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Profoto Telezoom and a large diffusion panel

Portrait lit with Profoto Telezoom reflector and large Chimera diffusion panel

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).

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Photofan October 1, 2012, 22:04

    Man, you’re an artist!
    Your portraits are really very inspiring. I have to thank you for sharing your techniques, too.

  • Volen October 5, 2012, 14:45

    Great work! Outstanding portrait (woman). I like the light you’ve made. I’m also trying to experiment with big screens and to shoot “movie like view” of the pictures. Thanks for sharing!

  • Randle P. McMurphy October 10, 2012, 11:46

    Dear Stefan – the Problem with mimic Sunlight is that you have
    to watch that you can only see one Light in the Models Eye – because
    the Sun is also just one Light. So it is a really nice Portrait but even
    a Studio Portrait. For my Taste I would like to prefer you Location Shot more. Just a cloudy Sky and s Reflector to light up the Shaddows.

  • Dominique Ottevaere December 13, 2012, 04:56

    American Photographer Christopher Grey has a section on simulated sunlight in his book ‘Studio Lighting’ (Amherst Media). He describes the use of HMI continuous lighting. (Beautiful and convincing, if expensive light.) Here is the link to that section as a blogpost on the internet: http://portrait-photographer.blogspot.com/2009/11/simulated-sunlight.html

  • Vince (from Canada) December 19, 2012, 23:37


    Stumbled upon your site today, I very much admire your style, thank you for sharing your knowledge, it is truly a labour of love.

    Question – do you use Lightroom to edit all your photos or do you also use Photoshop as well and/or other tools? just finished doing my first shoot but find the editing very difficult and time-consuming and wondering if there are any presets or actions you would recommend?

    Thank you and I will continue to follow your work.


  • Stefan Tell December 21, 2012, 15:42

    Sorry for the late replies.

    Photofan: Thanks for the big and kind words.

    Volen: Thanks, I like it too. Much of the greatness comes from the combination of model and light, and in this case they worked together beautifully.

    Randle: You are right, but there are also natural reflectors outdoors. A white table for instance makes a small reflection in the eye, and works good for portraits under the sun. Especially under some kind of sun roof. But I will try more to get the feeling right.

    Vince: I mostly use Lightroom for the “development” process and then make other types of adjustments in Photoshop. Some assignment can be done using only Lightroom, but most of the photos gets a small tour in Photoshop anyway.

    I use actions very little, so I think you will have to look elsewhere for inspiration and tips. Thanks.

  • Stefan Tell December 21, 2012, 15:47

    Dominique: I think I have that book somewhere, will give it another try. Thanks for the tip.

  • John Carruthers June 9, 2013, 01:00

    Stefan, your photographs are gorgeous and your blogs as interesting as they are helpfully generous (I’ve just stumbled upon them).
    Would you mind sharing a lighting plan that shows the setup for the beautiful shot of the children’s book author shot using the diffusion panel to mimic sunlight? Generally I can figure these things out from your location shots, but this one had me a bit stumped.
    If you don’t have time to do the diagram a quick location / distance description would be more than enough!
    Thanks in advance for your patience. I’m a student photographer near the start of my journey with studio lighting.

  • John Carruthers June 10, 2013, 00:39

    I think I may have deduced an approximate geeneral lighting layout based on your other blogs. But I’m particularly interested in the arrangement of the telephoto zoom-ed strobe and the large diffusion panel. I’m guessing that this is quite subtle: by light distance from the panel and angle. Too loose and the subject and background become washed with light? Also I’m curious as to whether your experience tells you that large (2m) diffusion panel is mandatory for this particular setup or whether a somewhat smaller one could work?

  • Stefan Tell June 11, 2013, 00:08

    here is a diagram from a similar shot, I showed the business man in this post but not the diagram, the difference might be the distance between the light and the diffusion panel as well as to the model.

    Using the largest panel I had allowed me to move around a little bit more, but you could achieve the same effect with a smaller one, especially if you use a zoomable reflector (or a grid) to keep the light beam inside the frame so the light doesn’t go everywhere in the room.

    The key, I think, is to have a hard light source and soften/diffusing it in a way you feel fits the subject. I wanted a broad light but with very defined shadows. Experiment with the distance (light/diffusion/model) and you will see the difference directly.

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