I was toying with an idea for an image recently where I needed to place particular emphasis on the subject’s hair. I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about placing the viewer’s attention on the hair, not the model, or anything else in the image for that matter. I figured zooming in tight would eliminate anything distracting, but would probably look like a biological slide rather than a image. There would be no context, so that wouldn’t work. The wonderful think about flash photography is that you can create anything you like once you have a mental image of the actual image you want to capture. Speedlights to the rescue!
When it comes to creating interesting images it’s often more about removing elements rather than adding them, and in this case I thought I use several tools in the arsenal to only emphasize the subject which isn’t the stunning model, it was the stunning model’s hair.
I decided to incorporate several methods of directing the viewer’s eyes to the subject; lighting, lines, and color. Of course the biggest tool for adding or removing emphasis to anything left in the viewfinder is by lighting the parts of the image where you want the viewer’s attention, and removing light on the areas that may compete. To that end I set up my kit to properly expose the subject’s hair, and to add just enough light to the rest of the frame to keep it from going totally devoid of detail. The first tool that came to mind for constraining the light was a softbox, and after a few test shots I quickly abandon it because it was still spilling too much light into the areas I didn’t want lit. It was just too big and I wanted more control. I thought about using a snoot, but it would be too tight and the subject would have to remain motionless else risk moving out of the beam. After giving up on feathering the softbox, I pulled out the beauty dish and set it up just far enough away to allow some movement while remaining out of the image. I was still getting more spill than I wanted so I added a grid to the front of the light and had what I was looking for.
Next I needed to add some separation from the dark background and setup a couple of speedlights, one on each side just on the edge of the background pointed back at the camera and set them about two feet above the model. MagMod grids adorned the fronts of each to keep the beams tight and out of my lens, adding a nice rim light on the sides of my subject, and lending some depth and dimension to the image.
I played around a little with the lighting levels via my new Yongnuo YN560-TX remote control (loving it!) and finally had what I was looking for. With the lighting now set to emphasize the hair, let’s work with the other elements I alluded to earlier.
Color and Contrast. The blonde hair being the focus of the image was a very light, almost platinum color with various highlights along the same pallet. To add emphasis using color, lets remove all other colors from the image. In this case, wardrobe was called upon to assist. Luckily there wasn’t much that needed to change other than a white shirt since she already was sporting the dark colored outfit. The first few shots were in a black tank top which pulled the color out, but her skin added competing contrast and was just too distracting. A black leather jacket later and the hair was once again the star of the image. It’s worth mentioning that the red necklace which was just small enough to add a little splash of red was perfect. I wish I could take credit for adding that, but she was wearing it when we started.
Leading Lines. Having lines in the composition that lead your eye to the subject is a pretty basic concept, but a concept that is often overlooked. I’m guilty of neglecting this simple idea and wind up kicking myself for it in post, wishing that I had been paying closer attention. A nice triangle of the image element pointing toward the subject, or a swooping “S” in the frame is just one of those little things that can be the difference between “ho hum” and “hot damn!” Here the arms form the triangle, directing your attention toward the subject. Admittedly, I wasn’t consciously trying to build that into the image, but I think we simply gravitate towards that when we build our poses. It just “looks right.”
Motion and Movement. To further add emphasis to the subject, again, the hair, I thought I’d incorporate motion and movement to the image. I asked the subject to whip her head around and after a little trial and error with direction and timing I had the image looking the way I wanted it. I also used this as an opportunity to further deemphasize non-subject elements by snapping image while the hair was blocking the model’s face.
I know there are endless books on composition available and I don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel, but I did want to illustrate that you can use your lighting, not merely as a means to properly expose your subject, but as an additional compositional element available when building your images.
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