≡ Menu

Female Model Portrait & Setup

Studio portrait of a swedish female model. Nikon D700 85mm/1.4 Profoto

Time For Print-photoshoots is nothing I have tried before, but it felt natural to try it after having worked with the model in the photo above several times working for a Swedish fashion designer shooting her collection.

I wanted to try a new lighting setup with focus on more lights reflected in her eyes and more light coming from behind her on both sides.

Studio Lighting Setup Diagram


This is what it looked like in the studio for the photo above. In some of the shots, I moved the beautydish and Octa softbox around and changed their effect and ratio to create different photos with roughly the same setup.

Here is a test photo with the rim/background lights turned off.

The main light in almost all the photos was a white Profoto Softlight Reflector (beautydish) without the grid. Fill comes from a large 5 foot (150 cm) softbox Octa. To keep the light bouncing off the walls I had one bookend on either side of her.


Behind the bookends, I mounted diffusion panels on light stands and placed two Profoto Compact near the background pointing slightly towards the model’s back. The angle kept the background from being completely blown out.

Next time I try this setup I will lower their effect a little. In some of the shots, the rim light areas had almost no detail. It would be a lot easier to lighten in post processing than trying to get the detail in the overexposed highlights back (if there is any left, that is).

Old and new equipment

With my new Profoto D1 250 Air it is easy to adjust the setting digitally via radio in very small increments, and when using them together with older Profoto Compacts it is something of a clash between small exact changes and adding another layer of ND-filter to bring down the effect to a good level.

Using the Profoto Air Remote is very convenient, but as long as I keep using Compacts in the mix, the photo studio of the future is not really here yet. Sooner or later I will upgrade all my lights to D1:s or something similar, but as for now it is very handy being able to add another light (they do cost money, and shooting TFP is not getting me any closer to more modern equipment).

Post Processing for this model portrait

The initial adjustments were made in Lightroom 3, the conversion to black and white as well. She wanted the portraits to be in black and white, so I never did any in colour. Maybe later if I find the time.

uneditedIn Photoshop I did some basic retouch and fixed the skin, contrast and smaller details. But as I mostly work with ordinary people with no or little makeup, I tend to keep the skin retouch to a minimum. Or as natural I can.

Everything was done in layers and groups, with simple or more detailed masks. I find that workflow easy to reverse if the effect of a specific adjustment feels too strong. Just mask a bit more or lower the opacity on the layer or group that causes the image to feel wrong.

The best way to do a natural skin retouch without having to go into details is to go through every part of the photo, until it looks almost like a doll. After that, just lower the opacity until it feels like a human being again. If I have the time, I try to let the portrait rest a little and then go back to see if it still looks good.

It is extremely easy to get caught in a frenzy to fix everything so it looks perfect in 100%, pixel for pixel. Zooming out a lot helps getting rid of that.

A smart retouch trick

And finally, my favourite trick: in Photoshop, put all the layers and adjustments in one group (there can be groups within groups as well) and keep the original layer untouched in the bottom of the layers panel.

With just one click, you can show or hide all your adjustments. Very handy if you want an easy way to see if it still feels good or if something catches your eye as too much or just ugly.

Equipment used for this photo

Nikon D700
Nikkor 85mm/1.4
Manfrotto camera stand
2 x Profoto D1 250 Air
Profoto Air Remote
2 x Profoto Compact 300
Profoto Softlight Reflector (white beautydish)
Profoto 5 foot Softbox Octa
2 x Chimera panel with diffusion fabric
Several light stands
2 x Bookends
White background paper

If you have any questions on the lighting, workflow or retouch, don’t hesitate to write a comment and I will answer as good as I can.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mads-Peter March 18, 2011, 10:32

    Thanks for the diagram. I wish I had a real studio like yours to this kind of experimentation.

    Any thoughts on multiple highlights in the eyes? Personally it doesn’t distract me at all, but it does create a certain drama.

    Btw: a tip for turning all of your adjustments on and off, is to option/alt-click on the layer with your original photograph. That will make it the only visible layer. Option/alt-click it again, and every layer will be visible as before.

  • Stefan Tell March 18, 2011, 12:06

    I like the catchlights, I would like to have more, but that might be something for a future project. As for the studio, it is not big at all. And a close-up portrait like this doesn’t need that much space. Just have enough things you can block light bouncing everywhere, and it will work out fine.

    And thanks for the tip, there is always I shortcut in Photoshop for almost everything that I don’t know of yet.

  • Tim May 29, 2011, 23:32

    Great blog – lots of great information! Thanks for posting so much!

    One thing – there’s no need to create a group or groups of layers in Photoshop – just hold down your alt/option key and toggle the visibility icon on the background layer. All the other layers will toggle off and back on.


  • Hari July 12, 2011, 22:29

    I would like to know where did you get those black bookends.

    • Stefan Tell July 13, 2011, 06:10

      Hi, I did not buy them, they were built by another photographer out of thin wooden board nailed onto a wooden frame and painted black on one side (white on the other), held together by ordinary hinges.

      I am planning to build something less heavy soon, will not use a frame made of wood then as these are getting a bit twisted and wobbly with age.

  • Georg October 17, 2011, 18:42

    Very nice behind-the-scenes explanation. Thank you.

    I noticed the following: the backlights appear to be non-symmetric, i.e. there is more light reflection visible on the model’s right side than on her left. The difference shows both on her neck and face. Did you do that on purpose, or was that unplanned? If the former, can you explain why you did it this way?

    The unevenness of backlighting was one of my first impressions when I saw the photo, and I found it a bit distracting. You know, distracting from taking it in undisturbed. My eyes kept getting stuck on comparing the right and left backlighting. I think I get this impression because the model is facing the camera straight on. So, a symmetric model stance is met with slightly asymmetric backlighting, and to me that just looks off somehow. I think I would have preferred perfectly symmetric backlighting or asymmetric backlighting to a much greater extent.

    Just my opinion.

    Clearwater, Florida

  • Stefan Tell October 19, 2011, 23:24

    Hi Georg,
    glad you took your time to leave a comment.

    Regarding symmetric or not, I wasn’t planning to do a perfectly posed and lit portrait. This was one of many shots that I think turned out well, in this case, the facial expression was more important than symmetry. I seldom aim for perfect, I rather have something else, a nice smile for example.

  • Leonardo November 1, 2016, 17:00

    Instead of “grouping the groups” to see the before and after the retouch, I simply hold alt/option and click on the background layer visibility checkbox (eye icon). It toggles all the other layers on and off.