Studio Lighting Tutorial, mime portrait

February 5, 2011 · 5 comments

Mime portrait, studio photography lighting tutorial setup

One of the things I do most as a photographer is portraits, mostly for companies but sometimes artists or anyone who needs/wants a nice looking photo for their CV or mantelpiece.

This time the portrait session involved a guy in a striped polo, with white make-up, white gloves and a beret. Not your everyday model.

For his portraits, close-up as well as half length and full length, I used four studio lights, one white paper background and a black book-end.

Studio Lighting Diagram for mime portraits

Studio Lighting Diagram

Click for more posts with setup diagrams

Equipment used

It took four studio lights, two Profoto D1 250 Air and two Profoto Compact 300, to get the lighting right. And a black v-flat/book-end to add some contrast and darken the shadows a bit camera left. My studio is quite small, so without it the light would bounce around all over the the white walls.

The camera was as always a Nikon D700 with a 24-70/2.8 for the half-lenght and full length shots, for the ordinary portraits I used a 85/1.4 lens. The flashes were triggered with a Profoto Air Sync.

mime hands

Hard Light and Soft Light combined

The main purpose of this photo shoot was to take one really good picture of the stand-up comedian/mime that he could use on posters and web sites to promote his new show. He had a great idea for this, but I save that for a little later.

mime pulling invisible rope

To get the shadows on his face and under his chin clear and sharp, I used a Profoto Magnum reflector as my main light. The D1 was mounted on a boom stand camera right and just outside the frame, pointing down on his face.

mime looking out behind invisible wall

The softer light, or the fill, comes from another D1 with a 5 foot Profoto Softbox Octa, behind the Magnum but a little lower. Set to lower effect than the key light, this makes the shadows from the key a little less dark and puts some light on the lower parts of his body.

mime against invisible window

Adding some shadows

With the small room I use as a photo studio it was necessary to help the shadows a bit with a black panel camera left. The effect from this piece of equipment is more visible on the photos where the mime is closer to the panel/bookend.

The background light from the two Profoto Compacts makes the white background completely white except for some areas in the corners where I had to add in a little brightness later using Lightroom.

mime carrying invisible sack

Post processing all done in Lightroom

I usually make the basic adjustments in Lightroom 3 and the the final retouching and masking in Photoshop. But this time I didn’t need to spend a lot of time making the skin look good as most of his face was covered in white make-up.

mime leaning on invisible support

What I did was to get the white balance and contrast right, then desaturated the whites in his clothing and gloves (it was not neutral white, more like bone white/eggshell) with the Adjustment Brush. The sharpening was applied to the parts of the image where the texture was interesting (parts of his face and gloves/hands).

It felt really good to be able to strengthen the sharpness of the photos to a level that would not be acceptable if he hadn’t been painted white.

mime portrait eyes closeup

As this was not beauty photo session, I let all his imperfections be where they are and focused on getting some good poses and forms. Nothing you can get away with normally, but for this project he was not showing his talent as a super model, just a guy who is a really good mime with a great body language.

mime artist, poster with blood spatter and a broken window

The final image (and the idea)

This was the image that my client wanted, and we made it. He wanted to promote his new show (a mix of stand-up comedy and mime) with a photo of himself dressed up as a mime walking into an invisible window and getting hurt for real with blood and all.

It sounded quite easy when he presented the idea for me the first time we spoke, I guessed there would be thousands of good stock photos of broken glass that could be used together with his full length portrait.

But no.

Finding the right cracked glass or window proved to be really complicated and I had to use a photo with background and all, remove everything except the cracks/fractures in the glass that I needed and the combine it in Photoshop. Finding blood spatter and splatter was easier, but that took some time too.

Next time I do something like this, I guess I will go out and buy some glass, crack it myself just to save a lot of time in Photoshop.

But it was a great experience and we had a lot of fun.

{ 1 trackback }

Using Black Panels / Absorbers
August 26, 2011 at 00:13

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Dodds February 5, 2011 at 13:03

Hello Stefan
Love the concept. Did he mime a scream when he smashed the imaginary glass? I think we’ve all wanted to make a mime bleed at some point in our lives. You could make a series out of it. Injured cocktail pianist, wounded karaoke singer, strangled bagpiper. I did think the blood looked a little fake though. Try Peter Jackson’s (of Lord of the Rings films fame) formula of Maple syrup with cochineal (natural red food colour made from beetles). Tastes good too.


2 Stefan Tell February 10, 2011 at 00:56

No, he was true to the art form he is representing and stayed completely silent the whole session.

I think you have something there, might be a great book project in the future. Hopefully a clown will call soon, white make-up is something I would like to have more in my portraits.


3 Kruter February 16, 2011 at 16:27

Love your work.
The diagram seems to show the strip-boxes pointed at the back of the subject but your description and the image seem to imply the lights are directed toward the background. Can you please elaborate (and i often wonder this about many of your images when you don’t have dedicated background lights but get a nice white cyc effect).



4 Stefan Tell February 21, 2011 at 00:38

In this specific series of photos, the background already got a lot of light from the main light and fill, so it didn’t need much more from the rim lights to almost blow out the white background.

Sometimes I use the background lights to also function as rim lights, and sometimes the other way around. If you use a softbox, it is quite easy to chose the right angle, just stand facing the background and look at the softbox and you will see how far you can turn it and still get a small slice of light (if you don’t flag it or use a grid, that is).

I will try to make a separate post of this later, hope this is helping until then.


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