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
Hire a photographer in Tokyo: http://www.ryuurui.com/hire-a-photographer-in-tokyo.html
Photo blog: http://www.japan-in-photography.com/
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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

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

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.

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Why photo editing skills are equally or even more important than photography skills?

RAW file from the camera

RAW file from the camera

Photography is an art and one can produce stunning photos straight out of camera. However, a skillful photo editor can elevate such photos to a completely new level. Photo editing is a huge knowledge and requires a lot of patience and time, constant studies from various disciplines, including human anatomy, color management, behavior and qualities of light, etc. To edit portraiture you literally have to be a painter, in order to blend and smooth out blemishes, unflattering skin shadows and skin tone issues. Human skin is complex and it is a theater for the game of shadows and highlights. It is virtually impossible to capture a relaxed and healthy looking image without any editing process. Now there are those who take shortcuts and do lazy editing, which results in blurry skin, loosing pore details and obliterating face features, and such editing is done by photographers who either lack the skill, or those who simply prefer to bulk edit photos and move on to another client to make more money. Those type of photographer also use presets and with one click sort out 10s of photos. This also why their photographs look all the same. Photo retouching is an art, and it is way more time consuming than actual shooting. A single portrait editing can take up from 1.5 to 4h, or more, depending on which direction I want to go with it. Is it a straight forward editing, a photoshop manipulation, a creative toning, etc. The devil is hidden in details, and when you take care of the details the rest will fall into place. I work on skin pore level, often zoomed in way past 100% of the actual image size in order to correct small issues that when fixed become apparent. Good photography is always vision-driven, and the shutter click is literally the last step in capturing a good image. No matter what gear you use, how many assistants you have, if you are not in love with light and do not understand human psychology, you will not make a good portrait photographer. Then come editing skills, and those are vastly important in combining all the elements together - the vision, the captured image, understanding of your model and the ability to feel the image. Those who think that photo retouching is unnatural should ask themselves those questions: Is art supposed to be natural or appealing? Is female make-up or hair styling natural? Were Picasso's paintings realistic? Are brand items really needed? Do you like concept cars? Should we all listen to the same music? I hear a lot of photographers say "I prefer to be out there shooting than sitting in front of the PC editing". For me editing is far more creative than taking photos, and offers a true freedom of creation. Being just a photographer sounds a bit limiting to me. I need more than that.

final edit / model: Lena

final edit / model: Lena

Power and elegance - importance and impact of color grading in portrait photography

image straight from the camera

image straight from the camera

Photo editing is essential in the era of RAW digital photography. Majority of people do not realize that professional photographers do not take photos in.jpg format, but in RAW file format. If you set your camera to produce .jpgs, then the camera does the editing for you. It is the same as setting camera to automatic mode and let it do all the job. No good photographs can come out of such practice. RAW files straight from the camera are flat and without much saturation or contrast, though it all depends on the type of camera used and lens quality. The whole idea of shooting in RAW is to post process the image in Photoshop or Lightroom, and imbue it with personal style. However, portrait editing is not all about removing skin blemishes and smoothing the shadows to make skin look more relaxed and even. Color toning is something that can change a good photo into an amazing one just by skillful adjustments done to colors and tones. Toning changes the mood, look and creates this magazine look that people tend to enjoy, but are not sure why. Professional photo editing could be compared to music in a movie. If you notice the music and it is too obvious you will not enjoy it. Best music is one that fits, but you perceive it only on subconscious level without noticing it is there. For private photoshop workshops via skype please contact me directly or see this page

final photo / model: Lena

final photo / model: Lena