PORTRAIT | Specialist Study


Produce a mini portfolio and capture the spirit of a person within a controlled lighting situation and a location that they feel most comfortable in. Produce 4 images for each .


I have chosen PORTRAIT because it is very relevant to the work I currently do and is something I’m very passionate about. The idea of being able to capture someone’s personality, a side of them, an emotion… or even several emotions in a single photograph fascinates me. I plan to edit the images in black & white because in my opinion the best portraits are because colour can sometimes distract you from the subject.


Portraiture is something that dates back to the Egyptian times, in those days portraits were mainly paintings and sculptures and it was the only way to record the physical existence of people.


In nearly all the work from that period, each individual has a very similar expression. They appear in their idealistic form, free from sin with solemn faces showing harmony & equilibrium. And this was because the sculptor had to conform and follow this fictional portrayal and create idealistic statues that revealed the admirable qualities of how the deceased were to be remembered.

Drawn, painted and sculpted portraits have had great importance through the ages and were often ways for people, especially in Monarchy to show their taste, wealth, power etc. And these would be sometimes be very fairly accurate in physical appearance as far historical research shows.



To the very extreme artists impressions:

Weeping Woman 1937 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

Weeping Woman 1937. Picasso


Below is the work of Yousef Karsh, his iconic Black & White portraits of the leading men & women of the 20th century really capture the essence of that person as we know them. He appears to use very low-key lighting in almost all of them, which is like a spotlight and really draws your eyes into the subject.

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The subject for my Portrait Project will be my sister. We have had photo shoots in the past together or with the children but nothing as an individual so this was a great opportunity for both of us.


Equipment – NIKON D750 / TAMRON 24-70 2.8 / 300W Strobes / White & Black Vinyl Backdrop & Stand

To create the controlled lighting portraits we set up a home studio and I chose to use Low key lighting like Yousef Karsh and High Key lighting so that i could experiment to see what worked the best.

For the low key lighting i used a black backdrop and a 300W Strobe with rectangular softbox off the left (and then i swapped it over to the right) pointing diagonally towards her as the key light and then another 300W strobe on the opposite side at the back as a hair light to separate her dark hair from the background.


A video that i watched a while ago on Low Key Lighting which was really good is from Gavin Hoey ( Who i met at the Photography Show this year … and picked his brains about lighting and backdrops! )

And for the High Key Lighting i set up the white backdrop, 2 300W strobes with rectangular softboxes at each side pointing diagonally towards the middle of the backdrop and had these on full power so the backdrop was completely white when they fired. I also had a third 300W strobe as the key light which was directly behind me when i was shooting face on.


Another great video from Gavin Hoey explaining High Key Lighting:

These 2 set ups each created a very different look, with the black background and one light it was very moody …and Caroline also adapted the same demeanor, the lighting made her feel shy almost and out of all the images with this set up she was very much in a sultry pose until I made her giggle. Whereas with the high key lighting she seemed to be more relaxed, whether that was because she was getting used to be photographed or perhaps that it was less like she was under the spotlight of one light.

Final 4 Images – Controlled Lighting





Equipment – Nikon D750 / Sigma 50mm 1.4

For the location shoot Caroline chose Hope Mountain, it is somewhere she loves to go for a walk and it’s got such a beautiful horizon backdrop which was perfect for the type of images we wanted to create. I waited until 5pm to shoot because I wanted to have backlit images which creates soft hazy backgrounds as the sun spills through all the grass and foliage. This shoot was much better than in the studio, she was so much more relaxed and this really shows in the images. Plus we were able to walk around and find different spots to shoot which meant we had more variation in the collection.

For some reason i took a huge camera bag with lots of lenses and as always i didn’t even use them! I must learn to travel lighter….. walking up a mountain with them all was tiring before we’d even started the shoot.




What I learnt from this assignment was that it is very difficult to capture someones personality in a controlled lighting situation, it seems to put them under more pressure being restricted and faced with lighting. It took a lot longer for me to get her to relax and be herself in comparison to the location shoot in a place that she loves and this really shows in those images. Next time i shoot a studio portrait i will make sure that i have plenty time with the client before hand to chat and get to know them so that they eel relaxed before they stand in front of the camera.

This project has helped me look at how I approach my portrait work for the future and I feel that i have achieved all the learning outcomes for this assignment by:

  • Researching & planning lighting
  • Working through problems & finding solutions
  • Using the correct media & techniques
  • Working to a brief
  • Evaluating the process along the way, learning and making notes of how I could have improved.