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While its not possible for everyone to have a studio, an understanding of studio lighting will help you get better portraits outdoors or when you are shooting on location.
A basic studio lighting set up should consist of one strobe unit (a strobe unit is a flash unit releasing the same strength of light as daylight), placed at 45 degrees to the subject. A reflector should be placed at the other side of the subject. This will help soften the final image by bouncing light into the harsh shadows created by the strobe unit.
The background that you choose is very important. If the subject has dark hair use a light background and if the subjectsí hair is light use a dark background. If you do not want to go to the expense of getting two different backgrounds use a maroon colour instead.
If you are looking for variety of portrait backgrounds choose a blue colour for portraits of children and a white background for babies.
The last thing you need is a stool to be placed in front of the background. Make sure that the stool is placed at least one meter in front of the background. If it is placed too near youíll get harsh shadows from the subjects appearing on the background.
Once you place the subject on the stool and have all your lights and reflectors in position, have the subject so that his/her body is facing the main light source. Then get the subject to turn their head towards the camera. Always make sure that the camera is at eye level to the subject.
Now itís time to explore all the different types of portrait shots.
The first and the most popular is the head and shoulder shot. This pose can be shot in a few different ways. The first pose is to get the subject to face the camera - this may be a boring option and in my opinion it should be left for passport photographs.
Get the subject to face the main source of light, which should be placed at a 45-degree angle to the subject. Then get the subject to rotate his head until his eyes are looking directly into your lens.
The next pose that you should consider is the three quarter length stance. Be very careful with the hands as they can become very distracting in the final print if placed in a poor position. The best way to overcome this is to get the subject to use a prop that is appropriate to the subjects character.
There are many other different types of poses that can be used for successful portraits. Donít be afraid to experiment on family or friends. Trial and error will help you become a great portrait photographer.
About the Author: TJ Tierney is an award winning Irish Landscape photographer. For more about portrait photography you can visit his photography directory To view his images visit his on-line gallery of pictures of Ireland and flower pictures