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Snoot Portrait & setup

Snoot portrait shot in photo studio. See lighting setup diagram for details. Photographer Stefan Tell

I haven’t used the snoot for portraits in a while, and when a publisher in Stockholm asked me to take some portraits of a writer, I thought it could be a good idea to include it. To create something a little different.

Using the snoot all by itself would maybe have been cool, but not that useful. Maybe if she wrote vintage mystery novels. So, I used it together with a much larger light source from the same direction, a 5 foot Profoto softbox Octa. As something between fill and key light.

Setup diagram for a snoot portrait


I started with the big light, and placed that about 5 feet (150 cm) from her head, a little underexposed. From the same direction, I added the snoot a little higher up, just around the upper edge of the big softbox.


The snoot is a combination of a Profoto Zoom Reflector, a grid holder and the snoot itself. I think I also used a grid inside, but can’t remember if I did (and don´t really know how much difference it makes in a portrait like this).

detail-eye-snoot-portrait-catchlightBoth the snoot and the Octa are mounted on Profoto D1 250 Air monoblocs, and with the Profoto Air Remote, it was really simple to adjust the effect up and down until the ratio felt right.

In the detail picture to the right, the large catchlight is the Octa, and below is the reflection of the silver reflector. The tiny bright spot above is the snoot.

The most visible effect from the snoot is the shadows it creates under her nose and the shadow pattern her hair makes. But also inside her eye sockets, the shadow line is much more distinct than it would have been with just one large light source.

Octa + snoot + reflector

snoot-portrait-profoto-octa-silver-reflectorThe Octa together with the snoot and a round silver reflector below creates something like a wall of light from one side, just with different contrasts and properties.

Without any special makeup and styling, I was very modest with the ratios of the lights, I think.

It was, after all, a portrait of a woman writing books, not something to sell lipstick. If I would try this kind of setup another time, I would try to make it a little bit more dramatic. But without professional makup, it is really easy to make her skin look bad and blown out.

Angle & position makes a lot of difference

During this photo session, we tried a lot of poses, or rather, different angles of her head and face. If we had used just one large light source as main/key light, a lot of shots would have been good and ready to use.

But, with such a specific lighting setup, it was rather the opposite. Most of the shots didn’t look good, lighting-wise. A little turn of her face and the cheekbones might be to prominent in the picture, or the nose would look bad. Et cetera.

ND-filter and background/hair light

Shooting on a black background often needs some sort of hair light or rim light, just to avoid to having parts of the head and/or body melt into the background. In this case I used a Profoto Compact 300 with a beauty dish, gridded, as hair light.

profoto-beautydish-nd-filterTwo layers of ND-filter was needed to get the light output down to the same levels I had the D1’s on. Soon I will buy two more Profoto D1’s, just to have the simplicity of the Air system and not having to deal with ND-filters any more.

The idea of controlling everything from one remote is very easy to get used to, and climbing on ladders is not that fun, just for adjusting the power.

But, adding filter gels with tape on the outside of a reflector can have interesting effects. I was a bit sloppy when I taped the two layers onto the beauty dish, and when a little bit fell off, it opened up a little sliver of light which hit the background directly.


So, I got a strange pattern or light beam on the black background. It was nothing I had planned for, but I think it added something to the picture so I let it stay there.

For this portrait I used a Nikon D700 with the 85mm/1.4 lens (the old model, not G) and most of the adjustments were made in Lightroom with some final touches in Photoshop.

For publicity portraits, I try to keep the retouching down to a minimum, just to make it feel a little bit natural (given the circumstances, even if studio lights are really not that natural).

If there would be one problem with this kind of lighting (apart from the problems of posing and getting the angles right), it would be that the effect of the snoot on normal skin (without heavy makeup or retouch) makes it look very different in different parts of the picture.

Some parts, where the snoot is not shining so brightly, the skin can look a little bit dull and dark. But, overall, I like it anyway.

If you have any questions, have I missed anything? Please let me know.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Picture Zealot October 4, 2011, 22:45

    I think the addition of the hard light is great. I think it’s a little too high though. The shadow from her nose goes down onto her lip and there is a shadow under her lower lip. Also, as you kind of mentioned, it might not be flattering on the skin. Lower down though, I think all this would be cleared up and you’d have a combination of classic lighting with more modern fill and reflector.

    I love the “happy accident” of the background. I think it looks great.

    Very nice portrait for an author. She should be pleased.

    P.S. I am in the U.S. so styles may be different

  • Stefan Tell October 6, 2011, 23:10

    Thanks for taking your time to comment,
    and I might agree that the shadow under her nose is a tiny bit too long, but under her lower lip I think it works better. A matter of taste of course.

    Styles all over the world is indeed very different, even though it gets more unified the more people find inspiration internationally and not just from nearby. Much of the stock photo business seems to be suffering from that, for example.

  • Picture Zealot October 7, 2011, 03:17

    You’re welcome. I agree, under the lip isn’t so bad. This is a nice style to experiment with.

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