Photography for the web – hand-held flash portraits

How to take unscheduled photographs for a consistent look

A website often needs photography that no one has planned for, so getting a consistent result from a camera yourself is a useful skill. There is always a need for an element such as a picture to break up the page somewhere on the site.

For KE Foundation I was asked to take some quick portraits of the charity founder and some volunteers – but so often a quick portrait isn’t a good portrait:

The solution

I will presume you are forced to stay inside because of British weather, which you don’t just have to be in Britain to experience; at least this technique will give you constant results for any other members of the team you may have to shoot at a later date. The solution I would recommend is to sit your model with a large window close to one side and on the other place a large reflective surface (I happened to have a professional photographic reflector but other options are a newspaper or several sheets of white paper taped together). Bring the reflector close to your subject ( without encroaching into the viewfinder) and angle it to direct light back up into the face of your model. The strength of light falls off quickly so aim to sit your model within a metre of both the window and the reflector.

Windowlight and reflectors

Windowlight and reflectors can make a big difference to light levels but you will still benefit from a small burst of flash to fill in the shadows – ideally this will come from a flash you can angle to bounce off the ceiling or wall, simply to avoid the problem of harsh shadows or redeye but you could also use a pop-up flash built into your camera; covering it with something semi-transparent and gauzy will diffuse the light if it cannot be angled – you have a piece of greaseproof paper to hand, don’t you?

The image straight from the camera will need some adjustment in PhotoShop; as a minimum consider dodging  and burning the shadows and highlights. The techniques available to you are beyond the scope of this article.

Web optimisation

The most important adjustment to make is optimisation for the web, which means choosing the right format, re-sizing and compressing to consume the smallest amount of bandwidth possible. JPEG is the most appropriate format for photographs. Compression algorithms perform best on smooth areas with little detail; you can enhance this effect by applying the Blur filter within PhotoShop on all background areas, and I would suggest experimenting with a high level of blur to achieve an attractive level of blur. Next step is saving the image through the Save For Web dialogue box, selecting a Medium quality and small dimensions.




As a final step I further compress the image output by PhotoShop using a free programme called Jpeg Optimizer which is made by . It manages to squeeze some extra kilobytes out of the image without affecting the appearance.

Altogether the savings in file size in this case were considerable – the image out of the camera was 33.5Mb and after processing through PhotoShop and running through Jpeg Optimizer the final jpeg was only a very manageable 6.85Kb.

If you’re interested in photography for the web take a look at the article How to use Instagram for business (Infographic).

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