Portrait Photography with Simple Gear

Online Photography course - Using simple lighting gear to get much better portraits... from mild to wild.
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  • Lectures 92
  • Length 15 hours
  • Skill Level All Levels
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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    Available on iOS and Android
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About This Course

Published 9/2012 English

Course Description

This is an ongoing photography course: New work and assignments will be added to this workshop as it becomes available or as needed for explanations. If you have something you want to see, or a lighting idea that you would want me to explore, let me know.

(Two New courses added May, 2013. Location Portraiture)

Once purchased, you may access the class and lectures whenever you want. There is no limit or time frame to access. 

This is a class that can be started at any time, by nearly any level of photographer. 

This course is created for the beginning to early intermediate photographer who wants to use simple gear to make much better portraits. We will examine fresh ways to use natural light, augmented natural light, strobes with both natural light and as the main lights only and how to create our own reality with only a single speedlight. 

Over Seven and a half full hours of video tutorial on creative portrait photography: shooting, explaining, shooting and Photoshopping. Fourteen + downloadable PSD files in layers to see exactly what we did with the Photoshop work... and use them to understand the Photoshop videos you are watching.

With over three and a half hours of bonus material, including class webinars, this course continues to grow. All members are welcome to our webinars that feature ideas, Photoshop tips, lighting schemes and more. 

We show the setup and how the image is put together, adding fill cards and additional tools as necessary to make the images WE want to see.

Follow along as I set the lights, find the exposure, work with the models and build the image to what I want it to be. 

Understanding how to use light to make the portraits you want means you can make creative portraits at almost any time you want.

Some of the things you will learn are:

  • Using the small flash for lighting portraits
  • How to make traditional 'Beauty" portraits
  • Using a single light to produce extraordinary results
  • Working with models and subjects
  • How to blend ambient daylight with your strobes - and do it easily
  • Using modifiers like umbrellas and softboxes and knowing which you want to use
  • Adding strobe to bring the subject into a very contrasty situation
  • Adding contrast with a wink of strobe in very flat lighting
  • Creating your own reality with lighting
  • Methods for making the most beautiful natural light headshots you can

In addition we show the post production of the images in Photoshop so you can learn to use some basic, and yet very useful tools in post to make the shots pop even more. We include the PSD files in layers for you do download and view as we are doing the Photoshop demonstrations in the videos.

  • Learn how to add small amounts of "light" to an image
  • Simple moves with the Curves Adjustment can make so much difference
  • How to simply retouch faces to eliminate blemishes
  • Using layers for more control
  • Adding depth with contrast and attention to detail
There will be several scheduled live sessions to discuss your images, and to answer any questions you may have. In addition, there will be additional shoots added one per month until 12/31/2012.

If you are familiar with your camera, and would like to be able to make better portraits without spending a ton of money on gear, check out this set portrait photography tutorials.

What are the requirements?

  • Photographers should be reasonably comfortable with the operation of their camera.
  • A list of items that are suggested as well as links to Amazon for purchasing if you wish: http://www.lighting-essentials.com/gear-list-links-for-the-udemy-portrait-class/

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Beginning photographers will be able to increase the quality of their portraiture greatly with each class
  • Intermediate photographers who are not familiar with fill flash, or adding small strobes to location portraiture will find the confidence they need
  • Use small strobes and speedlights to do studio type work no matter where you are working
  • Blend ambient light with strobes in nearly any light - and be confident that the results are exactly what you want
  • Natural light enthusiasts will find it easy to see how strobe can be used to enhance an otherwise natural light shot
  • Beginning Beauty and Fashion photographers will find ways to add to their headshot arsenal
  • Fully understand the many different ways to make portraits with natural light, enhanced natural light, and strobes

Who is the target audience?

  • Beginning photographers who have a basic understanding of their cameras
  • Intermediate photographers who may need some understanding of using flash and ambient
  • Budding fashion and beauty photographers who want to explore some new ways of shooting portaits
  • Anyone who wants to make a lot better portrait without spending a ton of money on gear they may not need
  • People photographers who want to understand the portrait process better
  • Anyone who wants to make interesting photographs of people

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.


