Tips for Dark Beauty Stylized Portrait Photography

When shooting a portrait, the conventional wisdom involves using bright, evenly-coloured light to bring out the model’s sweet inner glow. Sometimes, though, you might desire an aesthetic that is a little bit more dramatic. In this video, Detroit photographer Paul Manoian uses coloured gels to shed light on the darker side of portrait photography:

Manoian was going for a Gothic look in this shoot, juxtaposing his subject’s pale skin and blonde hair with black clothes, dark makeup, and a royal blue backdrop. To accentuate this colour palette while keeping the soft diffused light, he opens the front of a soft box (mounted onto an Elinchrom D-lite 4) and tapes gels inside the box itself, which he shines on the model from the rear to give her a deep blue halo around her. He uses three of these – two square soft boxes and one octagonal – in order to maximize this effect from all sides.

In addition to these three lights, he points one spot light on the background, creating a circular glow behind her head which frames her face and adds contrast to the image. He relies only on the light spilling in from the side to brighten her face, purposefully leaving it largely in shadow in order to enhance the brooding atmosphere.

portrait photography

This session displays an interesting and uncommon method of photographing women with a more commanding aura than usual. By playing with deep contrast and shadow, Manoian explores her strong and powerful side without compromising her feminine energy – two concepts which are rare to find intertwined so gracefully.

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