How I Light Studio Portraits

I’ve been meaning to get myself a new headshot for Facebook and the other various “Avatars” I have online…  and finally got the inspiration to get it done after David Hobby posted this great article on shooting for the online age.  I’ve also been a longtime reader of Wired, Business 2.0 and other magazines which tend to use some pretty trendy lighting and so I decided to copy David’s setup pretty much in whole for this series of shots.  I’ll post mine and a couple more shortly, but here’s one of my friend Megan, and a series of images with the lights selectively turned on to show exactly how the concept is constructed.

Light #1:  The image starts with a background about 10 feet behind Megan.  It’s a basic green seamless sheet of paper, with an unmodified SB-800 flash pointed at it and zoomed slightly to give it a bit of a vignette.  I wanted the shoot the key at f/11, so I set this backdrop right at f/11 as well.

Light #2:  Then we added in the key light, a beauty dish on an Alien Bee 1600, set to f/11.  This creates the foundation of the image, but we’ve got a few more bits to add in.  Our key light is high and coming down at a sharp angle, so the eye sockets are quite dark, and the neck / scarf are a bit darker than I’d like – so we fill those in next.

Light #3:  Next is a ring flash (in this case a Ray flash adapter on my hotshoe mounted SB-800).  This fills in the shadows nicely (though it adds a big challenge if we are shooting a subject with glasses, as there will be significant reflection if the subject is looking straight at the camera).  I set the flash to TTL, minus about 1 or 1.5 stops.  Additionally, we placed a reflector in Megan’s lap to bounce some of the key light back up (this was not necessary for this shot, but we had set it up to get see how it compared against shooting a subject with glasses, aka me).

Lights 4 & 5:  Finally, we add in fill from the side to give the image that “Wired” look, and create separation and a hair light.  We set up 2 Alien Bee 800’s with gridded strip boxes, one on each side.  The lights were set to expose at f/8, but we did some adjusting downward, and I would guess we probably ended at about 1.5 stops relative to the key light.

And there you have it, 5 strobes, 3 soft boxes, a ring flash adapter… all to make a really tiny picture for the internet.


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