Section 1: Overview
This is a beginner's portrait photography course.  This will cover many aspects of lighting (including natural light and studio light).  Scroll through the sections on the left to get a sense for the 6.5 hours of video!
1.5 MB

This is a lo-res workbook for the workshop. You are free to download it to make sure this is the class for you.

It is NOT the full workshop that the workshop will have as we go through the course, it is only a sample for you.

If you are comfortable creating the lighting for this type of portraiture, this may not be the course for you. 

If you are not achieving this type of lighting, and you want to, this may be just the course for you.

It is a real world course. We plan, shoot and Photoshop the portraits in the course and we include Photoshop movies, and the PSD FIles in layers so you can see EXACTLY what we did with the file straight out of the camera.

Good lighting means less fixing in Photoshop/Lightroom and more opportunity for creativity.

Enjoy the workshop, and I hope to see you on the course.


We will be using these simple tools throughout the course:

  • Flash (speedlight) One is needed, two would be good.
  • Light Stand
  • A "Trigger" to fire the flash from the camera.
  • A small or medium umbrella (bounce style for this set of classes)
  • Small to medium softbox
  • 3-4 White Boards for Reflective Bounce
  • Clamps to hold boards to stand (A clamps)
We will be working on many different ways to make portraits. From studio to location, simple light to beating the sun and using the speedlights to create our own environment.

This course is for the beginning photographer who wants to make portraits in all kinds of situations. And this list of simple, inexpensive set of tools are the basics we need to build the light we want.


A quick and basic look at speedlights.

Creating a useful set of guidelines for understanding the use of the flash.

You will need to understand the power / distance use of your flash.

Understanding the reciprocals is key.


This is a very simple, and very effective tool for finding your exposure when using your flash. 

We find F-4 on the length of cord or rope with the flash set at 1/8 power and the zoom head at 50MM. This initial finding is the basis for creating the rest of the aperture settings along the rope.

Using the Inverse Square Law to find the aperture settings of the rope meter.

With this simple tool, and an understanding of the reciprocal standards of exposure, the flash power can be determined with accuracy and finesse.

3 pages
A Document to Accompany the String Meter Video

Getting gear from studio to location is always a consideration.

I use the Standbagger "Grab N Go" for a lot of my shooting. I recently photographed a lifestyle shoot on the West Coast of CA with just this Standbagger, 2 speedlights and simple modifiers.

You can get more information on Standbaggers and the variety of carriers they have at www.standbagger.com

Angle Of Incidence Document
2 pages
1.1 MB

This is a free e-book on portraiture that I wrote a few years ago. Not a "how to" book, but rather the thought processes that were taking place when shooting. 


44 pages
The workbook is revised on occasion, and the latest revision was on 12/27/12.

Let me know if you would like to see more in the workbook.
Section 2: Free Lightroom / Photoshop Tutorials
Working in Lightroom
Working in Photoshop
Section 3: Ivy Natural Light Headshot

Some examples of natural light portraits. Some purely natural light and others augmented with fill cards. 

Easy to follow ideas for making your natural light portraits even more interesting.


An introduction to our first shoot assignment: Ivy with natural and augmented natural light.

I shoot a lot of headshots. For businesses, models, talent and those who need a good, natural shot for PR, Advertising or simple personal use.

This is a fast, and easy way to do some natural light headshots with only a few white cards to help fill the shadows. You can get the Fome Core boards at most art supply stores. I have recently found some matte ones at the Dollar store.

Inexpensive tools like these can really add some subtle fill and greatly enhance the skin tones and contrast of the portrait.


This is the shoot with Ivy outside the studio door.

We use fill cards and natural light for a very pretty headshot.

Follow along and try doing this image with success before moving to the next assignment.


This is the shot I chose of Ivy.

Follow along with the Post Processing.

118.3 MB

Download this layered PSD file to use to follow along with the video.

Section 4: One Light with Reflector Fill Card

An overview of a single light portrait shoot.

We review some portraits done with one light and a fill card.


An introduction to a one light / reflector shoot with Briana. What to look for, and how to plan the shoot.


Watch as we shoot with a small speedlight - no modification - and a few white boards.

I start with a single speedlight, bouncing the light off of a couple of reflectors in front of Bri. This light is so reminiscent of sunlight, and so easy to do. 

