This is a portrait style I think works very well for corporate and business portraits of all types. On location or in the studio, with a clean background or with something out of focus.
It works especially well if you need to have a lot of portraits in a layout, for example showing the board of directors or management, as every face has the same type of shadows on one side.
What you need is three lights, a diffusion panel and a camera.
Behind the scenes of a business portrait
Here is a shot from my relatively small photo studio where I often take portraits like this. But for most standard head and shoulder portraits, you don’t need a lot of space. The small duct tape on the floor right to the bookend is where my model stood for this portrait. And he didn’t move much.
The main reason I used a bookend for this portrait was to stop the sunlight from the window affecting the shot. It was a clear winter day with a lot of snow in Sweden, and using a relatively large aperture and keeping the light from the studio lights low, it might have cast a blue tint in the shadows.
Studio lighting setup diagram
The main light comes from the Profoto D1 250 Air with a white Profoto Softlight Reflector (beautydish) camera right, for fill I used another Profoto D1 with a black and white bounce umbrella (to make the light source bigger before softening the fill with a Chimera panel and diffusion fabric).
This frame is approx. 1 x 1 meter and placed not more than a meter from the subjects head. For the black and white portrait, I added contrast in post production, so the effect of the fill light is less visible.
But, for most portraits, I think it is better to try to keep details in the shadow areas, as it is a lot easier to add contrast later than the opposite without everything looking strange and often a little washed out.
A fill like this, when using a diffusion screen of some sort, is easier to hide in a portrait. It probably won’t show up as a catchlight in the eyes, as a more direct light from a softbox might do.
The rim light came from behind camera right, a Profoto Compact 300 with two layers of ND-filter to keep the light output as low as the D1:s could go. You could of course do a similar portrait using only two lights, but I like the effect of a rim light as it makes the head a little more three-dimensional.
The retouch and sharpening process
Lightroom was used for the white balancing and developing, Phtoshop for fixing the skin and stuff like that. The background was desaturated to neutral grey as it had a blue/cold tint from the window light.
I usually do this on all portrait on grey or white background, most of them are not completely neutral before post processing when using studio lights. Different lights set on different effect and using different light modifiers will often result in different white balance on parts of the photo, often most visible on white/grey background.
To add a little more contrast to the black and white portraits, I converted the colour photos in Photoshop and added a Gradient Map using the Soft Light blending mode with an opacity around 20 or 30 percent. The keep the effect from making all the pores stand out, I painted a layer mask with a soft brush on the forehead and around the eyes.
Finally I sharpened the portrait using a combination of the High Pass filter and a Soft Light blending mode. To avoid sharpening everything, I painted a layer mask here as well. No point in sharpening the background or things out of focus, I think.
The light on his cheekbone camera left is reflected from his shirt, and it is competely unintentional, but happens in most portraits if your model is not wearing a black polo.
For these portraits, I used a Nikon D700, a 85mm/1.4 lens at aperture f/4 with a shutter speed of 1/200s, ISO 200.