Generating Genuine Expressions

I love talking. My wife says that all I need is a budgie mirror and I’ll happily chatter away all day. Thankfully this characteristic is pretty handy when it comes to generating expressions like this one.

I invited Sophie into the studio to model for some images that could potentially be used on the cover of our book, Mastering Portrait Photography

In the end, our publishers opted for this image, but nevertheless we managed to make use of this one inside the book.

Sophie is lovely; she and I get on really well and we spent most of this shoot laughing. I cannot remember exactly what I said here, but suddenly she erupted into laughter and all I had to do was make sure I captured it.

You would never get an expression like this just from asking someone to smile, or even to laugh out loud. Instead, I ask questions, make jokes and chat about the topics of the day. This helps put people at ease, partly because there’s no awkward silence, and partly because we can only think about one thing at a time. When someone is talking to you, it’s difficult to simultaneously worry about your insecurities, too.

So the studio air is always full of speaking, and I am always ready in case something I say produces a moment like this. To me, they are the most powerful images of all.

Studio set-up
As the image I had in mind with Sophie was a full-face, flawless skin portrait, I lit her with a beauty dish positioned just above the camera.

A beauty dish has a unique effect that makes skin sparkle. However, it is always quite a harsh light, and if your subject has anything less than perfect skin and makeup, a beauty dish will highlight those imperfections.

The background paper is a medium grey, but it looks a lot darker because very little light is reaching it. It also looks a little warmer in tone than you’d expect from grey, and that’s because I’ve adjusted the white balance of the image to be slightly warmer than the 5500K colour temperature of the studio flash.

Lighting Diagram

Camera Settings

  • Focal length: 100mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter speed: 1/180 sec
  • ISO: 50