Sharing The Secrets Of The Craft Some New Additions To A Teaching CD
Monte Zucker
• Posted Oct 1, 2004

Photos © 2004, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

One of the most enjoyable parts of my life today is sharing everything I've learned over the years. It's no secret. I learned photographic techniques--posing and lighting--many years ago and then just kept adapting to changing times. Digital certainly gave me a shot in the arm. I not only accepted it, but I embraced it completely. In the process I put together a learning CD with the title of "How'd He Do Dat?" I'm now in the process of updating it with some of my new as well as some of my old images. It's sharing time now, friends. Here's a sampling of the new additions to my CD: Blending In A New Sky
While going through my files I found a portrait of my good friend, and exceptional photographic teacher, Don Blair. I had photographed him during a Long Island school week at which we both taught. My picture of him was taken from a low angle, placing him against a clear sky. Looking back at it now I realized that it was a great shot for sky replacement. All I had to do was to touch Photoshop's "Magic Wand" to the two distinct sky areas--in front of him and behind his head--and go to Edit/Clear. The sky was gone.

I then had my choice of the many sky shots I keep adding to my collection. I knew that I wanted a sky with character, but at the same time I needed a sky that would not detract from the portrait.
I simply moved the skyless picture over to one of my favorite skies and positioned his face so that I would have the simple, lighter background in front of him. I couldn't have anything close to his face that would detract from his profile. The dark area behind his head was perfect. To blend the two images together I did some adjustments to the sky with Levels in order to better blend the cut edges around him. I finished the picture by adding another blank layer, changing the mode to Overlay, and filling the layer with a color that I picked off the background. I then brought the opacity of the Overlay down to somewhere around 10-15 percent, putting some of the sky's color over the entire image.
I did the same with another sky. At this point a dilemma surfaced. Which one did I like better? My solution was to put the three images together as one. And then my real problem surfaced.

I had done all the work and saved the three of them on a file that was too small to reprint here in Shutterbug. Ha! The solution came to me. I simply moved the collection onto a new blank file and ended up with this collage.

Learning To Control Window Light
In the past when I photographed by window light I turned my subject to get the light into both eyes. Recently, I started working with a similar lighting pattern that I get when I use twin main lights. One light illuminates half the face, while the second light creates the small, modified loop shadow that I've been using for all my portraits.
I've also found that when I pose someone between two windows I can get a great specular highlight coming from behind. The window beside the subject lights one side of their face. The final lighting pattern comes by placing a reflector where I would normally place my normal main light, slightly above eye level and to the side of the face. The reflector can only reflect light if it's turned toward the window and then angled slightly to reflect the light onto the subject's face. This works beautifully for the 2/3 view of a face.

Notice the wide range of tones from the bright specular highlights along the bridge of his nose to the deep shadows on the right side of his face. Notice, too, that there is incredible detail throughout his entire face.
When changing from a 2/3 view of his face to a profile I can't turn his face more to the window, because that would flatten the light and all the shadowed area of his face would be lost. What I have to do is to move the camera position farther into the room and still use the reflector in almost the same position as before to wrap the light around onto the shadowed side of his face.

For the first picture I had a piece of material on the posing table. It acted as an additional reflective source, picking up a little more light into his eyes. For this profile I removed it to keep the photograph more dramatic/contrasty. I still, however, retained good detail from the highlights all the way down to the deepest shadows on the near side of his face.

Keep this rule of thumb in mind: If there's no shadow on the near side of the nose and/or if the ear is in bright light, it's a sure bet that the face is turned too directly toward the window light. For this profile I needed to move the background so that it was somewhat behind him. This helped create the solid background I wanted behind his head. Notice, too, that for a profile I have the tip of his nose just past the center of the portrait--giving him plenty of room to look into the photograph. Want Softer Contrast? Move Your Subjects Away From The Window
To avoid harsh, contrasty lighting you can move your subjects a few feet from the light source, allowing the light to wrap around more evenly. As you can see here, the subjects are about 6 ft away from the light source. I didn't even have to use a reflector; the light was wrapping so beautifully. You can see where my camera was positioned.
The resulting portrait is very natural (except for the fact that the young man has his arm around his little sister).

The lighting was so good there I brought the next few subjects to the same location. It doesn't get much easier than this.

All I had to do was to keep the baby entertained. As it turned out his toes and socks did the job for me. In this particular case I decided to place a reflector to his left and below, popping light into his eyes.

Traditional Family Groups
Photographing groups is one of my favorite things to do. I have simple formulas that work just about all the time. For a group of four, for instance, I begin by posing two in the front row, one slightly higher than the other. Then, I add the next two--one in between the seated subjects, the second on the outside, as shown here. The two heads in the back are parallel to the people seated below.
When photographing groups of four or more I use fairly flat, even lighting. I took this portrait under cover with a wide-open light source coming from behind the camera. They are angled only slightly from the opening, so that the light would not be totally flat. There is a second light source coming from behind them to create a little backlighting and to keep the background from going too dark.

If you like the hints that I've shown here you're going to love the whole CD, "How'd He Do Dat?" It will contain over 200 images with a PDF file that you can print for a full description of how each picture was made.
Equipment Details
I guess that all of you steady readers know by now that I'm shooting with a Canon EOS 10D camera. My basic lens for all of these pictures is the Image Stabilized Canon 28-135mm--the image stabilization that's built into the lens is worth the price alone!

My CompactFlash card is the 640MB eFilm PRO by Delkin Devices. It's fast, accurate, efficient, and indispensable. I have two tripods--both Manfrotto, distributed by Bogen. One is the 3221WN with a fantastic Manfrotto head, #322. My background shown in these pictures is a black/white 4/6 ft pop-up background by Westcott. My reflector, of course, is Westcott's Monte's Illuminator--black on the back, silver on the front.

My indispensable posing table is by Photogenic. The stools are by ALM, also known as Monte's Posing Stools. They are stocked by Unique Photo, New Jersey (ask for Michael Green).