CS178 Assignment 8 - Portraits and Light

A studio-lit portrait of Andrew. Photo by Elena Adams.


People are certainly one of the most interesting and most challenging subjects to photograph. For this last assignment, you'll be using all of the skills you've learned during the course to take some stunning portraits. You will need to think about lighting, backgrounds, depth of field, composition, and color. You can also (tastefully) touch up each photo in Photoshop. By now these skills should come quite naturally to you, so you can focus your creative effort on capturing something truly unique or special about your portrait subject.

If you find yourself without anyone willing to model for you this week, you can take a self-portrait for any of the requirements. This is an interesting type of photograph in its own right, and adds a degree of difficulty.

Like last week, there are also a set of exam-style questions at the end of this assignment. Although we will not grade these, they will exercise your understanding of photographic lighting and help you to prepare for the final exam. The answers to these questions will be posted on Sunday, May 29th after the assigment is due.


This week there are five photographic requirements. Requirements 1 through 4 must be met by taking pictures of human beings. (Sorry, no portraits of pets, stuffed animals, etc. this week!) Requirement 5 can be met using any subject of your choosing.


  • Requirement 1: Indoor Traditional Portrait
    Take a portrait of someone using a traditional portait lighting setup as described in lectures (a key light, a fill light, and possibly a background light and accent/rim light). Unless you have some fancy lighting gear of your own, you should take this picture during your regular section meeting where we will set up a full studio lighting kit.
  • Requirement 2: Indoor Natural Light Portrait
    Take a portrait of someone indoors using only non-electric sources of light (a fireplace, candles, the sun, etc). You might want to arrange someone near a window. Think about the light in the same way as for the studio lighting, and comment on how you created a fill light, how you created a key light, etc.
  • Requirement 3: Outdoor Available Light Portrait
    Take a portrait of someone outdoors under available lighting only. Comment on what serves as the fill light and key light. If you like, you can also make this one a candid shot, in which the subject is not aware you're taking a photo (or at least appears to not be aware).
  • Requirement 4: Flash + Ambient
    Take a portrait which uses a combination of your camera's flash and ambient illumination. Again, comment on what serves as the key light and what serves as the fill light. Remember, you need not point the flash right at the subject - with a small hand-held mirror or white card you can bounce any camera's flash elsewhere.
  • Requirement 5: Non-photorealistic Photograph
    This requirement is unrelated to portraiture, but we thought it would be fun now that you are all experts at image editing. Use a single photograph or combination of photographs to create a single, non-photorealistic image in Photoshop. This requirement is wide open to your creative interpretation, but result must look substantially non-realistic in some way. As a hint: you may want to try taking photographs under multiple different lighting conditions (e.g. at different times of day & night, or flash/no flash with unusual processing); or you may try stitching together pictures of your subject from multiple viewpoints. You may find some inspiration in the artwork of cubists, or the photographic works of David Hockney and Jeremy Kidd.

Upload your photos and add comments.

Upload your photos using the Picasa account you created in the first week to a public Picasa album titled "CS178 Assignment 8 - Portraiture". Write at least two short paragraphs (ie two picasa comments) below each of your photos explaining how you arranged the scene, how you took the photo, what relevant camera settings you used and why, any image processing done to the photograph afterwards, and most importantly, which requirement the photo covers.

Example Solution

As usual, we've posted an example solution to this assignment to let you know what we expect. For additional inspiration, you may want to peruse the best CS178 photographs (as selected by the TA's and instructor) from 2009 and 2010. However, you do not need to meet the assignment requirements in the same way as these solutions do - in fact, you should challenge yourself to come up with creative, unique compositions. There are plenty of possibilities out there. Surprise us!

Please remember that the photographs that you submit for each assignment must be taken by you specifically for this course. Do not reuse old photographs that you may have laying around, even if they perfectly meet one of the requirements!

If you have questions or comments about the photos we used in the example solution, feel free to add them as comments below the corresponding photograph in Picasa Web, or to email us.


We will assign grades based on whether you met the requirements of the assignment. For each requirement, you'll be given a check for meeting the requirement, check-minus for not quite meeting the requirement, or check-plus if you do something spectacular that makes your grader's jaw drop.

Due Date

11:59PM, Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Please Note: We will accept no late assignments or replacement photos after midnight on Sunday June 5. Be sure to read the lateness policy from the course outline, or contact your TA if you have any questions.

Practice technical questions

These questions are for your own educational benefit; you do not need to submit your answers. After the assignment is due we will select the correct answers in bold.

© 2009-2011 Marc Levoy, Andrew Adams, and Jesse Levinson