Light and the human face

The human face is remarkable in its ability to express emotions. Sometimes a slight change in a muscle  takes the face from inescrutable to open and friendly. We people photographers are in the business of externally describing a person’s uniqueness. To do that we use several different approaches: eliciting different facial expressions, placing our subjects in a location that says something about them, and sometimes we simply use light to help us define personality and character.  Neither one of which is normally visible, but can be brought to the surface by the power of light to define moods.  Mood is not the same as personality, of course, but when we create a mood with light and other photographic symbols, the viewer infers something about the sitter’s personality from visual cues.

Consider this portrait that i created today:

Dramatic headshot

Dramatic headshot

Here the light, black and white finishing, and, of course, the serious expression, combine to create a more dramatic, theatrical headshot.  This is not a portrait of a pretty face, but an actor’s face showing character.   The light creates darks shadows on the face while chiseling it with highlights.

A completely different headshot is presented here below:

Sensitive headshot

Sensitive headshot

I use the word “sensitive” with this headshot because the drama and strong character present in the previous photo are gone; here we have a color headshot, using softer light and in color.  Plus the orientation is horizontal instead of vertical.  The subject is here presenting a softer, more sensitive side.

When I work on a portrait or headshot for an actor, we discuss ahead of time the type of images we want to create, to make sure we’re both on the same page as to the concept and what’s required to bring it to life.

Category: Technical, Uncategorized

One Response to “Light and the human face”

  1. Mark Suire

    It’s amazing what lighting can do to a face.


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