For all the budding new people photographers, I want to introduce you to the most patient, easy to get along with, available anytime model you’ll ever meet. This is Tilly and she’s been my go-to model for years. I have learned so many lighting technics thanks to Tilly’s patience, understanding, and willingness to assist at any time.
What’s the real reason I’m introducing you to Tilly? Well if you’re new, and want to learn lighting control and technics you should have your own Tilly. If you haven’t noticed Tilly is a mannequin head they are easy to find on Amazon and eBay. These mannequin heads are generally used and sold for wigs, jewelry, and makeup. They come in many forms and materials. I highly recommend the fiberglass with makeup as their features are much better for learning lighting control and seeing light patterns. The going price now seems to be around $50 in the US. The price has doubled in the years I’ve had Tilly, but I think it’s still a good investment to have for developing your photography skills.
The realist features of mannequin heads like Tilly make it much easier to see your lighting patterns. There are Styrofoam wig heads that run about $6 dollars, but their features are flat and don’t show lighting patterns as well. If you want to splurge and dress your mannequin head up, add a cheap wig and jewelry. Most have holes in the ears so you can add earrings. You’ll find adding a wig is also a great help in lighting. You can practice using hair lights and shadow control from the hair on the face.
Any lighting you want to use for people, you can practice with your mannequin head. Basic portrait lighting technics ie. short light, broad light, Rembrandt, butterfly, clamshell, etc. you can achieve using your model. You can also practice full face, 3/4 face, profile, and posing for your lighting.
I have found only one downside to lighting a mannequin head, which is there are no catchlights in the eyes. The eye catchlights tell an experienced photographer a lot about the angles and quality of light used in a portrait. However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that you’ll still get much-needed practice learning light direction, quality, etc. from seeing the shadow patterns on the face.
In the future, I’ll be posting some articles using Tilly and a cheap light or two to help teach lighting patterns, the differences between hard & soft light, etc. In the meantime, I encourage you to get a mannequin head for practice and name it anything you like.