Practical Portrait Tips [Duel]

For the weekly duel this week, Dustin and Jim each had only 30 minutes to photograph the same model, who they had never before shot with or seen.

New to the weekly Improve Photography Duel?  Check out this page, where we explain how it works.

Settling the Score

The overall score from past weeks of the duel is Jim: 2 wins, Dustin: 2 wins, and 1 tie.  Let's see who wins this week…

Portrait Photography Duel

Jim Here:  Dustin was the first to shoot the model and I assisted for him by holding the light stand during his shoot.  During the shoot, I paid close attention to the model's face, posing, and expression.

I noticed right away that she has more of a round face, but when she gave a no-teeth smile, it made dimples appear on her cheeks which added more shape to her face.  That was definitely her look.

Jim's Process:  I used an Einstein studio strobe for this shoot with a 24″ softbox.  I could have accomplished the same thing with a simple speedlight, but since it was Dustin hauling around the heavy studio strobe and battery pack for me, I didn't mind the weight 🙂

Since we were shooting at high noon, I knew I needed to control the lighting.  The sun was extremely bright between the buildings, but there were also heavy shadows from the buildings as well.  I looked for a place where I could better control the light and found a little alleyway that was mostly in shade.  To block out the sunlight coming into the alley, I had someone stand to block the sun.  I had Dustin hold the softbox in very close to the model.  The edge of the softbox was touching my camera and just barely outside the frame.  I wanted the light in close to wrap around blemishes on the face to make the skin look smooth, and also to keep shadows off the brick behind her.

senior portrait of a nampa teenager
Jim's entry to this week's duel – Click to view large

Shutter speed: 1/200, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO 100.  Focal length: 70mm,  Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8, Lighting: Einstein studio strobe at half power and a 24″ softbox placed close to the subject above and to the right of the camera.

Dustin Here: In the time that we had to shoot with the model, Erin – we took her around outside our studio at noon day and did some quick shots in the studio as well just to make sure that we exhausted all our options of creativity. After going through all my shots – the one I fell in love with the most was one we took in the studio right at the end. In the process – I got a more candid and natural expression from her.

Dustin's Process: As for the posing – I had Erin face her back to me and then turn back towards me so that we could get the movement in the hair. Each time she turned around, I asked her to have a different expression a variation to her stance. Since she is a “professional” model – I asked her to switch up the expression every time I clicked the shutter and for the most part I was able to get a look that didn't look like a “stunned model.”

The Lighting – The lighting was actually very simple. We placed a beauty dish on a boom stand above and in front of her and angled it down. You can see the how the light falls nearly straight down on her. You can do the same lighting style with a simple soft-box and avoid the need for a beauty dish.

As for Photoshop – I took the time to make sure that there weren't any blemishes or imperfections in her skin. I added a touch of makeup, lipstick, and hair highlights. I then used the liquify tool to give her hair more volume and tuck in the clothes where they seemed to fan out more as she was spinning around.

After that, I made sure that the lighting  was how I wanted it and that shadows and highlights were drawing your attention in the right places. Your eyes are drawn first to the highlights in the photo. Then, of course, I did what I needed for contrast, saturation, and finishing effects for the photo.

by Dustin Olsen
by Dustin Olsen

Shutter speed: 1/160, Aperture: f/8, ISO 200, Camera: Canon 6D, Lens: Canon 24-105mm lens, Lighting: Einstein studio strobe at half power with a beauty dish placed above and in front of her using a boom stand.

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10 thoughts on “Practical Portrait Tips [Duel]”

  1. While I can understand the comments above regarding all the Photoshop enhancements done to your model, I can’t help but wonder and secretly fanatasize about how my portrait would look if you were to photograph me… Photoshop away, I say!!! Both images look amazing, but I voted for Jim’s this time – I really love the brick background.

  2. Nice work, guys! I like Jim’s light, but not the pose; shooting a model with a roundish face in a full-face view just makes her look rounder. The soft loop lighting helps, but he could have scored with a nice 2/3 view shot from the shadow side which would have taken 10 pounds off her appearance. Dustin’s shot is great, though that vest looks a little awkward the way it’s swinging. I think she’d look better in just the simple gray t-shirt.

  3. the portrait by Dustin captures the personality better – we aren’t here to make someone look beautiful…instead to portray someone as they are, aren’t we? Dustin’s click just that.

  4. I want a video of jim doing the photoshop. I usually vote for dustin this time I vote for jim. And they look like different person in my opinion, the model.

  5. Pretty much agree with everything said above. When I went to Dustin’s blog to look at his other shots I was surprised how much Jim was able to change her appearance. I voted for Dustin only because it looks more like the actual girl. I really don’t like how bright her forehead is though. I liked pictures 4 & 5 on Dustins blog much better than the photo he used for the contest. If Jim’s picture looked more like the actual girl he would have had my vote.
    Some people may like to have their portraits edited to improve their appearance for vanity reasons. But they are only fooling themselves, people that know the person will know the photo has been tampered with so will never truly appreciate it. A pimple or two removed is okay, to reshape the face, remove wrinkles etc. just seems wrong. I’m all for the use of editing programs for landscapes etc., but I really don’t like people being changed.
    This contest would have been better described as “Photoshop Portrait” I’d like to see another contest with no major editing of the model just creative use of light.

  6. Alexandra – If you truly believe what you’re saying, you won’t wear any makeup. Whether makeup is applied digitally or with actual makeup, it does the exact same thing.

    Also, recognize that this is a MODEL SHOOT. Not a wedding or a senior portrait. The purpose of this photo is not to show you what the person looks like. You don’t even know the person! The purpose of a model shoot, unlike a portrait shoot for a client, is to simply create something beautiful. Period.

  7. Erin’s eyes are wonderful and Jim’s photo really accentuates each. Though I would have been elated with either shot, those beautiful eyes got my vote.

  8. I can’t believe Jim’s won this. (nothing against Jim’s photo) but I was astonished when I looked down at the results. Please, Jim, this isn’t a stab at the quality of your photo as much as it’s admiration for Dustin’s photo. The thing that really got me going was how a “typical” photo (like Jim’s) was selected, overwhelmingly. In relation to Dustin’s photo (which, in my opinion, all though not avant garde by any means, has a kinetic and experimental energy to it that’s not quite as common) this was not only a surprise but quite telling. I guess it is true that your average Joe prefers the standard old pic you see the new mom with a camera take. Maybe the reason for this “everyone has a camera” market is simply that most people just don’t have taste. Very sad.

  9. I have no idea how I got to your site but I want to say I am sure glad I did I can’t wait to have enough money to take the photography class intermediate and maybe even beginner with it. I have Nikon D 7000 and forget the manual to learn how to do anything with it. I am excited about your site. Thanks Beverly

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