We then change the light to a small softbox for a change-up in the look of the backlight, but still in keeping with the feeling of sunlight lit headshot.

This is a great beauty light for fashion / headshot shooters who want to have a lovely, filled face with little retouching.


There are a few different things I do in Photoshop to work with this type of shot. I use only what I need to make the portraits I want to make.

These are not difficult moves to learn in Photoshop, and we are keeping it simple for this course on portrait lighting. Go on, jump in and have a blast.

BTW, you can also do most of these on Photoshop Elements.

Here is a link to Mama Shan's Powder action. I love it and use it.
NOTE: this is not an affiliate link, just a link to a cool product.

Download the Photoshop file used on this tutorial on the next lecture.

140.0 MB

Use this Photoshop file to follow along on the lecture previously.

As with all the images in this course, you are only given permission to use the image for this class.
No sharing or posting of it or any other images.

Section 5: Traditional Beauty Portrait with One Light

Traditional beauty imagery is one of the hallmarks of a portrait photographer. We can use many lights or a few lights... or one light.

This is a classic beauty light that is easy to do with simple tools.

We use an umbrella with a diffuser for this shot.

This is called a softlighter.

You can use a softbox or a bounce umbrella for this type of shot as well, so try using what you have to do some traditional beauty shots with one light - in real close. I do not use shoot thru umbrellas for this type of shot unless there is a reason for the resulting fall off, or I am using a lot of fill cards all around to scoop up that lost light.


We look at a few images from my Traditional Beauty work.


This is a simple, one light shoot.

This shot can be accomplished with a softlighter (round or umbrella shaped softbox), a square softbox or a bounce umbrella.

The key is how close you get the light to the subject.

Example of the Fill Cards (With / Without)
4 pages

Controlling the fall off of light on the sides of the face as well as below the chin is of prime importance. We use some inexpensive white cards to fill in the side of the subjects face in this shoot... and we add a nice, simple, soft hair light with an additional card.

One light for everything... main, fill and hair.

Easy to do, and easy to see results quickly.

Do this shot before moving on to the Softbox shoot in the next lecture.


Grab the Photoshop file on the next lecture for working with this Photoshop movie.

1.5 MB

Use this Photoshop file for the previous Photoshop tutorial.

Please respect copyright on this and all images on this tutorial.


For this shot we used a Westcott 28" Apollo.

This modifier works really well with speedlights and small strobes.


You can see the Photoshop post processing here.

These are simple to do post processing moves. Give them a try.

Section 6: Mixing Strobe with Natural Light for a Subtle "Sunny" Look

We look at images that were - or could have been - shot with strobe and natural light to create a sunlight look to a shade shot image.

This is one of my favorite little methods. You can go mild to wild, and create the feeling of sunlight in weather that is not sunny.

I live in Phoenix, and we are always amazed by clouds... heh.


Using the speedlight for the sun can be very subtle, or it can be very wild.

We discuss the process here.


Follow along as we do a simple headshot / portrait with the speedlight acting as the sun.

You can add warming filters to the strobe if you want to warm up the light a bit, and you can change the angles for all kinds of backlit feeling to the images.


Follow along with the post processing of the image we did with Briana in the previous lecture.

Section 7: Blending Ambient with Strobe in an Interior/Exterior Setting

Blending an ambient light from outside while shooting an image inside can be a tricky photograph. You want to blend your strobe and not have that 'flash' feeling to the image. 

Indeed, there are many ways to go with this kind of image. You can deal with the background with shutter speed, making it as dark and as light as you wish.

Your main strobe light will probably not change much at all, as it is a function of power and distance. Notice how close I have this softlighter umbrella from Briana. I keep it in close so that the size of the light is larger than the subject and creates a soft, wrap around light.

In addition, the closer the light to the subject, the faster it falls off. That means that I can keep the light ON my subject, not flying all around the room. And... it helps 'model' the subject with light-to-dark fall off. And while it is not dramatic, it is still enough to help the image have dimension.


Watch how we subtly create light, shape and dimension with the post processing.Simple moves for more interesting imagery.

137.5 MB

Download this file for the Photoshop demonstration above.

Section 8: Three Point Portrait Lighting

This is a fun and easy way to create some great light with a modern look.

