For Dramatic Studio Portraits, Use a Fan

by Sean Setters
 
I've been shooting a moderate amount of indoor studio portraits over the last couple of years and I am consistently impressed by the impact a fan has on the quality of my images. Take the shot above, for example. In it, I'm using six flashes to illuminate the subject and background (with various modifiers). Good lighting is a key to producing a high quality studio portrait. But the finishing touch, the element that makes this photo really interesting, is the hair movement provided by the fan placed just in front of the subject.
 
In this case, the fan is a oscillating, variable height/variable speed pedestal model that my dad gave me when he was moving [downsizing] a few years ago. He used it to minimize his home cooling expenses; I use it to get shots like this:
 
Brittney Headshot 1

And this:
 
Hope G Black Light - Oct 2018

Note that a fan doesn't have to be motorized for it to be useful for portraiture. Anything that's flat and somewhat rigid will do the job if you have a photo assistant available (or the ability to operate the camera remotely). Things like collapsible reflectors and foam core boards can easily be used in place of a dedicated electric fan, again, assuming someone is available to operate the device. A nice thing about non-motorized fanning tools is that they can very easily be used outdoors to create a wind effect on an otherwise calm day.
 
Of course, for a fan to have an impact on portraiture, it must influence at least a part of the composed scene in some way. You can use the fan to introduce movement in hair, fabric/clothing or props (such as leaves). The opportunities for capturing dynamic, fan-induced movement in your portraits are too numerous to list.
 
If shopping for a fan for studio use, from my personal experience, a pedestal model with an adjustable height is ideal as you can easily set it to an optimal height for your subject. However, a pedestal-style fan certainly isn't a requirement. If you already have a floor model or tabletop fan, you can simply place it on a higher surface (table, apple boxes, etc.) if needed. While some may appreciate an oscillating feature (especially if the fan is doing double duty as a cooling device), I typically lock my fan into a static position so that it's always blowing air in the desired direction.
 
Note that constantly blowing air at a subject's face can cause uncomfortable dry eyes. To prevent this, tell your subject to keep his/her eyes closed right up until the moment a photo is taken and use an audible countdown to alert the subject of an impending shutter release.
 
A fan is an inexpensive tool that can have a big impact on the quality of images delivered to your clients, making it a must-have item for any studio photographer.
Posted: 10/13/2018 12:50:21 PM CT   Posted By: Sean
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