes of Meiji Era (three greatest calligraphers of Meiji Era), Grand Master Hidai Tenrai (比田井天来, 1972 - 1939), who was known as the father of modern Japanese calligraphy, and Grand Master Kuwahara Suihou (桑原翠邦, 1906 - 1995), who was so respected in Japan, that he was asked by the Imperial couple to assist them to the mausoleum of Hidai Tenrai and introduce them to his works. Here is a portrait of Esshuu sensei that I took recently. I made it into a faded and slightly damaged photo, and contrasted it against his genuine carefree smile, which is something you cannot find on antique photographs. I thought it would bridge between what is in the past and the present times.

Finally found time to take a new updated profile photo for all of my websites

For some time now I was meaning to take a new profile photo, that would be lighter in form, more clear, but at the same time a photo that would stay in the artsy mood and would reflect my personality and character. My current one was a bit too gloomy and dark, and even I was getting scared looking at it at 12am in the evening. I looked a bit like a Frankenstein suffering from s social phobia. Portraits and headshots are really important in the modern age of the Internet, where most of the people will see your photo before meeting you, so it is always good to leave a half decent impression with your profile shot. Browsing the net or social sites, or even professional sites like LinkedIn, one can easily see that there are tons of people out there who really need a new headshot. So I asked my wife to take me a new one and she did a really fantastic job. Now I have to update all 560 million of my websites.... now you know why I was putting it off :-)

 Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)

Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)

Black and white photography photoshop retouching workflow (speed art)

I love black and white photography in portraiture. There are no distractions, only 256 tones, and it looks clean, simple and has a great visual impact. It all depends on the type of portraiture, but most portraits look best in black and white. Below is a short video showing my Youtube channel though, and I will be creating more full length in depth tutorials, so make sure you check it out! I took this photo some time ago. I am currently revisiting my older work and re-edit some of the photos. I love photo retouching, I love giving my work new fresh look, and every photographer should review their portfolio once in a while. I do it almost every 6 month to a year, as my skills in editing and vision and style evolve. It is good to keep your photography portfolio up to date and consistent, so the clients know what to expect and they are not getting confused by contradicting styles.

 model: Jamosa Ladiva

model: Jamosa Ladiva

Portrait Photography Tokyo - portraiture focused photography service

I am involved in so many artistic projects that it is really easy to get confused and lost in all of my websites, blogs and hundreds and hundreds of articles that I have written on the subject of art. I have decided to launch two completely new websites that will focus on photography services in Tokyo area. Recently, my photography work is heavily focusing on portraiture, and I absolutely love. I enjoy the contact, the psychological aspect of it, the hunting for that elusive moment, discovering people and their thoughts, it is a fantastic journey. I will still be practicing architecture and night photography (who would not, it is Tokyo!), but from now on my main focus will be portrait photography service in Tokyo area, as well as photography and photo editing workshops. The service includes private client portraits, travel portrait shots, headshots, model and artist portfolio photos, family portraits, commercial portrait work, etc.

This site was created exclusively for portraiture photography, and the same goes to the blog section. I will be posting here portraiture photography tips and trick, Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials, editing techniques, links and reviews of great resources online, and possibly gear and other goodies. Hope you will enjoy my new site!

 model: Rita

model: Rita