Monday, December 6, 2021

A Brilliant Way to Find Perfect Portrait Light

In this issue:

  • A Brilliant Way to Find Perfect Portrait Light
  • 1-paragraph APP reviews
  • Pivoting My Santa Gig
  • Announcements!

Pivoting My Santa Gig (*)

Better not pout!

So I was offered a Santa job at a mall in New Hampshire 3 days a week.  I turned it down because, unlike last year, no COVID precautions would be in place.  Even masks were optional.  And even if the kids were vaccinated (a big IF), I would just be a huge asymptomatic super-spreader hotspot, and the kids would take the virus home to their families where either their vulnerable grandparents with compromised immune systems might die from it, or the virus can continue to fester and mutate.  Neither option is an acceptable outcome.

Yet I don't want to waste this hard-earned beard.  So I'm pivoting and offering a safe, online Virtual Santa Visit through the miracle of technology!  

Give your child a safe and convenient experience with a Santa that talks up character values rather than material possessions.  (Although toys will certainly be discussed.)   Learn more and secure your spot at !!! :-)  I'm only doing this a few days a week through Christmas, so don't miss out!  


1-Paragraph App Reviews

  • Looking for a creative ringtone that lets people know you're a photographer?  Or just love the mechanical sound of a DSLR shutter?  Check out this $30,000 Nikon Camera Symphony created by Benjamin Von Wong and Andrew Kesler.  Recommended.
  • There's a new 3rd party app called Monitor+ that controls Sony cameras and it looked great until I tried to use it.  It was first hawked here by a guy with a ridiculously-large microphone (that should have been my first warning).  It looked like a great user interface and even allowed you to shoot remotely and specify your focus point on the phone (something Sony's app doesn't always let you to do.)  Tried it but it kept crashing, and tech support was useless.  Good thing I didn't spring for the $18 full version.  Not recommended.
  • Normal and telephoto images come out "way dark".
    Samsung Expert RAW – this was billed as being an experimental feature by Samsung, allowing your phone to save a processed .jpg and a .dng file on your phone at once. (Currently not possible - if you want one of each you have to switch modes and take two pictures.)  This app was miserable - no shutter sound despite setting; normal and telephoto images come out way dark.  Crashes a lot.  Hard to install.  Tap to focus doesn’t always.  I de-installed it immediately.  Not recommended.
  • Samsung Galaxy phone owners in the U.S. who recently upgraded to Android 12 got an unpleasant new bug: the 120 Hz smooth scrolling now stutters a lot.  The culprit is a battery-saving feature which reduces the refresh rate to 60 Hz whenever it thinks it's warranted (like in the middle of a scroll, which is definitely not when it's warranted!).  This Galaxy Max Hz app fixes it, but fair warning, you have to be a geek to install it, for it involves side-loading and running ADB from your PC.  No, I can't walk you through it (hey!  It's a 1-paragraph review!), but this website might help.

A Brilliant Way to Find Perfect Portrait Light

It's hard to find the perfect portrait light on your own, since everything might look perfectly good to your eyes.  But your eyes and brain see light differently than film or sensors.  Portrait photographers discovered that the most pleasing lighting for portraits is when soft light on one side of the face is exactly twice as strong as the light on the other side.  (This is affectionately known as "2:1 Lighting Ratio". :-) )

Some examples:

This is a nearly perfect 2:1 lighting ratio.

So is this.

16: 1 on the left; 1:1 on the right.  Cinematographers know that lighting is a great way to manipulate an audience's emotions.

3:1.  More dramatic.

This one is about 4:1.  More dramatic still.

16:1.  Drama!

1000:1.  Not your standard portrait lighting.

You'll scream when you get your lighting ratio right!  :-)

In the old days, photographers would use a light meter to measure the light coming from each side of the face and compare the values; if there was 2:1 lighting ratio, and the quality of the light was soft (i.e., no harsh shadows), then the portrait would come out the most pleasing.  But handheld light meters cost a lot and are a pain to use.  Surely there must be an easier way!

Here's an ingenious invention (no, it's not mine) that lets you find the ideal 2:1 lighting ratio anywhere, especially in open shade.  It's a special tiny grey card with two squares on it, one twice as dark as the other.  

Here; you can download and print out your own!  [Update: My wordpress site is experiencing redirect issues.  If this link doesn't work for you, send me an email and I'll send you the .pdf file as an attachment.  GF]

And here's a youtube video showing you how to use it:

It's a simple little trick and I always keep a card tucked away in my camera bag.  Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!

Next month: An alternative to Wireless Flash.  (Plus a tour of the new studio!)

Until next time,

Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


(*) And for those of you who are asking what's a Jewish kid from Encino doing portraying Santa Claus, let me remind you that, with the exception of the real St. Nicholas who did provide presents to children, the modern-day Santa has nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity. (Same thing with Christmas trees.)  (Or Hallmark Christmas movies). It's an opportunity to bring some joy to children; nothing more.


  1. The two tone grey card is brilliant. Thanks for sharing this discovery. Nice to see analog solutions every once in a while.

  2. It should be possible to create a very similar folding paper, with more than only the 1:2 ratio. You could have a 1:3, 1:4 "lines" along the 1:2, for instance

  3. I've found the ProCamera app (for iOS only) to be excellent, allowing simultaneous shooting of RAW+JPEGs.

  4. Hi Gary, as an old portrait film, negative and positive, shooter I still have and use my Minolta IVF and Goshen PILOT 2 light meters. Both are simple to use. However, the card is good idea. That said, shouldn't it be just as easy to get readings of the shadow and highlight using the cameras spot meter setting and know the ratio? Besides, if you're shooting somewhere you don't have control of the light or don't have light modifiers available just knowing what ratio you have is sort of a mute point, isn't it?
    One last thing. Although, reading the reverse (white) text in your blog is easy, reading the grey text is not. Would you consider using a different color?
    Oh, lied, here's last thing. Did you ever hear anything back from person who posted in your previous blog post that claimed to have had his card slot repaired on his KM7D?

    1. Hey, George! All roads lead to Rome - and there are many different ways to measure your light. If you're not sure of where the correct position will be, I find the grey card to be substantially faster than taking multiple readings (from multiple positions) and doing the math in my head.

      On my computer screen I see only white text and orange text for the captions. None of the text on my screen is grey. Where are you seeing it?

      No, the guy never got back to me regarding his 7D repair place.


    2. Good old fashioned IE Microsoft Internet Explorer v11 with Accessibility/Formatting/Ignore settings turns off background colors and converts the web presentation to an academic presentation akin to black text print on white paper in a book.

    3. @PeterBlaiseMonahon this is only available on a computer. On Android phone the option to ignore is not available. - GEGJr

  5. Gary - cant get the two tone card as when I hit the link it goes to your Santa section. Any other way to download it?

    Thanks - Keith

    1. Hi, Keith. This is a "too many redirects" problem I can't troubleshoot. It should take you to . Email me and I'll send you the .pdf file as an attachment.


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