Book Review: Portrait Photography, The Art of Seeing Light by Don Blair with Peter Skinner

Portrait Photography, The Art of Seeing Light by Don Blair with Peter SkinnerDon Blair logged more than five decades as a professional photographer. He did it all. He worked in a photo studio while still in junior high and ended up owning the studio years later. Fifty years ago he began teaching seminars for Kodak and then expanded his scope to lecture to large and small groups around the world; when someone’s photographic career spanned more years than your own lifetime you would most likely benefit from the nuggets of wisdom only a veteran can share.

Don was not only a very competent portrait photographer; he was a very avid teacher as well. This successful master craftsman was a gifted and caring educator who had been unstinting in sharing his knowledge with photographers throughout the United States and other countries.

In his book, Portrait Photography: The Art of Seeing Light, Don teaches the aspiring portrait photographer the essence of the craft by understanding light.

“Seeing light is the key to great photography,”he said. Correct lighting of course cannot be overemphasized, because it is the foundation for photography. Whether the light source is natural or artificial, the competent photographer must know how to work with it.

Don’s photographic techniques emphasized purity and simplicity, a breath of fresh air for our harried digital lives.

“Many photographers feel they need complex setups to make good portraits. That’s not the case. Our job as portrait photographers is to create good portraits, not to draw attention to the lights used. If the lighting makes more impact than the essence of the subject, then I feel we have failed,”Don said.

In the book, he covered various aspects of portrait photography, including executive portraits, family portraits, children’s portraits and group portraits. He also devoted a special chapter on environmental photography, not in the sense of nature conservation (although his example photos certainly would inspire you to conserve nature) but of situating your portrait subject in a wider environmental backdrop.

Like all books published by Amherst, Don’s book is generously illustrated by superb photographs taken by the author (his camera of choice was the Hasselblad). He shares his classic photos to emphasize the lighting lessons to be learned.

And throughout the book, there are nuggets of wisdom to be gained.

“Train your eyes to see light, and you are well on your way to being a good photographer,” he exhorted.

Don passed away peacefully on September 26, 2004. “Big Daddy,” as he was affectionately called, was a very accomplished man. He was dedicated to his art and used it well to express himself. He was selfless in sharing everything he knew.

Portrait Photography, The Art of Seeing Light by Don Blair with Peter Skinner, Amherst Media, 8 x 11 inches, 124 pages, $29.95 USA, $44.95 Canada

Table of Contents

1. The Essence of Seeing Light
Practice and a Basic Rule
Light to Avoid
Sweet Light
Observations on Lighting
Universal Principles
Good Lighting Is for All Media
Previewing Your Lighting Results
The Look of a Single Light
Techniques and Terminology
Light Positions – Main Light, Fill Light, Hair Light, Accent Light (or “Garlic Light”), Kicker Light
Lighting Ratios
Lighting Patterns – Broad and Short Lighting, Butterfly or Paramount Lighting, Loop Lighting, Rembrandt or 45-Degree Lighting, Split Lighting, Rim Lighting

2. Portraiture – My Way
Preparing for Portraiture
The Executive Portrait
Get to Know the Subject
Select the Location
Lens Selection
Family Portrait
Creating a Classic
Using Props
Lens Selection
Children’s Portraits
Infants and Small Children – Types of Portraits, Clothing Selection, An Assistant and Props, Basic Poses and Camera Height, Studio Lighting, Outdoor Images
Teenagers and High School Seniors
Group Portraits – Remember the Fundamentals, Planning and Organization, Groups and Subgroups, Establish Planes, Lighting

3. Dragging the Shutter
The Concept
Camera and Flash Settings
Additional Considerations
Balancing Flash with Ambient Daylight

4. Add a Touch of Warmth
Touch-of-Warmth Reflectors
Angle of Reflector

5. Metering with Confidence
Setup Sequence
Metering in the Studio

6. Harnessing the Versatility of the Bare Bulb
Avoiding Raccoon Eyes
Outdoors – Battery Pack, Bare Bulb as the Main Light, Balancing Flash with Daylight

7. Punch-Panel Light
Shadow Detail
About the Photos in This Chapter

8. Parabolic Lighting with Barndoors

9. Posing and Problem Solving
Posing Basics
Couples and Groups
The Eyes
The Hands

10. Environmental Portraiture
Time of Day
Location Lighting

11. Harnessing Window Light
The Basics
Shadow Illumination
Color Quality
Background Control
Practice, Practice

12. The Versatility of Spotlights

13. Digital Photography

14. The Scene Machine

15. Special Effects and Having Fun

16. X-Pan Series




Published by Chris Malinao

Chris teaches Lightroom as workflow software to photography students at the FPPF, Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation. He also teaches smartphone photography.