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Corporate studio portraits – lighting setup

Porträttfotografering i fotostudio med guide om ljussättning

Last year I got a new client that needed business portraits in a classic corporate style for their consultants. They work a lot as a temp agency, but for longer assignments, and their main selling tool is their profiles, which of course needs good portraits.

A flexible and forgiving light

When setting up the studio lighting gear for portrait sessions like this, I need to use a light that fits many people, different complexions and hairstyles. What might be cool lighting for one person can make another look really bad, so I tend to go the safe way. It is business after all.

Studio portrait lighting setup for corporate photoshoot. Profoto Octa + hair light + background

Click on diagram for more lighting setups

The lighting setup for corporate portraits

This is a setup that I use quite often, with some modifications at times, but it works good and is very easy to work with. The idea is to have a big, soft light that comes from the side but wraps around the face a bit. No hard shadows that might reveal wrinkles too much, and a nice, big catchlight in the eyes so the subject looks, well, nice. And awake.

Main light very close

Even if the Profoto 5ft Octa I use is quite big, it never hurts to place it really close. When working with people, not models, it is good to have a light that won’t require that they stand in one specific spot or have their faces at just the right angle.

Directing non-models too much can make them nervous and that is always a bad thing, I think. It’s hard enough for most people to have their portraits taken. Some say they hate it more than a visit to the dentist (?).

Hair light and separation

Next studio flash (Profoto Compact) in the setup is for lighting the hair and shoulders from behind. Just enough to make the subject stand out a bit from the dark grey background.

Background light for gradient

Without the light on the background, it would have been dark grey all over, almost black, and with people mostly having dark suits, it would have been a very dark portrait.

The background light was placed right behind the subject, aimed at the background with a gridded reflector for a soft gradient. Just enough light to outline the body a bit.

The only problem with lighting a background like this, is that you need to have the same height in every photo. So the shorter ones would have to stand on something, otherwise the gradient would have been different on each photo. Adjusting the background light for every person would have an option, but this was easier.

And a little fill

I used a reflector camera right, just beside the subject, to lighten the shadows a bit. This time I had a large white paper screen, but you could use anything that has a neutral colour and reflects light.

A lot can be done in post processing, but I think it is easier to have less contrast in the photo and add some when needed, than trying to do the other way around.

In this photo session I used my Nikon D700 together with a 85mm/1.4 lens. Works very well for portraits.

After finishing this photo session, I converted the final images in Lightroom to black and white per the clients request. Some minor things were fixed in Photoshop after that, but not much.

If I only had two lights to work with, on location or in the studio, I would have skipped the hair light and put more light on the background. That would have worked too.

And if I would have added one light to the setup, I think I would have used that for a little fill from below. Now some of the suits were a bit to dark in the lower parts of the photos.

But, I think they came out fine, and the client liked them.

If you have any comments or questions, please let me know.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Andrew Burgess October 11, 2013, 09:02

    Hi Sefan,

    I have just come across your blog and are loving it. Clear and detailed. I have a long night ahead of me reading through your posts.

    alla de bästa

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