Portraiture is an exacting photographic art, and not to be confused with happy snaps of your wife and children. A portrait has to look pleasing, even to an outsider’s eye, and must appeal to the ego of the subject. Without those two features, a portrait is lost, and you can never sell it. Piggy bank remains empty.
Now take this on board – photographs taken in the late afternoon are notable for the warm golden glow that the afternoon light gives to the subjects. People are positively ‘glowing’ with health and vitality. Sickeningly brimming full of goodness, and golden hues just radiating from their every pore. Well, I am sorry to tell you, but like so many things in photography, it is a fraud! A photographic ‘trick’ but one that you can use to your own advantage. A trick that will cost you about 100 baht for the equipment and three minutes to master! Interested?
The ‘golden glow’ that comes from the subject in the photo is really just reflected golden light, bounced back on to the subject. Portrait shots benefit from this warm healthy look and when you use the technique properly, the subjects will look many years younger because you can get rid of saggy chins quicker than a plastic surgeon!
Now in the photographic sense, the natural golden glow comes in the late afternoon, with the sun getting low on the horizon, as I mentioned at the outset. There are good scientific reasons why this is so, but just accept the fact that late afternoon sun is the “warm” time. Take pictures at this time of day and you will get that golden glow – but our photographic trick will allow you to get that warm golden glow at any time of day – and control it as well, something you cannot do so easily with the sun as your light source from the celestial lighting technician!
What you have to do is build a light reflector that reflects that warm color. Go to the newsagent and get some gold foil paper. It may be embossed or patterned, and in fact it is better if it is, but must be gold in color. Glue the gold paper on to a sheet of cardboard or polystyrene sheet approximately one meter square. You do not have to be deathly accurate or neat. If the surface gets a little ‘scrunched up’ that is fine too. Your capital outlay is probably 100 baht. Not bad, so far!
Now you have a reflector, which if you play with it near a window for example, will shine “gold” on to any subject. You are now ready to impart that golden glow.
The best photos for this exercise are people shots taken outdoors, with the sun behind the subject. This we call ‘back lit’. You will find that the subject’s hair becomes very bright around the edges, almost like a ‘halo’ effect.
Now for the addition of the golden glow. To do this, you position your reflector to shine some sunlight back towards the subject. Prop the reflector in the best position to give the degree of golden glow you want (I generally just prop it up with the camera bag, or you can get an assistant to hold it for you) and look through the viewfinder. See what a difference this makes? The ugly chin shadow has gone as the light is coming upwards, and the subject now looks brilliantly glowing and healthy. The one meter square reflector will also impart catch-lights to eyes to make them sparkle as well. The resulting portrait has shiny hair, bright eyes and a golden complexion radiating youth. A fabulous picture.
Now, the downside! It is more difficult to get the correct exposure setting in the backlit situation. If your camera has a Backlight button, then use it. If not, walk in close to the subject so that the person’s face fills the frame, and take your exposure reading from there. Use the exposure lock, or just memorize the readings and put them in on manual mode. It is worth it. Try bracketing if you are still unsure. And remember good portraits are saleable.