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Doorways Are Pathways to Great Photos

Framing And Background Separation Come Natural

Doorways provide great framing, in this photo of Jenni, I mixed ambient light with artificial light.

The Technical: Placing a model in something as simple as a doorway will help separate your model from the background, as doorways are obviously at the exact opposite end from the room’s wall.  Here, Elite agency model Jenni stands in the doorway of a bathroom.  Since the bathroom had intense household lighting for the mirror behind her, I chose to “drag” my shutter to capture the ambience of this light. With the white balance sent for the flash in front of Jenni, the lighting from behind registers in all its tungsten warmth.

Photographer Gear Box
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Lens: Canon 85mm F/1.2L USM lens, effective focal length 85mm
Settings: 1/25 shutter speed, F/2.8, white balance at 6000K, ISO 100
Basically, this image is a mixture of two types of artificial light, tungsten (3200K) and electronic flash (5400K).  The main studio flash, a Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 monolight, is outfitted with a Chimera Soft Strip box with a Lighttools 40-degree grid on the front to prevent light from spilling onto the mirrored background. Notice that Jenni’s face is also toward the upper third (camera left) following the rule of thirds compositional guideline.

The Story Behind the Image: Jenni is a model I was introduced to by one of my top make-up artists when I was short one model for a Virgin Islands, “Glamour, Beauty and the Nude” workshop.  She’s tall at 5-foot, 10-inches, but this is typical of a fashion model from one of Atlanta’s top modeling agencies.  I captured this image while conducting a private instruction for a photographer client of mine.

When models are having their make-up done, always look for possibilities.

The doorway actually leads to the master bathroom from the Atlanta residence of one of television’s most famous housewives, Louise “Weezy” Jefferson, played by actress Isabel Sanford, from the long-running CBS hit, The Jeffersons.  I’m friends with Isabel’s son, Sanford Sanford, who at the time still lived in his mother’s house.  Sanford kept the house, including the master bedroom and bath, exactly the way “momma” left it after her death in July 2004.

While standing in the master bedroom, I noticed Jenni stopped for a quick make-up touch-up, and during this time I happen to notice the light coming from the doorway, produced by all the lamps surrounding the spacious mirrors that accent the master bathroom.  As I thought about how the doorway could frame the subject, it hit me, why not use my Canon 85mm F/1.2  lens to capture this incandescent light screaming a warm atmosphere while mixing it with artificial light from my Chimera Soft Strip box powered by a Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 monolight. The artificial light was mainly to provide a slight contrast to Jenni’s face, plus it produced a nice, soft, Rembrandt pattern under her right eye.

The key to this image is to have just a punch of artificial light without spilling it onto the background, thus I powered down the monolight and added a Lighttools 40-degree grid to the front of the Chimera Soft Strip box, effectively reducing the light output even more.  Grids in front of strip boxes or soft boxes also provide a brilliant catch light in your subject’s eyes—while Jenni’s blue-eyes are naturally gorgeous, this added brilliance made her eyes even more powerful in the final image.

This photo session started a 3/4 crop using the doorway as a natural frame, then it transpired into a headshot.

Another point that I considered was Jenni’s natural, strawberry blonde hair and how the warm background light would accent it from behind—similar to a hair light accent.  If she’d had brunette or darker hair, I would have raised my camera ISO from at 100 to at least 200, then powered my light down even more, or move my light further back, so I could open the aperture up at least one more stop, from F/2.8 to at least F/1.8. These types of shooting situations are why low-light (fast) lenses are an important part of a photographer’s toolbox.  Her camera exposure from the front is based on the artificial light while her camera exposure from the rear is based on the ambient, or incandescent light sources.

Lighting Diagram

Some things to consider in this photograph, it started as ¾ length shots that would eventually evolve into a more headshot crop. Though I never started this image out as a headshot, if I had, I would have not mentioned the crop to the model, as models, even experienced models, tend to freeze when they know you’re after a headshot.  It’s always best to shoot until “that” image develops before your lens. Never force a headshot as the face will be too tight for a successful headshot.  When it comes to headshots, it’s always about the corners of the eyes in harmony with the corners of the lips.  Through proper communication (rapport) your model becomes comfortable during a photo shoot and you’ll capture that perfect, photographic smile.

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  1. “When it comes to headshots, it’s always about the corners of the eyes in harmony with the corners of the lips.”

    Awesome quote! I’ve never heard it stated exactly this way, but it’s so true.

    • Steven,

      Thanks for the nice words and for noticing the quotes. I have more quotes on the “Wisdom” link in the upper menu at the top of Lens Diaries™. I hope you like them too. Please let your photographer friends and colleagues know about Lens Diaries™. Thanks, rg.


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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

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