“ Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.” – Chuck Close, painter, photographer, and printmaker
As a professional portrait photographer for more than 25 years, I can attest that my career would have been short-lived if I would have waited for the right light or inspiration to create portraits. As a professional on assignments I have had to create on demand with a limited amount of time with my subjects and poor natural lighting conditions.
Starting out my career with a Vivitar flash to create a usable light was a great lesson in simple and low-budget lighting. As I became more critical of my work and wanted more creative options, I started to invest in more expensive strobe lighting and light modifiers. Over the years I have gone through many stylistic transformations, and the more I learned about lighting, the greater the control I achieved over my art.
Over time, I have discovered that a great portrait is not determined by the amount of lighting or light modifiers you use, but by how you thoughtfully apply the light, whether it is one dedicated flash or multiple strobe packs and flash heads.
The following three examples are an excerpt from my recent portrait book 50 Lighting Setups for the Portrait Photographer (Amherst Media). I wrote this book with the objective of revealing my lighting challenges and solutions from past assignments in an easy to understand “paint by numbers” format.
In each case study I have broken down the process by describing the technical (equipment, film, and settings used); the reason for the portrait (who the client was); the story behind the shoot; my thought process for using a particular lighting set up and tips (what I learned).
My first case study (#1) demonstrates how applying one artificial light to a natural-light situation can with simple means transcend being a mere portrait. This application of light is great to use for weddings, events, and other situations where you need a fast easy to use portable light. The second case study (#15) is a good example of using artificial light to transform a drab hotel room into a visually intriguing place. The third case study (#23) demonstrates a more complicated lighting situation—photographing a large group of people in a dimly lit room.