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Lighting setup for business portrait

Business portrait taken in studio on location background added in Photoshop

This photo was one of around 50 I shot for a client in Sweden last year. They needed good business portraits of their employees for their web site and printed marketing material, and they needed it to be done in their office.

Simple portraits on white background

I brought three Profoto Compact flashes, some stands and reflectors to set up a small studio on-location in their cafeteria. All portraits were shot on white background and the fake background you can see above was added later in Photoshop. We had an image bank with around 20 different background that we used.

Studio lighting setup diagram for business portraits on white background on location

Studio lighting setup for business portraits

This shot was planned beforehand and the setup we chose was one that was trying to look a bit like sun coming in from a window into a large office area from the side and from behind.

Early on, the client said that we needed to take similar pictures with similar lighting later on at different locations, so I documented this shot with distances between the different objects on the set for reference.

Click here for more Business Portrait setups and tutorials on my blog.

Business portrait of a man on white background

Profoto Octa 5′ as main light

To have a large light source as my main light, I chose the Profoto Octa 150 cm. And to create a warm light with soft shadows I placed a large Lastolite reflector (Sunfire) near the model as fill light. The effect of the gold-silver striped surface of the Sunfire screen is a bit warmer than the usual white or silver, which sometimes works fine with portraits.

Simulate window light from behind

As the portraits were to be copied onto a blurred background with large windows we tried to make it look like the rim light on the models came from outside the room. The idea was to have the background images with a window visible that we could place the subjects in front of, and to have the rim light to separate them a bit from it.

Another reason for this was to make the post processing a bit easier, as the portraits we shot on a white background, it would have been a lot more work in Photoshop if we had used less blurred background with darker areas.

Business portrait of woman on white backgroundRim lights and reflectors

The rim light from behind came from another Profoto Compact placed right behind and on the side of the background paper we hang from the ceiling. On that flash, we used the standard reflector but I wanted to spread the light out a bit so I placed a reflector to make the light hit from the side as well as from behind. If that made any difference, I don’t really know, but it might have added some more light on the model’s left side of the face.

To make the photos easier to mask, I used the last of the three flashes to light the background to completely white, almost blowing out the highlights.

Post processing and montage

For this photo session we had a great make-up artist at our disposal, so the retouching in Photoshop was easy. But masking is always time consuming. The plan was to make that part quick with backgrounds that were easy to use, but it always takes time. Especially when you have to make the same work on 50 different photos. Nothing you can make an action for in Photoshop really.

It might have been easier to use a green/blue screen, but it would have required more work lighting it correctly, and more equipment to transport.

The rerun

After doing this for two days in a row the first time, I did it again a couple of month later at a different location. The setup was almost the same, but this time I used only one reflector. The results looked the same, so I guess that one was not really necessary.

But, having the lighting setup diagram with all the distances was a great help. Another thing that helped me a lot was to start the second project by copying one of the .NEF-files (Nikon’s raw-format) to one of my Compact Flash cards and rename it so the camera would be able to show it.

That way I could see, in-camera, exactly if the histogram from the last shoot would match the lighting in the new setup. And it did, after a few adjustments. A time saver in Lightroom as I could use the same settings before doing the final work and masking in Photoshop.

You learn something everyday, almost.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Fabriano February 21, 2010, 00:00

    Hi Stefan,

    Thank you so much for the great tutorials in lighting set up, really appreciate. I have learned so much from you. Just wonder if you can tell me about how you did the post process for those office-like background.


  • Stefan Tell February 23, 2010, 23:52

    Glad you like it, I will try to get into more detail about retouching and post-processing in general in future posts.

    But, the short story is that it is not much of that in the office-like photos. Mostly masking and the adding of a blurred background. A little sharpening and some color correction, nothing else.

  • Fabriano February 24, 2010, 05:39

    Thanks Stefan,
    Looking forward to seeing more posts !

  • Claudio DiSouza - RETRATISTA September 26, 2010, 21:05

    Thank you very much,
    I have learned so much from this.

  • Jürgen November 1, 2010, 16:21

    Thanks for the details and your explanation.

  • Luis Macedo March 23, 2012, 13:11

    Another great post.
    Lots of info. Very simply written and easy to understand!
    Great work.
    Another great help in portrait photography!

  • Stefan Tell March 28, 2012, 10:15

    Glad you all liked it, please share it if you want to.

  • Tieran Green June 4, 2012, 19:25

    Wow, this is really well done. Love all your posts!

    • Stefan Tell June 4, 2012, 23:49

      Thanks a lot,
      I had a look at your web and it looked great. Nice to see other photographers with good blogs.

  • Owen July 30, 2012, 16:28

    Love these images Stefan, can I ask though, why were these shot on white and then dropped onto the blurred background as opposed to just shooting them in front of the background? Thankyou!

  • Stefan Tell August 6, 2012, 10:43


    It was mostly a convenient decision. We had just an ordinary office to shoot the people in, the background comes from a lot of different places and it would be hard to get the same look in different times of the year. A lot easier to create the background first and the just focus on getting the portraits in the same style for pasting into the backgrounds later.

  • Owen August 7, 2012, 03:17

    Thanks for getting back to me Stefan, makes complete sense what you did now. I might just have to try it over here in Australia for my own corporate portraits! 😀
    Once again, lovely work.

  • Stefan Tell August 8, 2012, 14:39

    Good luck,

    and thanks. We don’t have the luxury of good light here in Sweden many days of the year, so we have to cheat a lot more.

  • nana kofi April 5, 2013, 18:20

    Awesome. Love your works am a photography student and would like you to mentor. I will be very happy to recieve an email from you.

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