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Publicity Portrait, Rockabilly-style

Headshot portrait using Profoto D1 and White Softlight Reflector in a studio

Portrait photography is a good niche to be in as a photographer, I think. But most of the times you only get one shot at getting it right. At least when it comes to business portraits, most companies tend to update their image bank only when they really need to.

One reason might be that most people like to look younger, and an easy way is to use old photos from when they really were younger.

But, this time I was asked by a Swedish publishing house to update their author portraits, and one of the authors I was hired to shoot was a guy named Peter Barlach. A chance to better my last portrait of him taken couple of years back (when I honestly wasn’t that good at this).

Lighting setup for publicity portrait

Studio lighting setup diagram, author headshot, beautydish & clamshell

Clamshell is not only for beauty portraits

Using a clamshell-type of lighting is always useful, you get a lot of light into the eyes and you can easily avoid getting the shadows too dark. It is a lot easier to add contrast and darken the shadows in Photoshop, than the other way around. If that is what you want.

The setup was faily simple, just a Profoto D1 250 Air with a White Softlight Reflector (beautydish) above and in front of Peter, and a medium-sized Chimera reflector with silver fabric in waist height.

The bookends/v-flats on his sides were there to stop light reflected on the white walls in my small studio, and to add a little more contrast to the sides of his face and head.

When everything is neatly packed away in the room a call my studio, it feels large and full of possibilities. And as soon as the light stands and other equipment are in place for a portrait, it suddenly feels very tight. But it works, at least for products and non-moving objects, such as Peter (he didn’t have any room to move in anyway).


A beautydish with barn doors, almost

To stop some of the light from the beautydish to hit the white background paper, I mounted a flexible arm with a Super Clamp on the boom and put a black piece of foamcore in front of the upper part of the light modifier. I didn’t want to use a grid on the beautydish this time, so this was something in between in terms of blocking the light.

profoto-compact-nd-filterIt helped a bit with creating a gradient on the background, but I later added the feeling of a background light in Photoshop. And adjusted the colour to a blue tint, rather than neutral grey.

It always looks more natural if the effect is there from the beginning. Masking and creating a background from scratch always make me feel that it looks like it has been cut out. And pasted in again.

To get some light into his hair and create the rim light on the side of his left cheek, I put a Profoto Compact with a Zoom Reflector behind him, close to the background. The Compact has a much high lowest setting than the D1, so I taped two layers of ND-filter in front of the reflector to get the right amount of light.

clamshell portrait with beautydish

The last light was used to just add a little more light to the scene, set behind the camera with a white semi-transparent umbrella, it is barely visible but takes away some of the contrast.

Retouching the photos was not much to write about, a little work on fixing spots here and there, enhancing the gradient on the background a bit and finally, toning down the bottom catchlight in his eyes.

For this setup I used three lights, but I am sure that it would have been fine with just the beautydish and a reflector. It is easy to add more lights, and the black and white version might even been better without the rim light.

In the studio, where everything is within reach, making the lighting more complex doesn’t require any more lifting, but on location, I try to keep it as simple as I can (until I get someone to carry everything for me, that is).

And that rockabilly-feeling I get from the portraits, I think it’s only thanks to his hair products and denim jacket.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • sam March 15, 2013, 01:05

    one of my favorite portrait so far, light “seems” to be simple and don’t take too much over the whole portrait, like his expression, and the fact that you choose little DOF. I’m curious about contrast ratios through, suppose that key beauty dish at f5.6, rim at +1, what would it be for the umbrella fill ? -1 or same as key ?

    definitely in for the natural look, as for your swedish actress portrait.

  • Stefan Tell April 11, 2013, 23:46

    and sorry for the very late reply. I can’t really remember the ratios, but the fill is not doing that much. Just giving me a little more details to work with in Photoshop.