3 Steps To A Creative Portrait In A Less Than Ideal Environment

d1-41Hey gang, Brad Moore here with a quick walk-through of this photo from a recent assignment…

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to cover the opening of D1 Sports Training’s new facility in Orlando. While I was there, I was able to grab a portrait of one of their trainers, Taylor Scott.

This was the one of the last things I did at the event. Throughout the day, while covering everything else, I was trying to formulate a creative portrait in my mind. I finally decided to just use edge lighting, remembering something a wise man once said… “If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.”

I knew going in that I wanted to have a clean black backdrop for this image, but I didn’t have any seamless paper to create said clean black backdrop. What do you do in this situation? Three things…

1) Camera Settings
First, knock out the ambient light in the room.

I know my shutter speed is going to be about 1/160 of a second because I’m using artificial lights, and that’s a good sync speed.

ISO needs to be as low as possible, ISO 200 in this case, so less light registers in the image.

With those two settings in place, the only variable left is f/stop. At f/10, there’s no ambient light registering in the image, and the strobe lights don’t have to be cranked up too much to register in the image. Exactly where I want to be.

2) Lights
Here’s the lighting setup:

That’s an available light shot of Pete Collins standing in while all the settings are getting dialed in and tweaking the lights.

I used the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra set to 4.0 (about 100Ws), a Rotalux 39″ softbox (sans front diffuser) and a Westcott 12×36″ strip bank. They were positioned in front of Pete/Taylor so that they were basically rim lights.

Here’s how it looks with all the correct camera and light settings dialed in:

And then framed up properly:

You can still see some minor clutter in the background, but that’s easy to clean up in post, which brings us to the third step…

3) Separation from the Wall
That little bit of clutter is showing up in the background because it’s getting a hint of the strobe light. If this had been set up near a wall or closer to any other objects, they would be lit up and even more distracting. That’s why separation between your lights and background are important in creating a clean background.

Here’s the final image again:

Since this shot was for D1, I wanted to make sure there was some branding showing as well. I asked Taylor to step forward, a little closer to the lights, allowing some of the light to wrap around his back to show the branding on his shirt.

In Lightroom, I darkened the blacks around Taylor with the adjustment brush to finish cleaning up the background (no cloning necessary) and bumped up the clarity quite a bit on him.

After that, I jumped over to Photoshop to add some grittiness via high pass sharpening and Nik Filters (the soft light layer blend mode is your friend!).

Hopefully this is helpful and can give you some ideas for creating great images in less than ideal situations!

You can find more from me at BMOOREVISUALS.com, and on Google+ and Twitter

    1. Hey Adam – those are the cables running from the lights to the Quadra power pack. I could have added extension cables to give a little more slack, but that would have resulted in about a 1-stop loss of power. It was working as it was, and compensating for the loss of power by turning up the power pack would have increased the refresh time of the lights. Could have if it’d been necessary, but the less time the subject has to spend in front of the camera, the better :-)

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Although I use this technique on some of my shots already it is always great to refresh my knowledge – in this case the removal of the front panel on one of the softboxes.

  2. Just goes to show you the power of ‘good lighting’, great shot and a very simple but very effective use of just two lights to create something very creative and 90% in camera! love it…

  3. Rimlight shots are cool, they create an dramatic atmosphere which can make a simple shot a lot better.
    But you should have had grids or hooded diffusers on your softboxes, that way the lightspill would have been minimal and postprocessing less of a hassel.
    But you guys know that, i guess you didn´t have those with you. :)

    Cool image nonetheless!

    I for one is still wondering why Elinchrom doesn´t make grids to all their softboxes, especially their rotalux models. I think they should have one for the rectangular ones and for the big octas as well.

    1. Hey Patrik – Yeah, grids would’ve helped control the spill, but it wasn’t too bad in this case. But, you’re right, I just didn’t have any with me :-)

      Elinchrom doesn’t make grids for their softboxes, but Light Tools does (as well as plenty of other brands) - http://www.lighttools.com/subgrouping.htm?cat=32295


  4. It’s been about 2 years since Scott took the shot of my with my Martin. Maybe when I am there in 2 weeks we can do Rick Part Duex with this cool lighting technique.

  5. I appreciate the detailed steps shown, and good to know even in that large room and using softboxes light still falls on background objects.  I have been using this “black out the background” technique more lately and could never get the background to completely disappear, but I guess that is an unrealistic goal short of being in the middle of a really large empty room.

    1. Hey Jason – It’s going to be especially difficult if your lights are aiming at the wall or objects behind the subject. The thing I had going for me in this case is that they were aiming in the direction of the camera rather than away from it.

      Glad you appreciated the post!

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