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Hard light studio portrait – Lighting Setup

Studio photography - A hard light portrait in black and white with Profoto Magnum

During a portrait photography session with a client of mine we tried different studio lighting setups, this was one of them. The goal was to create a strong business portrait, corporate style, but with a little more edge.

A good model is a good start

Luckily for me, my client was a natural in the studio and went easily from a sunshine smile to the stare you see above. Without looking too scary, I think.

A lighting setup diagram descibing a hard light portrait using a Profoto Magnum as the main light

Click here for more studio lighting setups and diagrams.

Profoto Magnum as main light

For this hard light portrait we used a Profoto Magnum with a grid as the main light. A Profoto Compact set to the lowest effect placed camera right and a bit above his head aimed towards the center of his face gave hard shadows and enhanced his features. The grid helped as well.

Background light and spill

To make the background completely white another Profoto Compact with a standard reflector was placed low right behind the model and aimed at the white background paper. The distance between the background and the model was about 2 meters, so some of the background light spilled back on his sides, as you can see on his right side of the face.

Hair and rim light

Behind the model, and high up, the last flash head pointed down with a gridded reflector to give some more light to his left side of the head. Without it the portrait would look much flatter, I think. Now it accents his bone structure which makes the head look more three dimensional. And that must be a good thing. The effect of the rim light is more visible on the photos we took not using the background light as strongly, when the background was a darker grey.

Camera and lens

For most portraits in my photo studio I use my Nikon D700 together with a 85mm/1.4 lens. It is the best combination of camera and lens I have used so far and it always produces sharp, clean images. Before using a full-frame body the portraits would have to be a bit tighter in my small studio, but now I can at least use it for this kind of half-body shots.

Post production in Lightroom and Photoshop

After my client had picked his favourites I started retouching them, nothing much really apart from the black and white conversion. The background was not completely white at all places, but that was easy to fix. The background light had been placed to have its center right behind the model so the small spots I had to adjust were in the corners.

To get some more contrast I added a layer of Gradient Map using a black to white fill and then changing the blend mode to Soft Light and adjusting the Opacity until the effect was what I wanted. An easy way to give a portrait a little kick.

Other than that, some minor work with removing spots from his suit.

Please comment if you have any questions or just want to say hi.

If you like, you can also visit my other blog (in Swedish only, but photos and lighting setups speaks for themselves I think). Or visit my portfolio. Or me on Flickr.

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