How to photograph a dreamy pastel portrait

March 8, 2017

When it comes to shooting portraits, there are a 1000 different styles to choose from. In this article I explain a few tips and tricks for achieving a 'dreamy pastel' look in your portraits, and breakdown how I took the images in this article. This look can be achieved on a budget, and doesn't require a large amount of fancy equipment! 



1) In Camera / Flash Settings


For this photo-shoot I used a few pieces of equipment:


- Sony A7r ii

- Sigma EF Adaptor

- Sigma 50mm f1.4

- Yong Nuo 560 III


You do not need such a fancy camera as my Sony A7rii to achieve high quality pastel portraits, but having a prime lens between the focal length of 50mm and 85mm that can achieve a maximum aperture of f1.8 or lower will be extremely useful for achieving pleasing "bokeh" and out of focus backgrounds.


The in-camera settings of the above portrait were:


- ISO 50

- 1/150 shutter speed

- F 1.8

- Flash at 1/128th power


Maintaining a low aperture of f1.8 on your lens will allow you to create dreamy out of focus backgrounds, whilst bringing the subject into focus, drawing your attention to them. 1/150 shutter speed was slow enough for the water in the image to appear creamy and soft, as well as allowing me to use flash without high-speed sync. 




2) Placement


The flash was attached to a cheap stand, and placed at a 45 degree angle to the left and above the model. The flash is then pointed down towards the model so the light illuminate her face and arms


I stood directly in front of the model, slightly behind the flash, so it was barely out of the frame. The flash was placed around 3 metres away from the model, and flashed at the lowest setting to avoid harsh shadows in the image.


The location was chosen carefully so that the sun was occluded by both clouds and the surrounding treetops, to avoid harsh shadows in the image. The photo-shoot began in the late afternoon, around 5pm, in hopes of receiving soft and warm light from the sun.


3) Post-processing


All processing on the images above was done in Photoshop CC 2015 using the Camera Raw plugin and Photoshop's native tools. I will focus on the top image for a more detailed description of the editing process.


Firstly, the models skin was lightened using a brush tool with the exposure increase by 0.3 stops, and highlights adjusted 10+. Secondly, clarity of the entire image was increased by 16+, and saturation was reduced by 10+. These two changes reduce harsh, vibrant colours in the image allowing for a pastel colour palette. 


Next, highlights in the entire image were dropped by 30+ to mitigate the harsh, clipping whites in the sky. The shadows were increased 15+ to reduce their harshness and increase the overall softness of the image. The overall vibrance of the image was increase by 20+, allowing the pastel palette of the image to enbolden, whilst the luminance of the oranges was increased 12+ to add a pale tone to the models skin. 


Finally, the models eyes were sharpened, and blemishes were removed from her skin.


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