Aaron Brethorst

Round peg in a square hole, rabid generalist.

Fear of Failure and Portrait Lighting for Beginners

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If you’ve ever taken a gander through my collection of photos on Flickr, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t shoot many people, and when I do, it’s normally candid photo work. There’s a really simple reason for this: I don’t find portrait work to be particularly easy, and I hate sucking. Still, I’ve been building up my arsenal of lighting equipment (Pocketwizards, a portable Manfrotto lighting stand, a couple strobes, Justin Clamp, a couple umbrellas, etc.), and slowly edging my way towards overcoming my fear of failing miserably. This fear of failure is, apparently, a pretty common problem.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the co-founder of Magnum Photos, once famously said:

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, I started a photography project on the 1st of the year where I shoot and post one picture every single day until the beginning of 2010. I decided to start off the year by shooting a series of portraits, in part because I want to overcome this fear of failure with lighting and portraiture, and because embracing Cartier-Bresson’s maxim sooner than later means I can stop sucking that much more quickly.

In any case, just blithely setting up some equipment and firing away won’t mean I get better at my craft, so I always jump at the chance to get a good introduction to some aspects of this process that I might not otherwise have known about.

I just found a great series of articles on how even a total moron (e.g. yours truly) can properly light a portrait. The series walks you through everything from the basic theories of light, to equipment, and on to how to properly light and shoot arbitrary portraits. Good stuff.

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