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Using light and camera angles to your benefit can help when you’re assigned to take


el Drake ike Shephard, Jean M , ng Lo ch Za Photos by ilson Text by Bradley W

Winter 2001

Communication: Journalism Education Today •‑

Let’s face it.

Sometimes there will be no other alternative for a photo than a mug shot of a person. But let’s face another fact: taking high-quality mug shots means spending a few minutes choosing a simple background and the right lighting as well as working with the subject to produce pleasant pictures. ­ Mug shots need not be bad. They are easier to take than any other photograph – even with a point-and-shoot camera. Because the lighting conditions are completely controllable and the subject is stationary, the photographer has her choice of shutter speeds and apertures. As usual, low-numbered f/stops result in a lower depth-of-field and blurry background. Because the photographer can control the location of the photo, there is no excuse for having poles growing out of people’s heads. The hardest part about taking mug shots is getting the subject to cooperate. The first step is selecting the background, a plain one in light without shadows. Ask the person to stand at least three feet away from the nearest object, particularly when using flash, so there are no distracting shadows or background objects. Plain, neutral-colored walls make the best backgrounds. Then make sure the subject is not standing with shoulders parallel to the film plane; ask the individual to turn either the right or left shoulder towards the camera about 45 degrees. This lends an air of informality to the photograph. Ask the subject to point his or her nose toward the camera and make sure the person is not tilting his or her head or squinting. Then shoot the picture. For a routine column head or forum picture, taking better mug shots will improve the look of the page.

Harsh sunlight

On a sunny day, the sun may create distracting ­shadows. To alleviate the ­problem, find an area of solid shade such as under a tree or beside a building.

Direct flash

Using a flash fills in the shadows under the eyes but creates more distract‑ ing shadows. Try moving the subject away from any background so the shadow will not have anything to fall on.

 •‑Communication: Journalism Education Today

Window light

The light from a window, with a dark background, often creates a pleasing photograph. In this case, available light in the room filled in the shadows on her face.

Fill flash

On a partly-cloudy day, the use of low-powered flash with a non-distracting back‑ ground often gives excellent results. The detail in the eyes and hair and the body angle create a pleasing ­picture.


Sometimes a half-body shot can be an alternative to the “mug shot.” Do not cut the person’s hands off, and pay close attention to the background by using low depth of field.


Poles growing out of heads or objects in the background may distract from the point of the photo: the person. Because it is easy for both the subject and the photog‑ rapher to move, there is no good excuse for distracting backgrounds.‑

Bounced flash

Angling the flash to bounce off a white ceiling or wall simulates natural lighting while filling in many of the shadows around the eyes.


When the flash is pointing directly to the side of the person’s face, as when the camera is turned vertical with direct flash, one side of the face will be too light. But light from a window or bounced off a wall can ­provide pleasing sidelight.

Winter 2001

On assignment

Kelly chose to go outside to shoot his mug shot of the mayor. He found a place in the even shade of a building with a simple background. To help separate the subject from the background even more, he shot the picture with a long lens (200mm) and used a low f/stop. Both the long lens and low-numbered f/stop minimized the depth of field, blurring the background. He asked the mayor to stand with his shoulders at a slight angle to help the picture look a little more casual. By getting his meter reading with the frame filled with the subject’s face and then backing up, Kelly set his exposure for the mayor’s face so the meter would not be distracted by any light objects in the background. Photos by Jeanel Drake.

The mayor

It was a simple mug shot for a column head in the news‑ paper, seemingly not worth much time. By taking a few minutes to get the right light‑ ing and simple background, the subject of the picture will be happier and the publica‑ tion will look better. Photo by Kelly Glasscock.


When the background is lighter than the subject, a camera’s meter can be tricked into underexposing the subject’s face. Move up close and determine the accurate exposure for the face and then back up, keeping the exposure the same.

Winter 2001

Light from above

Powerful overhead lighting creates distracting shadows that can be a particular problem on stage.

Light from below

This type of unnatural light gives an eerie feel to pho‑ tographs and obviously distracting shadows.

Shooting from above A feeling of inferiority is ­created when the photo­ journalist stands above the subject. This angle can, however, help to hide dis‑ tracting objects in the back‑ ground.

Shooting from Below

This angle gives the subject a sense of dominance. When using a light back‑ ground, remember to ­compensate for backlighting. Expose for the face.

Communication: Journalism Education Today •‑


Using light and camera angles to your benefit can help when you’re assigned to take Winter 2001 Communication: Journalism Education Today •‑...

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