Tips + Techniques

Jerry Ghionis on Nailing Your Hero Shot

April 14, 2017

By Jerry Ghionis

All Photos © Jerry Ghionis

Toward the end of a recent shoot of my wife, Melissa, I found myself still waiting for the “opera singer” to sing (so to speak). That is my description of the moment when you’ve nailed an awesome hero shot of your subject. I was certainly happy with the entire shoot but nothing screamed “WOW” to me. I created all the earlier images in our studio and decided to take the last few photos on the roof of our apartment building as the last location. I often tell my students that the light, location, subject and fashion will always help direct you. All you have to do is listen to it. In this case, there was a ladder on the side of the building that was begging to be used as a prop for Melissa to climb on, and would be an obvious way to feature her long legs and flowing dress.


By posing her with one leg higher and crossing over the other, her curves were accentuated and her limbs lengthened. The pose felt like it needed to be dramatic so I had her hold the ladder (which also gave her a way to support herself) and I asked her to look off into the distance. I took the shot and it was good, but there was still something missing as well as there not being an engaging expression.

Nikon D5, 70-200mm lens, 1/250th of a sec, f/3.2, ISO 200


Although there is a subtle direction of light present, it needed to be stronger and more directional to go with Melissa’s bold look. I decided to bring out a Profoto B1 so I could add some contrasting light, but just as I was setting it up, the sun came out and was shining very strongly, providing me with the exact lighting I was about to try to create using a flash. The pose still suited the lighting, but her left hand just wasn’t communicating anything by being straight down by her side, so I asked her to place her hand on her hip. This type of subtle change brings attention to the thinnest part of your subject’s waist without covering it up. Having a hand on her hip and then having her look into the camera also helped create a bolder look. Turning the body away from the light source—and the face back into the light—will provide beautiful depth and dimension, especially when photographing the female form. If you are controlling the direction of light with a speed light or with a continuous light, you can also turn the light away from the body to get the same result.

Soft lighting often suits the female face and form, but stronger shadows can add so much luxury to an image. Notice, too, how much more Melissa’s pose is accentuated and how that engages the viewer even more.

Nikon D5, 70-200mm lens, 1/500th of a sec, f/4, ISO 200


While my second try was better than the first, the opera singer was still nowhere to be found. I really didn’t feel that I had taken advantage of the dress, and I desperately wanted to immortalize Melissa looking fierce at 40! The wind gently moved the dress left and right, and that was what gave me the idea to have Melissa fan her dress out quickly left and right. The faster shutter speed and a setting of f/4 would freeze her motion whilst allowing me a little forgiveness for depth of field. Looking into the camera didn’t seem to work, so I asked her to look off into the distance, and that added a bit of mystery to the image. By cropping in tightly and filling the frame with the dress, I was finally able to hear that opera singer sing!

Nikon D5, 70-200mm lens, 1/500th of a sec, f/4, ISO 200

The moral here:

Never give up. Don’t always be satisfied with your first click of the shutter. Be patient. As photographers, we often tell our clients, “One more shot!” Well, there is always a “better” shot to be had, so don’t leave any shoot without a hero shot. Whether you are shooting for a client or your own family, never settle for mediocrity.

Jerry Ghionis is widely regarded as one of the best wedding/portrait photographers and educators. He is a USA Nikon Ambassador and has won more awards than any other photographer at WPPI, where he became the first Grand Master.

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