Three point lighting is quite popular, and when you use it on portaits, it can add some interesting hairlight.

This is not the three point lighting that shows on cheeks, we are instead using it only on the back side of the hair for a beauty shot.

In addition, we turn the same backlights around and make the white background shot without moving the model. This is a fairly simple thing to do... just make sure you chimp the background alone... making it only as bright as it needs to be.


The portrait of Amanda with three point lighting: Photoshop tips and post processing.

8.3 MB

PSD Layered file for above Photoshop Demonstration.


See how the post processing of the image with the white background is done.

Section 9: Shooting in High and Low Contrast Scenes

We use a bounce umbrella to bring the subject up to the correct level for exposure. These situations can be quite tricky, and quite troublesome.

It is paramount that the photographer understand how important the background is in shots like this. Choosing the background/subject placement can be the difference between success and failure in the final image.

This is where 'placing' the exposure can be so important. You have so many choices on the background exposure, the subject exposure and mix of the two, that understanding the final result becomes the first thing to think about.

Using the string meter we made earlier in the workshop makes this very easy. Finding the ambient first is key.


Follow along as I do the Photoshop for this image.

171.4 MB

Download this layered PSD file to see what we did in the demo above.


In this shot we had to add contrast. The scene was mostly in the shade - deep shade - and that meant we needed to add some dimension to it.

The settings from the previous shot with Briana did not work for the background, although the strobe light was fine. I had to bump the ISO to 400 and lower the shutter speed to 1/50 to make the background be seen the way I wanted it to.

Since we had made the sensor 2 f-stops brighter (4 times the exposure) by going from  ISO 100 to ISO 200 to ISO 400, I had to compensate with the flash power as well. Since we went up with sensitivity, I went down with power. Two stops more sensitive / Two stops less power.

The resulting image is just as we want it to be.

We then added a second background light to open up the shady bank behind and across the stream from Iveena. I started with a full power flash, but ended up cutting it to 1/2 power, zoomed to full extension (105) to get the look I wanted. 

The zoom gave the light a tighter shape, and let some darkness fall in at the edges. This also helps with the dimension.


Using very simple and repeatable Photoshop moves, we make the shot of Iveena look even better than captured.

88.1 MB

Use this layered file to follow along with on the above Demonstration.

Section 10: Natural Light Beauty: Five Examples

This set of images takes us through a full on Natural Light shoot with a beauty/fashion flair. Five different portraits with total natural light, and five different ways of using the environmental light for portraits that are both fashionable and beautiful.


Photoshop post production of Jasmine's portrait in black hat.

73.3 MB

Layered PSD file of Jasmine for the above Photoshop Demonstration.


Photoshop post production of Iveena in the backlit sun shot.

110.2 MB

Download to follow along with the above Lecture.


Photoshop post production of Miranda's shot in backlit sun.

76.0 MB

PSD layered file for the Photoshop Demo above.


Photoshop post production of Aliza in soft, natural light.

88.1 MB

Follow along with the Photoshop Demo.


Photoshop post production of Briana in strong backlight.

81.2 MB

Layered PSD file for the Photoshop Demo Above.

Section 11: Miranda at the Lighthouse: Creating a New Reality

We use a single strobe for a unique look to this shot. By lowering the bright ambient and shooting to the strobe exposure, the reality of the world in our camera is altered.

Adding a second light gives us some more mystery... and can help provide a context for the image.

By finding the ambient first, and knowing what we will get with that part of the shot that is not strobe lit, it is very easy to tweak the strobe light on the subject to get the kind of light we want.

Always start with the idea, then the ambient, then add the strobes as you see the light developing in front of you.

We do some interesting things in Photoshop, so be sure to watch those lectures as well.


Follow along with the work on the single light shot.


A bit more of a challenge, this will be a fun post process.

Grab the Photoshop file below to see the work.

230.6 MB

Download the layered file to see what we did.

As with all files, please respect the copyright of this image.

Section 12: September Bonus Class

Follow along as I share my thought processes for this shot of Abby in a plowed cornfield.


Follow along as I share my thought processes for this shot of Abby in a plowed cornfield.

Uploaded for those who were getting diminished audio in the MP4 files.


How I worked the shot of Abby on the sidewalk in a small town. 

