White Out

Introducing a fresh new take on family portraits from a photo studio across the pond.

White-Out
White-Out
White Out

Toss out everything you've always known about family portraits. Instead of stiff, staged, and stuffy, think blown-out, high-key, and edgy.

This is the signature style of Venture Ltd., a growing British portrait franchise poised to enter the U.S., where it will compete with such outfits as Clix, Glamour Shots, and Olan Mills. Venture's slogan: "New Generation Portraits." It takes its inspiration from music videos, not Victorian family albums. You may balk at the unorthodox approach, but there's no denying its freshness.

Take a look at Venture's website, www.thisisventure.co.uk, for its wild lighting, exposure, poses, angles, and composition styles. In addition to blown-out skintones, its hallmarks include spot color in the eyes and shadows, unusually high contrast (for portraiture), the use of wide-angle lenses, and wall-groupings arranged like magazine layouts, with less emphasis on stand-alone portraits.

The style does more than just bring funky originality to a tired genre: Blowing out skin tones is a quick fix for flawed complexions; the white-out look simplifies wardrobe and background choices; and using wider lenses -- positioned close to the face to emphasize the eyes -- means the smallest room in your house can be a studio, as long as the walls are white.

Want to add this look to your repertoire? Consider these pointers:
Use a lotta light. The easiest way to make high-key portraits is with many lights. I used five: two Sunpak Platinum Plus 500Ws units (with reflectors) for the backgrounds, and three Elinchrom Style monolights (two 1200Ws units in softboxes and one 300Ws with snoot) for the subject.

Add color to shadows. Place your main light(s) high to throw shadows under the chin and in the folds of clothing, then gel a fill light to pump some color into those shadows. For the photos here, I used a snooted accent light, aimed to prevent color from appearing in the eye sockets or under the nose.

With careful positioning of the face, you could also use a colored reflector to put color into shadows, especially of clothing. (Make the eye color pop later using software.)

Blow out the highlights (to a point). Yes, you overexpose to get those Kabuki-like skin tones, but bracket exposures to make sure you retain minimal detail, especially with clean definition between teeth, and a defining line between the cheek and background. If the skin comes in too dark, lighten it later during image editing by goosing contrast or fine-tuning the highlights with Curves or Levels adjustments.

To experience Venture-style portraiture first-hand, no need to go to England. Its first U.S. studio is set to open soon in Westport, CT.

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