When good lighting isn’t good enough…

by Todd Smith on February 11, 2009

Have you ever been for a professional portrait? You know the lights I’m talking about… big umbrellas, soft-boxes, and believe me there are many more.

But is good lighting good enough to make a portrait? Sometimes, yes. I’ve seen it. And sometimes not.

My friend, Susan Stanton Rotman, tells this story:

Susan Stanton Rotman

“My old site had a professional photo, taken about 3 1/2 years ago (seen above). 140 shots and we could not get a photo that really looked like me, so we went with the best we could do. It was professionally lit and photographed, but just seemed like it wasn’t me. I immediately, and consistently since then, received comments that the photo did not look like me, it didn’t capture me, etc…”

I’m not so sure the photographer who took the picture really knew his lighting, but assuming he did, I agree that the image feels flat and misses something.

It’s interesting because Susan is an intuitive counselor, or psychic if you will. She helps businesses and individuals uncover their own subtle direction and develop their intuition. For a person like that, inner light is probably the most important thing that should be conveyed in a professional photograph. So when it’s lacking (above) it’s sorely noticed.

Susan continues:

“One of the most frequent comments was that there is a “light” or radiant quality that people experience with me, and the photo didn’t get it. I just assumed that is because a photo is a frozen and static moment in time, and couldn’t capture the aliveness of the real person. At least with me.”

“Then this past August my daughter took an impromptu snapshot of me, sitting on the front porch of the second floor apartment of one of my other daughter’s home, holding my 2 day old granddaughter–and voila! The light was there. One shot, not by a professional, no lighting or filters, just a natural image.”

Susan Stanton Rotman

Now, even from a professional point of view, this image is well lit. The backlight is excellent while the face does not fall into shadow. There is light wrapping around from behind and it creates depth to the features of the face.

But above and beyond the better lighting, there is a sparkle in Susan’s eye. There is a relaxed happiness that comes through and makes me feel connected and draws me in. I want to look longer at the image.

This is how you photograph an open heart. The photographer and the subject both need to have that openness for it to come through in the image. In this case you can see the love between daughter (photographer) and mother (Susan). As they say, a lens points both ways.

Now look at the image from which the previous one was cropped. A 2-day old granddaughter in Susan’s arms. If that couldn’t light-up her soul, I don’t know what could.

Susan Stanton Rotman

Susan says, “Very interesting how there is an intangible, vibrational quality that projects who a person is, along with the image, and how hard it can be to capture!”

Or I might add, “how easy!”

You can see this image on Susan’s website. I had a consult with her once, she’s good.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Whiddon-Brown February 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm

This is a beautiful post, really. I’m simply loving that this is the second time in two days that I’ve heard the phrase an “open heart.” And wow, can you see it in these photos.

The fact that you can see this and understand it, before the shots are taken, is I’m sure part of what makes you such a great photographer.

Thanks for the great, insightful post.

Diane Whiddon-Brown´s last blog post..Writing Every Day

Todd Smith February 11, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Thanks, Diane. An open heart is the missing spice, isn’t it?

Todd Smith´s last blog post..When good lighting isn’t good enough…

LisaNewton February 12, 2009 at 3:27 am

Wow, what an amazing difference. The glow on her face as she holds her new grandchild is clearly evident.

I had no idea there would be so much difference between the two photos. What a great learning experience.

Thanks, Todd.

LisaNewton´s last blog post..A Waterfall in my Backyard

Diane February 17, 2009 at 11:15 am

great post Todd. So true.

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