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Another portrait on location

Portrait on location, reception desk with two lights, Profoto 5-foot Octa. Photographer Stefan Tell

Taking portraits on location with studio lights is something that is 90% setup, 9% small talk and around 1% pressing the shutter. Working in Sweden, I usually bring a couple of lights to every shoot, unless it is a regular assignment for articles in a magazine when natural light feels more appropriate.

The above portrait was an assignment from one of my clients where they wanted a nice picture with the man in a suit standing in their office. I had been there before, so I knew the layout pretty well. Which meant that I only packed two Profoto D1, one 5-foot softbox octa and a couple of light stands, and a Chimera reflector panel.


Lighting setup, on location portrait

This must be the lighting recipe I use by far most of the time when I want to light a person for a half-length portrait, it might feel boring to use the same setup again and again, but why change something that isn’t broken?

In the studio it might feel old sometimes, but adding a different background in a new environment (i.e. on location), it creates something new. Or at least different.


We scouted their office for good angles, the first suggestions was a portrait on the stairs, but it became a bit too tight so we ended up near their reception desk. Many times, letting your model lean onto something or just interact with their surroundings can make them feel more comfortable, but sometimes they refuse to look to relaxed (I think some people equals relaxed to looking sloppy). This guy had no problem with a more relaxed profile.


The lighting setup was some sort of clamshell, with one light camera left in a 5-foot softbox Octa and a silver reflector panel below. The other light I turned away from the camera to lighten the left part of the photo, but not adding hard shadows, as I used it with a bare bulb.

After a few test shots, I set the camera to 1/100s and f/3.2 which gave a good combination of flash light and available light from the spotlights above. I used a Nikon D700 with the 85mm/1.4 lens for a nice blur on the background.

My initial reaction to his tanned face together with the wood panel in the background was that I might have to adjust it later in Photoshop so they don’t blend too much, but after looking at the photo om my computer, I think that looked good. Everything has the same warm tone in a way, and why not?

Sometimes the simple and well-used solution is the best, just add an new background and it feels like something almost new.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • karen Logan March 14, 2012, 00:36

    Very very nice. Might not be that exciting to you, but as you say it pays the bills, and not everyone can pull this off. Great!!

  • Stefan Tell March 14, 2012, 02:35

    Thanks, it helps a lot with a relaxed guy in front of the camera, a little tan, and a nice wooden background.

  • Frau Haselmayer March 14, 2012, 12:12

    Thanks for sharing your setup in detail! I really appreciate your openness about your technique and lighting equipment…not many photographers are willing to share their “secrets”.

    • Stefan Tell March 14, 2012, 12:22

      No problem, I learn a lot from writing all this stuff. And getting response from it is a good way of keeping my ego happy and my self-esteem high even on bad days 🙂

      Thanks for taking your time to write a comment (here and on Flickr), it is what makes this blog feel like a good investment in time.

  • Volen March 14, 2012, 14:05

    Nice light. Good expression. Your blog is a good investment of time. I’m subscribed in RSS and I’m reading carefully every post from you. Please keep on doing it.
    Isn’t too slow with the tree-way head on the tripod?

    • Stefan Tell March 14, 2012, 14:44

      And yes, I’m looking for a smaller solution (the head takes a lot of space in a bag) and maybe a L-bracket (to be sure to get the angles right for portraits quick). But, I can’t find any fitting the Manfrotto stand I use, maybe a will buy the whole package from Really Right Stuff?

  • Lanthus Clark January 3, 2013, 16:29

    Thanks for sharing Stefan, I have really enjoyed reading (and learning from) your blog!

    Have a great day!


  • Stefan Tell January 4, 2013, 01:22

    Thanks. Nice to hear, if you have any questions, just ask.

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