Retail Portraiture

Retail portraiture makes you think: cheesy smiles, bad backdrops, stilted posing, the mall. Right?

And you are correct! That is what a lot of retail portraiture is. But, private studios still do a lot of retail and manage to take out a lot of the cheese factor; I can’t say they still don’t use the terrible tie-dye backgrounds, but, their photography is a whole lot better! So, the art of classic, retail portraiture is still very valuable to learn and loved in many parts of the country. Therefore, we learned it! And it was pretty fun, after all.

We started with some very helpful lectures about the six patterns of portrait lighting. After being introduced to them, we recreated them on these alien model heads to show that we understood them and could produce them on demand. Our model was named Sally, since she came from Sally’s Beauty Supply, and here, from left to right, top to bottom, are the six lighting schemes and two variations, for your consumption:

1. Narrow Light, Open Loop (nose and cheek shadow do not touch) 2. Narrow Light, Closed Loop (nose and cheek shadow do touch, creating that triangle of light on the dark cheek, Rembrandt-style) 3. Broad Light, Closed Loop 4. Broad Light, Open Loop 5. Butterfly Light (from above) 6. Monster/Ghoul Light (from below) 7. Split Light 8. Flat Light (from camera position)

That under our belts, we got to move onto real people! Sorry, Sally, but you just didn’t have much of a personality.

With a very simple setup (one main light and a reflector on the darker side), I made these photos of my classmates, Jim and Donna:

Pop quiz time!

What lighting pattern(s) did I use on my lovely classmates?

It’s not as obvious in actual portraiture as in example head shots of Sally, but, if you answered “narrow light, open loop,” you are correct! Narrow light, open loop is the most universally flattering light for classic portraits. Just so you know.

Then we got the ugly tie-dye backgrounds involved … but they’re not so bad when you have a beautiful subject like Claire!

Throughout the week we also learned posing techniques for flattering portraits. Rules are made to be broken, and a lot of the poses are not my style at all (hand under the chin à la the Thinker, anyone?), but it was good to learn them. It was also an experience to direct someone to pose; usually I just take photos of what’s already there, but for portraiture it’s all, “a bit to the left, tilt your face towards the light, chin out, sit up higher, eyes back at me, attitude!” and the like. Very fun, once you get over the self-consciousness of barking out directions!

My group took our assignment a bit further with Jim’s amazing wife, Crickette, our volunteer model for the day:

With a more complicated four-light setup, we brought in the props! Crickette is an electrician by trade (and amazingly strong!) so we posed her with a ladder, while in a sparkly mini-dress. I loved the juxtaposition of a very girly outfit with a typically masculine implement. And I love that Crickette looks like she could knock you out (her arms were incredible!), but still so feminine.

I am truly loving working with people at this stage in school. I feel like we’re getting closer and closer to what I actually want to do with photography (families, babies, maternity, weddings)!

I’m currently spending this week learning additional portraiture techniques from another instructor, this time with more creative lighting setups, and no hideous muslin backgrounds, hallelujah! More to come on that soon … say cheese!


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Filed under Photo Assignment, Portraits, School

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