by: Jacob Blickenstaff
Of course the first thing I’d advise is that the investment in hiring a good, professional photographer is always worth it. A good photographer has both the technical experience and the interpersonal skill to bring out the best in you. But if you don’t have the funds to hire a professional, you can still follow some practical strategies to improve your image.
The basic things that go into any professional studio shoot also apply for your “at-home studio:” the key ingredients are good light, and making you and your environment look good.
Here are the basic rules that will help you produce a flattering, professional image:
FIND GOOD LIGHT
Direct sunlight, a bare light bulb, and the teeny flash on your camera usually produce unflattering results: hard shadows, exaggerated blemishes, squinty eyes, and exposure problems. Seek softer light, such as a window with light shining through a curtain; a lamp that has a big shade; or daylight on an overcast day or in the late afternoon.
Backlighting means a bright light source (the sun, a window, a lamp, etc.) is directly behind you. The camera will expose for the bright light, not you, and you will look like a dark silhouette.
FIND THE RIGHT ANGLE
The way your face and body look in a photo or video is greatly affected by the angle that the light hits you. The reason that the flash from your point-and-shoot camera makes you look flat is because the light is straight on (think driver’s license photo). A good angle to start with is 45 degrees to the side and slightly above your eye level. If your light is in a fixed spot, say, a window, then move yourself to change the angle. Feel free to experiment; sometimes a subtle change in angle can make a big difference in how you look on camera.
To avoid the “selfie” look, you need to either have a friend take a variety of shots for you or use the timer function and place the camera on a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, a shelf or counter that the camera can sit on at about eye-level works, too. But if you are limited by where you can place the camera, remember to keep in mind the angle that the light is hitting you relative to the camera.
FIND COLOR BALANCE
Different kinds of light have different colors. Incandescent light bulbs have a warm yellowish color, a fluorescent bulb might have a greenish color, day light has a more blue-ish color.* You may not be aware of these differences because our eyes adjust to the type of environment you are in. If the light in your particular environment is coming from two or more kinds of light (e.g. a window and a lamp), the colors won’t match, and your skin tone will have unnatural coloration. So, for example, if you are trying to film a video podcast in your office, either turn off the overhead lights and see how the daylight looks by itself or, vice versa, close the curtains and rely only on light fixtures.
*To make things a little more confusing, light bulbs within each type come in different colors, some might be called “daylight” or “warm” or “full-spectrum”---so just make sure you have 3 or 4 identical bulbs on hand to swap out.
CONTROL THE LIGHT
If you want to take more control of your lighting options, you need lights that can be moved to the right spot. A super cheap way to go are clamp-lights (also known as clamp lamps), a bare-bones, simple lamp that can be set up just about anywhere (it’s basically a light socket attached to a metal reflector mounted on a spring clamp). You can find these at any hardware store. Keep in mind the rules about positioning when you clip them up. Get a 60–100 watt frosted light bulb to go in them; it will make for a decent, flattering light.
If you are going to show yourself in your office or some other environment, straighten up and de-clutter anything in the background so that the viewer looks at your and not the mess behind you. If you want the image to look more like a studio portrait, use a blank wall or some other solid color (an ironed bed sheet or large piece of fabric tacked firmly to the wall so there’s no visible wrinkles can work fine).
Wear professional clothing appropriate to your business, get a haircut or a blowout, and do up your makeup appropriate for a business look. Fellas, ask your girlfriend to give you a little powder to cut down on shiny skin.
PICK A CAMERA, ANY CAMERA
Don’t worry about needing to have an expensive camera. These strategies will work for just about any kind of automatic camera and will greatly help a point-and-shoot type camera make a good picture. Just make sure you turn off the flash on the camera.
So, if you are ready to jump in with a little DIY energy, I hope this introduction to photography production helps get you the results you deserve.
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