Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why I Photograph My Hand

I like my formal photos - families, couples, bridal portraits, groomal portraits - to be nicely lit. That means:
1: Main light comes from one side
2: Shadow areas are not too dark or too bright
3: Backlighting on the hair
4: Background not black, not absolutely white.

With flat or overly contrasty lighting, skin texture and color look bad in digital (and usually film) images. So, #1 (directional light) and #2 (good lighting ratio) make a huge difference.

To make sure that my light is perfect, I photograph my hand as if it were the subject - in the same spot in the room/studio/park/universe, with the same lighting. I then check the image for exposure: make sure that it is as light as it can be without losing details in the highlights, is directional and has about a 3:1 contrast ratio.
If I can have a subject as my test, then I don't have to talk to the hand (listen to the hand?).
The advantage of the hand is that it usually shows up on time, I can always count on it, and we doing, after all, digital photography.
The above image of my hand tells the viewer
1) Directional lighting is coming from the right direction and is not too bright or too dark
2) Shadows (dark areas) are not too dark.
3) The edge of the shadow is not so hard as to bring out blemishes, but not so soft as to be without character
4) The hairlight and sidelight are perfectly balanced with the main light
5) There is no unexpected color contamination from the floor or walls
6) Color: Perfect!
7) Background could be lighter or darker, but I can fix in in Photoshop
8) The line where the floor and wall meet will be very distracting, so I must position the camera and select a lens that keeps this line out of the photo.

Having created perfect lighting that will work for individual portraits as well as groups up to twenty or thirty, I can totally focus on the people


I am present to realate to the people I am photographing. I can totally work on the relationship aspect of the photos. I can move quickly from close-up to full-length to detail to groups.


With lighting and exposure perfect, my concerns are



  • Relaxing the subject
  • Keeping contact with the people I am photographing
  • Establishing contact with other people I will be photographing during the day
  • Moving quickly and effortlessly through all the images that need to be done
  • Being ready to capture the unexpected moment
  • Creating the unexpected moment!

Every picture is perfectly exposed and perfectly lit because all the technical thinking was done with a hand from my hand.