These are shots in order with what I was thinking about as I was shooting them.

We will Photoshop the final image from this shoot in this September Bonus Class.


How I worked the shot of Abby on the sidewalk in a small town. 

These are shots in order with what I was thinking about as I was shooting them.

We will Photoshop the final image from this shoot in this September Bonus Class.

Added in case the MP4's are a problem.

178.6 MB

This is the file I used on the Abby and Picket Fence, Photoshop Lecture.


Photoshop work on Abby and the Picket Fence.

NOTE: Pshop file is uploaded in this lecture.

Section 13: Using Lightroom / Camera Raw for Post Processing
This is an example of preparing an image in Camera Raw. We can do many things directly in that software before bringing it into Photoshop. Let me know if there are any questions.
I was asked how to process images within Lightroom. While these are simple moves, they can be quite extensively applied in Lightroom. Let me know if you have any questions.
This is a technique that I used for a while, and then did other things. Recently I have returned to do this workflow on a lot of my images. The idea of having two smart objects makes a lot of sense to me and I love how they allow me to really tweak the image.

I have included the PSD file for your perusal. It is located above in the additional items tab.
Section 14: Extras and Bonus Materials
A review of several images I used for a book for Abby, the daughter of a friend of mine. I discuss the different ways I approached the lighting and compositions. This is bonus content for UDEMY students only,

I used InDesign for the book and it was printed at Blurb.com
Paige: Environmental Headshot
This Photoshop tutorial accompanies the video above: Environmental Headshot.
A bonus Photoshop video of shooting Paige in the Blue Dress. You can see the images in the revised Workbook available now. Here is one way I processed the images.
A grab shot without the lights actually set was one I wanted to see. I used Photoshop to fix the flaws from shooting before ready.
We look at a few shots of Isabel. In this webinar you get to see ALL the shots I did to get to the final shot. We also look at a very nice way to use natural light and strobe to create a beautiful headshot. And this method only requires a simple setup.

NOTE: this is not the same material that was gone over in the afternoon webinar.
I take you through a couple of shots of Abbey. How I sketched the image in, what I was looking for and all that went into the making of three shots. You see ALL the images... good - bad - really bad - and see how I got to the shot I wanted.

Note: this is different material from the morning webinar.
From our March 11 Webinar. We do these about every two months. Bring questions, ideas and anything you may wish to discuss. I will announce our next Webinar in a few weeks.
I am often times asked about large umbrellas and speedlights. Here is how I use them.

Two attached images show results. While they are subtle, there can sometimes be more variation. You should try both ways and make sure that you KNOW what the differences are and make appropriate choices for your vision.

Miranda1 is the open umbrella, and Miranda2 is with diffusion.

Brittany with a hose shot in Santa Cruz. I wanted to do a shot with mostly ambient light, and this is the result. 80% ambient and 20% strobe. The result is a very natural looking shot with just a touch of edge to it from the strobe. Small softbox with strobes, a single strobe with a diffuser for softer presentation and a pretty girl. All you need for a fun image... heh.
A look at the lighting setup for Brittany and the Hose. Thanks for the question.
Bonus: Webinar, May 25, 2013 - Discussion on Lighting and being "Deliberate"
Section 15: Location Portrait Shoot
This is a shoot we did for an upcoming program here on UDEMY. I am going another direction with that class, so I thought I would share this with you all.

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Instructor Biography

Don Giannatti, Photographer, Designer, Author and Educator

Don Giannatti has been a photographer for more than four decades. Starting with a desire to do fine art photography, he quickly made the jump into commercial. Over the decades he has owned studios in Phoenix, New York, Chicago and LA. A wide range of clients kept him shooting everything from studio product to fashion, beauty and travel.

With a preference for photographing people and still life, Don feels that lighting is the most important part of the image making process. Understanding the light and how the subject reflects the light helps photographers visualize the image before starting the shoot. This “subject centric” approach to light is what he teaches and is the subject of much of his writing.

He has authored three books for Amherst - all currently available at Amazon.com (keyword Don Giannatti).

Don current maintains a studio in Phoenix, teaches workshops all over the world, and writes for the online Photography magazine, Lighting Essentials (www.lighting-essentials.com)

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