Photographing people is not what it seems to be, that is, the capturing of form on film. What a photographer actually wants to capture is the "flow pattern" of the person who is making up the form. This flow pattern is their flow of thoughts as they manifest themselves in facial expressions and movement. A photographer must be able to recognize this flow of thoughts as they influence the actual shape and form of a subject and be able to push the shutter button at exactly the right moment.
In general, when the person is thinking out, that is, extroverting his or her attention, this is the time to push the shutter button. For some reason, you can see the difference in the picture. Also, people can usually remember, sort of, what they were thinking when they look at their proofs. You want to give them a maximum amount of photographs of when they were thinking out because while they are doing this, their attention is more likely to be off their immediate problem(s), i.e., "I wonder how I am doing," "When is he going to take the picture," "I hope he doesn't take it now, my hair doesn't feel right." Thus, when a person is introverting on these thoughts, it shows in the picture.
The best pictures are pictures where the subject is looking at something in the environment and thinking about it or considering it. This gives a picture of a person who looks interested in something, this gives a picture of a person who is more causative looking. The person does not look scared, uncertain, covertly upset or covertly hostile, angry, meek, stupid, incompetent, worried, owned or hunted. Instead they look like they live in this universe and they know that they do and that they have a right to be here as much as anything else that happens to be in the same system of things.
I pretend to be ignoring the subject when I am filming them. They can then get interested in me to start with. After all, it is they who are at the focus of attention enough, and why should I focus my attention on them too when the camera is pressure enough. So I pretend to be "interested in" other things like the camera itself, the lights, my light meter, etc. Then when I see that the person is now extroverted, I dive in and get a series of pictures. Of course, my full attention is ALWAYS on the subject, but I do not want them to know that at the time of photography.
While I am getting a series of shots I keep careful tabs on the person's flows. The second I see them starting to introvert, I break away and start to "adjust" the lights or something. This gives my subject time to re-extrovert.
In conjunction with the above, there is the technical aspect of the photography. Basically, I feel that once the lights are set up to give a reasonable contrast ratio with the desired highlights, the rest of the motion and lighting should come from the model. It is easier to move the model than the lights.
With the motion of the model turning and moving to and fro comes the infinity of lighting possibilities. Photography is the science of making instant decisions. The right times to hit the shutter, from a technical point of view, come as the light makes its momentary debuts upon the face or form of the subject. Only so often will the exact moment of light and flows intersect to create the beautiful forms that homo sapiens is capable of. These moments cannot be contrived.
When the light falls on the face there is usually a highlight and a shadow. Usually, the integration of these two extremes to produce the final picture is best when they (highlight and shadow) blend into each other in a logarithmic exchange. If the highlight becomes shadow too abruptly at the zone of their intersection, the result will be too high in contrast for either the viewer or the film. If the highlight becomes shadow in a "slow" fashion, the picture will be flat looking. The best looking transitions between these two light areas is one of a logarithm. This means that the density increase, at uniform distance intervals, will plot a logarithmic curve on graph paper. I realize that you cannot plot this while you are shooting so you will just have to get used to what it looks like and then nail down the picture when you see the phenomenon. This skill could be compared to the ability musicians develop when they can recognize exact pitches without the need to look at the instrument or music. Mozart could differentiate up to a quarter of a tone, so if he could do it, you can do it with light which is much easier.
The reason you can never actually plot it out is this. Considering that the lights are far enough away from the subject to be considered to be parallel rays, they hit curved surfaces of the cheeks, chin, neck, breasts, arms, nose and the rest. The light level decays from highlight to shadow with respect to the curvature of each portion of shape it wipes past. These exact curvatures decay the light in accordance with basically two factors: The width of the light source itself and the extra fill (or ambient light) that supplements the key light. We're going to forget the fill light for now. Turn it off.
The light coming in from a non-specular source will now form a highlight or shadow decay only when the curvature of the subject is in certain limited positions with respect to the striking light rays. I am speaking of this logarithmic decay only.
Since the human form is multi-varied in shape too infinite to itemize, its response to the light bouncing off it will vary with every twist and proximity to the light source. The beautiful lighting comes when the body is moved, not the lights. These little moments of perfect lighting manifest themselves in accordance with what I have so far mentioned. You wait for the correct flow to come, then you put your attention on these little moments of light (this does not bother the model because she can feel that your attention is on the light). When the two moments are at your advantage - you nail the shot.
© 1989 by James R. Jaeger II All Rights Reserved