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Portrait photography

Using a white horse as a reflector works well - outdoor portrait photography

When I take portraits outside in sunlight I try as much as I can (but not always, of course) to have the model with the sun in her back, just to avoid harsh shadows from strong sunlight. With his/her back to the sunlight, you often also get the benefit of free hair light and rim light, that separates your model a bit from the background. Even if you shoot with a short DOF, it is nice to have that. I think.

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Actress headshot. Portrait of Swedish actress taken in photo studio. Clamshell lighting explained with diagram

Recently I helped an actress in Sweden with some headshots for her promotion material. The main idea was to take a couple of portraits in my studio without a lot of makeup and retouching, just her face, clean and simple.

As she has a calm face with a strong bone structure I opted for a classic clamshell lighting to focus on her eyes. Her black clothing and hair framed it nicely I think.

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This is to show how different a photo can come out by just having a different model standing in front of the camera. For this portrait I used the exact same lighting setup as for this portrait of a Swedish writer of children’s books.

Same light – different look

For both portraits I used a clamshell setup with one large light source from above and a silver reflector from below. The man and the woman were sitting on a chair in each session, and were about one meter away from the light stand’s base.

The light from above came from a Profoto softbox 5′ Octa on a boom stand as high up as I could place it in my small studio (2.6 meters).

Underneath it, on another light stand with a reflector holder I placed the round silver reflector for fill from below. The Profoto Compact 600R flash was on it’s lowest setting and I used a ND-filter on the lens so I could shoot at a small aperture, and thereby getting the depth of field as short as I wanted it.

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Studio portrait of Swedish illustrator and writer Johan Unenge. 3-light setup with Profoto beautydish on light grey background.

Shooting studio portraits of writers for book publishers are always fun. More often than not, the studio sessions tend to be more of a good discussion around the subject of books and writing than getting them to pose well.

A light pale theme with hard shadows

My idea for this portrait session was to set a light with pretty hard shadows, but also make it a bit pale and washed-out. A bit like the light you have when you stand near a white wall and have the sun directly above you. Hard but not too dark shadows.

The model for today was Johan Unenge, a Swedish illustrator and writer. A very talented guy I have worked with before. He has also been in the studio before, so I had the luxury of knowing beforehand how to set up the lights to make it a good portrait. Mostly when doing corporate portraits, you have to guess or make something that works for many types.

Lighting setup diagram with beautydish

Studio Lighting Setup Diagram for 3-light portrait with Profoto beautydish in photo studio

Click here for more studio lighting setups and diagrams

3-light setup for portrait

Mostly in the photo studio, when shooting portraits, I tend to use 3 lights. Sometimes only two, and sometimes even four, but most of the time, three lights is the easiest way to create a setup that works. And some diffusers and reflectors, of course.

Beautydish is not for everyone

Profoto White Softlight Reflector - beautydish

Profoto White Softlight Reflector - beautydish

Even if some people say that you can only use the beautydish on young people with flawless skin, I think that it can also make older (than 16) people look really good.

That is, if you like portraits with well defined facial features and if your model is not afraid of letting the wrinkles show. Because they will.

For this portrait I used it without the grid, and without it, it has a spread of light that is quite wide. And having the model so close to the background, a lot of the light from the beautydish also lit the background.

Black, Grey or white background

With the grid on, and no other lights, the background would have been dark grey (or nearly black), but together with the other two lights in the studio, it became light grey. Shooting on a white background is very useful in that way, you can make it go from black to white depending how you place your lights.

Diffusing panels and reflectors

Aside from the three Profoto Compacts I used, there were also three different panels involved. One black flag for stopping the light from the background light to hit the lens (avoiding flare), one white panel to reflect some of the light from the beautydish to lighten the shadows on the model’s left side of the face, and finally, one diffusor in front of the last flash to diffuse the light a bit on the bakground.

Equipment used

This was the first time I tried my new lens, the Nikon 70-200 VRII, in the studio for portraits. It is a fantastic lens, but when pixel-peeping (which I try to avoid as much as I can) it is not as good for portraits as my favorite, the 85mm/1.4.

For lighting, I had my usual three Profoto Compact monoblocs, one with a beautydish, one with a medium size softbox, and one with just the standard reflector.

Feel free to comment if you like it is always appreciated.

Studio-like portrait of a bearded man sitting at a table.  Using two lights/flashes and the table as a reflector

One assignment I had 2009 was to take portraits of the jury members of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA), the world’s largest prize for children’s and young adult literature. The room I had to my disposal was a small conference room full of books (of course). Other than the bookshelf, it had one really useful piece of furniture, a light light grey, almost white, plastic table.

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