How to Control Mood in Portraits

Portrait photography is an intimate art—so intimate, in fact, that the slightest changes can alter the entire image. In the video below, Gavin Hoey shows us three simple adjustments you can make to vastly change your portrait’s atmosphere:

Hoey is working with a model posing as a boxer after a fight. Shooting with an Olympus E-M5ii and attached Olympus 12-40mm lens, there are two shots he wants to grab: one of victory and one of failure.

The three aspects are the model’s pose, the photographer’s lighting, and post-processing.

portrait studio photos

For the losing shot, this is how it works:

  • The model, obviously, must look defeated. Hoey instructs him to look down, sigh, and really embody the character to breathe life into the image.
  • There’s only one light—it’s big and close to the model, which lends a moodier atmosphere as the background fades into darkness. He keeps the light closer and bigger, which makes for moodier lighting.
  • Lastly, he softens the image in post-processing by lowering the temperature, which gives the image a blue hue. He also increases the contrast to up the blacks surrounding the model, but decreases the clarity, which softens the mid-tones, and the vibrance, which brings it closer to black-and-white territory.

It ends up looking like this:

gavin hoey photography

Now for the victorious pose. There are only three major differences:

  • The boxer, having won, is striking a totally different pose. His body language is entirely different—leaning in, veins pulsing, screaming. That’s the most obvious difference, but far from the only one.
  • Hoey has added two lights—both behind his model, angled at his shoulders. Those lights are set at one stop less than the front—they’re f/5.6, whereas the key light remains at f/8—but the added contrast and rim lighting gives the image a sense of aggression.
  • In Photoshop, Hoey’s done the opposite of what he did for the previous image. He’s increased the clarity and vibrance, giving a redder hue and more sharpness. Noting that the model’s face also turned a bit too red, Hoey desaturated that area using a paintbrush.

how to shoot interesting portraits

That’s all there is to it—three simple adjustments to create two totally different images. It helps to have a versatile model, as Hoey does, but any knowledgable photographer should be able to work wonders with even less.

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