Shooting Portraits Of Men

by William Lulow

You might ask, what’s the difference between doing portraits of men and women? On first blush, you might not see any real differences. But, they are there nonetheless. Because men are naturally more “rugged” than women, they can usually take a much harsher lighting. More dramatic lightings usually highlight a man’s features, while softer lightings are generally more flattering to women. Therefore, when I do a man’s portrait I always feel as though I have much more leeway, lighting-wise than with women.

I usually begin with my soft umbrella, though for just about anyone. Then I can move to more dramatic lightings as I see how the session unfolds. Here’s a good, dramatic shot:

The face is pretty much lit except for some shadow on the left side. But the accent light on the left helps to define the face in a much more rugged way. There was no fill-in light used in the front, as I would normally do for a woman.

Here’s a side-lighting used as an advertisement for an art director. Note how the shadow works to separate the face from the background.

And another example from earlier this week:

For a portrait of writer Peter Boyer, I was able to try a couple of different lightings. This one used my two accent lights with only the mainlight umbrella with no fill-in light.

This one, used mainlight, background light, but only one accent light:

Here you can see the effects of using a mainlight without any fill-in light. I get a “wrap-around” effect from my large umbrella mainlight, but still have some shadow which tends to add some depth to the picture. It also keeps the neck in shadow, thus calling more attention to the face. Shadows can be used in many creative ways. They can hide unwanted or unnecessary details, they can be used to direct attention to the lighter areas, or can simply add that dramatic touch. Remember, the principle at work is that darker areas tend to recede while lighter areas attract more attention.

As I said, men can usually take a bit more drama in the lighting than can women. But I still had all my lights set up and ready to go if I thought I needed them. Portrait photographers have to stay flexible because we usually meet our subjects for the first time when they walk in the studio door! We have to decide on-the-spot, how we think we will light them and what lighting setup would look best for their needs.