This is a portrait from one of my latest assignments, press photos of a debuting author of childrens books for a Swedish publishing house.
The day before I had shot headshots of a guy working as a promoter here in Sweden, a little bit like Jerry Maguire as I understood it. Instead of packing all the lights away for the night, I let them stand in the studio so I could use the same setup as a starting point for this photo shoot.
Most of the time, I start from scratch, but having a main light and all the setting already tested saves a lot of time (when possible, as I share the studio with others that uses it from time to time).
Still trying to mimic sunlight, in some way
What I kept from the previous lighting setup was the main light that I was very happy with, a Profoto D1 250 Air and a Profoto Telezoom reflector shot through a very large Chimera panel with diffusion fabric.
Underneath, there is a round silver reflector to add more sparkle to the eyes and lighting the shadows just a bit.
The quality of the hard light softened a bit by the large screen was very good for portraits as it was both large and had contrast that defined the facial features in a very flattering way. A bit like sunlight through a white canopy/parasol. Almost.
I am not yet there, finding a way to mimic that soft but sharp light I like in the summertime, I think I need a sharper light source for that.
Just add a brown background
The day before, I had shot portraits on a light grey background, placing the background light outside the window for some effect that I didn’t really achive. Instead of building on that idea, I brought the light inside again, put up a roll of brown background paper and let the other light work as a background light on that.
Just by adding something in the background can completely change how the main light feels (and the picture as a whole as well). And instead of letting the background double as separation, I let the model blend into the background a bit. Or a lot more than I usually do.
The background light in this photo is equipped with a Magnum reflector and two layers of diffusion to avoid having the specular highlights completely blow out the brown background. Looking at the portrait now, I think the main light could work very well alone, but the background gradient might add something to the picture that otherwise would have felt a little to murky.
The background paper was just half of the standard width, and that is in many ways more than enough for half-length portraits. Having a smaller background also makes it easier to move it around, you can also change the angle, which I didn’t try.
Similar portrait styles, different reflector
I have done similar lighting setups earlier, but with a grey background, and with guys in suits standing in front of the camera. Business portrait with 3 lights is one of them, even if I used a Magnum reflector as my main light then.
This version of that setup was easier to work with as I had the main light further away and higher up. Not a setup I would try to use in a client’s office, but with a studio with more space and height, it is very useful and produces nice light.
Save different starting points
A lot like a hair dresser or a chef, having some main recipies (or styles) to start with is a real time saver. I have found some simple setups that I use frequently that I even know the aperture, distance to subject from the softbox (an Octa for example) and effect settings on the light to get it right without even having to try it out on a model. If I can set up a working main light without thinking so much about it, it leaves me more time to get all the other details right.
And just like a chef, adding a different seasoning or sauce, can create something completely new. Even if it is just a version of something old (and time tested).
If I would have just changed the background of these photos to a bright yellow or a sky blue, it would have been something completely different.
Sure, you can, with the right setup, easily change background colour in Lightroom. But it feels a lot better to get it almost right directly in the camera.
I am more than happy with the results of this kind of light, and I will continue to explore how to modify the thing around it to create different setups. But I would also try to get closer to the light I am looking for, maybe a Hardbox or Fresnel lens of some sort could help? Or a different kind of diffusion?
Nikon D700 and a 85mm/1.4 lens (as usual).