Lighting is the most important element in photography: without spectacular lighting, you’ll never get spectacular images. It is what we see and react to instantly; it is considered the primary building-block for any memorable photograph, so it only makes sense that when we think of great portrait photography, we think of lighting first. Award-winning photographer Clay Blackmore sees the relationship another way, stating matter-of-factly, “You simply cannot light a portrait correctly without posing the subject first.”

In the quest for superb portraiture, attention to a subject’s pose is too often brushed aside as focus can fall primarily on lighting and composition. Blackmore’s advice couldn’t be more important to any modern photographer, his work seemingly hints: first, pose the subject. Only after you have posed a subject can you focus on lighting, attempting to create a three-dimensional appearance and ensuring enough light in the subject’s eyes – a hallmark of Monte’s work.

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Blackmore’s bread and butter is portrait photography and has a natural talent for capturing light and giving his images the feel of a fine art painting. His work and style appears to shift each photo shoot, giving him a unique and fresh portfolio – but that’s not exactly how Clay works.

 Clay follows in the footsteps of his world-renowned mentors, Joe Zeltsman and Monte Zucker. Legends in their own right, they both followed a traditional or classic approach, focusing on posing first and lighting second. Their connection is striking, as Blackmore explains, “Monte was my teacher, he was like a father to me and his approach to portraiture is a direct copy of Joe’s work handed down to me. I am now on my own campaign to keep the classics alive.” Blackmore is a believer in photography that is simple, direct, and powerful. In a word, he believes photography at its heart is pure.

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In order to heed this classical approach, try focusing on posing first and following these 3 tips to bring out the most in your subjects.

Draw Attention to the Face

As you search for an unforgettable expression, help the subject by highlighting their most expressive feature – the face. Blackmore asserts, “We often work with posing chairs to lower the subjects”, as this draws attention to the face but also has the added benefit of minimizing the body.

Look for Perfections within Imperfections

Only after a face has been isolated can you take into account a hairstyle, the shape of the subject’s face, or assesses any imperfections using facial analysis.

Lights, Camera, Action

Your main light defines the shadow-shapes and creates the lighting pattern. After posing, experiment with lighting and decide whether to light the subject from the left or the right, and then light the face.

These techniques resonate with portraiture but can easily be applied to other types of photography including: window, outdoors, location portraiture, and even candid photography.

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This July 31- August 2nd, Clay is teaching a free course on creativeLIVE titled Pose it, Light it, Love it.   

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Clay Blackmore is an award-winning photographer who, over his 25 plus years in the field, has built up an impressive clientele that includes celebrities the likes of Larry King, Forest Whitaker, Jenna Elfman, and Maria Sharapova. His photographs are routinely featured in Washington Life Magazine.