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Portraits in office environment

Portrait on location in office environment

Very often my clients want photos taken in their office, but to make it look a little better, often with a stock photo as some kind of visual reference. Trying to imitate something very polished, sunny and designed, in an ordinary office has its challenges. Especially when the sky outside is covered with dark clouds.

That is exactly what happened to me lately, when shooting portraits for a client. We had just shot the ordinary portraits against a medium grey background in one of their rooms, when they asked if I could take a couple more. If I could use their office as background, they would be delighted.

Behind the scenes (or the camera)

Behind the scenes - office environment portraits

We chose just one location for five different people, mostly because we didn’t have the time to move the lighting equipment around a lot that day. Their office is very new, with relatively high ceiling and white walls. A good environment in many ways.

testbild-morkExcept for the light.

The small image to the right is my first test shot (1/200s and f/5.6). Only the main light (a Profoto D1 250 Air in a 5-foot softbox Octa camera left) is switched on.

Too dark in every way, especially the background which I would like to have brighter than the subject in the foreground. I had to open the aperture to f/2.8 and use 1/60s as my shutter speed to balance the light from the windows in the background, the overhead lights and the light from my D1.


The main light from my Profoto D1 camera left, together with a large reflector camera right gave the model a good exposure. The lights above just added a little, not much and nothing that interfered with the colors.

Portrait on location, office

To get that bright background, just using the light coming in from the windows was not enough. I placed a bare bulb Profoto D1 behind the column to the right in the photo, pointed to the right at a white wall.


The open aperture and the slow shutter speed with a little help from the light in the background made it look like the sun was shining in through the windows.

Which is was not, at all.

I only had two lights with me that day, but if I had a third, I would have placed it on the same line as the background light, but camera left. That would have made the background more evenly lit. But, I think this worked fine.

The distance between the camera and the model, and the model and the background, gave the photo a nice blur in the background. I could have use a 70-200/2.8 and placed myself even further away, but I think this worked with my old 85mm/1.4.

Trying to make photos like this in a smaller office is of course a lot harder, to get the light to look almost real, I think it needs distance. Or a lot more equipment, or a very closer cropping. This photo looks, in my opinion, good both as a landscape crop with a little more details, or a portrait crop with just a blurred background.

I used a Nikon D700 for this, a did all the adjustments in Adobe Lightroom (mainly colors, contrast and a little brightening of the background around the windows).

If you think I have missed anything, or just want to say hi, please leave a comment. It is always very appreciated.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Brian December 2, 2011, 23:05

    Hi Stefan,
    I always enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for sharing your behind the scenes lighting info – I always find them educational.

  • Edd Carlile December 6, 2011, 22:13

    Very nice.
    Quite illuminating.

  • Stefan Tell December 7, 2011, 15:46

    Thanks for the comments, glad to be of help. If I could find a way of easily turn comments and likes into cash, I would write a lot more. Until then, the comments just makes me happier.

  • karen Logan December 8, 2011, 23:09

    Great shot. I am curious about the light reflector camera right. As I mentioned I am new so forgive me for asking stupid questions. I am assuming that the light from the soft box is reflecting on the reflector and then on to the model. I have never seen lights set up this distance from the model before. I have only seen the lights basically wrapped around the model almost in their personal space, for any head shots I have done in class. This is very, very nice light. I have do some head shots next weeks for a client, wish they would turn out have as well.

  • Stefan Tell December 12, 2011, 15:04

    Hi Karen,

    the shot from behind is not showing where she actually stood. Her placement was near the shadow from the big plant on the floor, between the lights and the flowers (as they are behind her in the picture).

    The reflector you are mentioning is silver, and quite large, so it will bounce back a lot of the light from the Octa. Without it, the shadow side of her face would have been a lot darker.

  • Lars Nielsen January 5, 2012, 02:02

    Hi S.

    Been following u for a long time now. Your blog is a guarantee for inspiration.
    I really like this article, and the other one you have which i similar. It made me change my business-kind-a-photography. The reason being. The usual strobismic kind of doing things, is to stop the background one step down and light the person. But here the background is actually brighter than the model. It just does something to both the model and the enviroment. The whole image is much much lighter, happy’ish etc.
    So to me this article really made a change for me. I actually never really thought of it this way. I was too busy in my comfort zone with the usual one-stop-down-background. So i promised myself to experiment more with this kind of style and do my future business portraits in this style. Well! in most cases anywayz. Surely the enviroment has a lot to say. But if there is a window, why not make it look like the whole enviroment is lit through windows.
    Great work Stefan…


  • Stefan Tell January 23, 2012, 01:16

    Hi Lars,

    I haven’t done many shots like this, but for this office, it was quite easy to get the effect of sunlight as backlight through windows. It would have been a lot harder if there would have been a large open area to light properly, now it was just a corridor.

    And thanks for your kind words.

  • Pınar Lauridsen March 5, 2012, 19:08

    Hi, thank u for u r sharing education for everyone.. U really good person.

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