Hair Haloes

Today’s exercise: separate the subject from a busy background by backlighting the hair. Fortunately I had a model handy with plenty of hair to backlight, and that model was willing to keep experimenting as long as I was. Me. Unfortunately, the challenge of getting a good shot when using a new technique takes a lot longer when you can’t look through the camera as you’re setting up the shot.

I’m sure there’s a more technical term for an accent light shot directly through the subject’s hair, but I don’t know it. I thought it was “hair light”, but it turns out that’s something else.

Self-Portrait, April 23, 2011

Self-Portrait, April 23, 2011, experiment with hair haloes.

Still, it was a pretty successful day. I took more than 100 shots and after a while I was confident enough in the setup that I could concentrate on taking self-portraits that were actually interesting to look at. Nineteen shots remain in my “keeper” bin, though I have no idea what I’ll do with them. Looking at the keepers, I can see that I have a weakness for the overly dramatic. I suppose it’s nice to even have a recognizable style at all. All these images are straight off the camera with no tweaking or even cropping. I swear they weren’t all this over-the-top. Really.

A slightly less overdramatic (and therefore less-liked by me) self-portrait.

These photos don’t necessarily represent the best (my opinion of which changes every moment anyway), but the most representative of the technique. There’s no rocket science here; I got the main lights as close to me as possible so I could turn them down pretty low. That meant less light hitting the busy wall behind me. Directly behind my head is a third light that backlights my hair. I probably should have played with different intensities of that light more.

Even though there's a lot of shadow on me, the hair halo really separates me from the background.

This is the last shot of the day, and the fill light didn’t fire at all. (It’s set to flash when it sees another light flash, but all the lights were turned down pretty far and the fill light was behind an umbrella.) That left my head very dark, but the back light really pops me out from the background. All these photos have reflections of the lights in the glass behind me. In the one above you get a particularly clear look at the spokes of the fill light’s umbrella. Reflections are a bitch, man.

One of my favorite self-portraits ever! I really like the composition, how much my face shows, and how the colors in the jersey came out on this one. By keeping things just a touch underexposed the colors get nice and saturated.

I don’t know how often I’ll actually need this technique, but it turned out to be pretty easy. Here’s the setup:

The setup for Self-Portrait Saturday

For the fill light I could have opened the curtains just off-camera to the right rather than setting up a strobe, but then I would have had to worry about shutter speed, and that was one more variable than I wanted to deal with when I couldn’t look at the result after every shot.

The setup picture itself was taken with our older camera. I propped on a footstool and set it for two-second exposure. When I heard it click, I took a picture with the main camera, which of course caused the strobes to pop and light the scene for both cameras.


5 thoughts on “Hair Haloes

  1. Thanks!

    I’m going to have to look at some glamour photos of long-haird women to see if my new axiom that in general hair should go in front of and behind the shoulder (like in the first and third shots above) and not covering the entire shoulder (like on the right in the middle picture). When the shoulder is totally covered, it just looks too… hairy.

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