In creative portrait photography how an image looks is down to the photographer. In the studio how you light your subject is critical, and for location images it’s critical to work properly with the natural light. How you then modify the light can dramatically affect the look of an image.
Once you have your lighting sorted, simple changes to the composition of the image can also change the look significantly.
Take this image: The lighting, a soft-box from the front, is quite simple. The interest comes from having the subject’s face split by a sheet of muslin that was hung up to act as a diffuser/reflector. I had taken a series without the muslin and then asked her to move slightly so that it was partly in front of her face. It was far enough away from her to be nicely out of focus, and its translucency allowed the obscured part of her face to show through sufficiently.
We tried to get some shots of her hair “in flight”. They were fine, but I wanted more structure to the image. We spread her hair out on the studio floor and I shot from a step-ladder directly above her. It was simple to light with a fairly directional light on her hair which gave a nice sharp shadow under her chin. Even though her expression was similar to the previous image, the end result was very different!
Away from the studio there’s less control of lighting direction, unless you carry remotely fired flash units, so you need to be careful with where you do your shoot. This urban image was at an abandoned car repair centre and the fly posters had been busy. I made sure that enough of a poster was included to clearly show the type of area we were in, but not so much that the poster’s text was a distraction. Her pose echoed the pose of the man on the poster. I’ve punched up the background colour by “cross-processing” it in Photoshop.
Same day, same shoot, completely different look. The pipes in the image were supports for a wall near the Railway Village in Swindon and were at quite an acute angle. By asking my model to lean on the pipes, and then tilting the camera so she looked more upright, her arms became much more elegant. The background brickwork also became less distracting. A crop to simplify the image, a bit of “diffuse glow”, and it was done.
Same day, same shoot and yet another look. This final image shows how the most mundane of objects, an estate car, can be used for creative portraits. My model is lying down on the load area floor. The car’s open rear hatch screened the direct sun, which meant that the remaining light was beautifully diffused. The grey carpet and shadow area from the rear seats acted as a perfect foil to her skin tones. The black and white conversion simplified the image.
As you can see: one day, one model, many different looks. Control your lighting and your composition to get variety into your images.