In the previous article I talked about the preparations I made when I was asked to take a photograph for an album cover. This time I’d like to talk about points to keep in mind during the actual photography session that you can use if you want to produce professional-looking photographs in someone’s home.
Pay attention to the direction of your light.
Independent musicians are usually working under a tight budget, so it’s not practical to line up a lot of expensive photography equipment just for taking an album cover photo. And even if they did round up a bunch of equipment, how do you use it? Even if they were interested in photography equipment, it seems that it would be a bit out of their grasp. With that in mind, let’s do what we can with what we have, and think first about the direction of your light source.
The theory of photography has always been to put your light source behind you. This means the photographer puts the light source to their back, and puts the subject in front of them. If you are not aiming for anything especially unusual, this method is not wrong. For example if you take your subject to the veranda and photograph it in the sunlight, this is what you are doing.
However, one weakness of this is approach is that if you line up light source, photographer, and subject up in a straight line, the photographer’s shadow tends to hit the subject.
So it’s good to have other rules at hand to avoid this problem.
The 45–degree or 30-degree rule (my own name for it)
Simply speaking, if you don’t want your shadow to get in the way of the picture, all you have to do is remove yourself from the line between light source and the subject. But rather than moving just anywhere, place yourself between 30 and 45 degrees away from the subject-light source line. Have your subject face the light source directly, and move a little bit to the right or the left. The light then illuminates the subject’s face, and all the shadows are behind the subject. According to this theory, the photographer then has some freedom to move without any shadows getting into the photograph. In this photograph, I was at 45 degrees away from the perspective of the subject. When using this rule, Of course take pictures from the angle that seems right to you. But you won’t regret taking a photograph from the opposite side as well. For example, even if a photograph doesn’t please yourself so much, it may be the one that the customer likes best.
As an additional point, there is one more way to use the 45 degree rule. If you would like to have a flash above and to the left from the subject’s perspective, the rule is to place it at 45 degrees to the left (or right) and raised 45 degrees. Photographers usually only have one attachable flash unit, so they tend to attach it to the top of the camera. But then the face of the subject is too brightly illuminated. I’m sure a lot of photographers have had the experience of trying to avoid this annoyance, reading the flash manual, trying this and that setting, but not finding any satisfying solution.
If you’re starting to think “I’d like to place the flash unit at 45 degrees! And cheaply!” then you can buy a box-shaped “sync adapter” or “hot shoe adapter” to attach to your camera’s hot shoe for around 1500 yen, and a “flash sync cable” (roughly 2000 yen?).
※If you want to separate the flash from the camera and place it, the Nanopole Kit with Snap Tilthead (bag included) is handy to have. It comes as a set with flash adapter and bag, so you can use it as soon as you buy it. You can also detach the pole from the tripod and use it as a hand-held device. Or if you would like to try something more advanced, don’t overlook the holes and screws to attach a photographer’s umbrella。
Fundamentally, strobe flash units are used in groups to achieve various effects, but well, that’s for a different budget. For now we’ll assume you have one unit. A sync adapter or hot shoe adapter and cable won’t be too hard on your pocketbook, and you can do a lot with them too. (You’ll find them useful later, so keep them in your camera bag.)
But large shadows appear behind the subject.
So put a board reflector behind the subject, and bounce the light back! You’re returning light that has already been dispersed, so it’s best if you use a larger reflector. If your first thought is “but how much will it cost…” then even construction paper works. If you position the reflector well it can help to brighten shadows around the subject’s neck.
What Gets Reflected in the Eyes
Surprisingly few people worry about this, but what you see in the eyes is an important element of portraits, especially of women. To pull out a technical term, “eye-catch,” basically the highlights that appear in the subject’s eyes. It leaves a different impression if what’s reflected is a dot, or a line, or a face. There’s also the option to have no highlight at all.
For a while it was popular to have a ring light. So if you’ve taken pictures you may have heard of this before.
There are several ways to make the highlight, but a fundamental way is to hold a lamp or a board reflector around the subject’s chest to reflect something (If you do this, you have to resign yourself to the fact that the amount of equipment is going to increase, so one trick is to ignore the 45-degree rule and take one photo with the flash directly facing the subject. Of course the flash will be reflected in the subject’s eyes. You can then use photo editing software to copy the highlight into your finished picture.)
If your hands are too full, or if there is nobody to help you hold a reflector board, you can also have the subject hold it. Of course then your picture will be from the chest up but that is one method you can use.
For better or worse it’s the digital age, so to a certain degree there’s no getting around some computer touch-up of your photograph. But even so, it can’t hurt to do your best and make sure there are no unwanted highlights reflected in your subject’s eyes either.
For example, a black cloth placed on your subject’s lap will keep them warm, but it also works to keep out any unwanted colors reflected from their clothing.
Take pictures from different angles and with different cameras.
“I took the picture with a certain composition in mind, but it’s just not right…” This is a common discovery. Because of this, take plenty of pictures as backups from various angles – high, low, right, left, without worrying about what you like or don’t like. You should also take pictures with other cameras – even a cell phone camera.
I discussed this in a previous article, but sometimes you will have disappointing results. It’s best to plan in advance strategies to keep a failure from being a failure, and to keep in mind the possibility that the person using the photograph might change their mind about what kind of photo they want. If you can keep various points in mind, your pictures will be higher quality than typical photos, and ultimately the album cover will be higher-quality too. Just tell yourself that it gives you an edge in quality, and you can always post the photos you didn’t use on social networking websites.
It’s important to give yourself lots of room and freedom by taking lots of pictures.
I took the final picture earlier at the studio for comparative purposes. One advantage of taking photos in a studio, is that I can control the light, including the surrounding illumination. When I reduced the photograph to a jacket-sized picture, I looked for any noticeable changes in the image, but didn’t find any significant differences. It goes without saying that you have a lot more freedom in a studio compared to taking a picture at someone’s home. It might make sense to make one of your goals be a large enough budget for a proper studio photograph.
Well, next time I would like to discuss points to keep in mind when you are taking a jacket cover photograph outside.
Kei has an interesting background. He started as a graphic designer, then worked as a software engineer and finally a photographer. He has ample background in retouching. He also has experience in making album covers for indy artists. “over-taking photos” and “picture taker is different from photographer” are his pet theories.
His main photographs are of women and cats (apparently he does others as well).
The make-up artist who helped with this article is Ms. Risa Chino (in the red hat), who is active in a variety of areas. She is also a photographer, so she quickly understood my intentions, and worked quickly.
And the model, as with the previous article, was Yurika, a recently emerged artist. Her debut song, “Heartbeat”, available on iTunes, is receiving favorable reviews.