Monday, January 16, 2012

Strobist Business Portrait

A few weeks ago, I was on assignment to shoot a business portrait of Ulrich Loechter, founder of the Loechter Company, a Munich-based business consultancy. I had another shoot going at the same place, so setup took me less than ten minutes including a few test shots featuring my own self.

I opted for a very simple, yet traditional three-point setup. Let´s look at it first:

Note: On the 40MZ, power setting go 1 - 2^ - 2 - 2_ - 4^ - 4 - 4_ ...256. This is the power equivalent in thirds of a stop. Thus, "4_ " means 2 1/3rd steps down from full power, "8" means 3 stops down. So the kicker was actually 2/3 of a stop stronger, more focused and hitting a silver reflector. A lot more punch than the key light! But remembering that we photogs usually shoot persons against the sun when outdoors, we find there´s nothing wrong about a strong kicker. Uh... ISO 20? I´m sorry, of course, I mean ISO 200!

A three-point setup consists of a main (key) light from the front of the person (not from the camera, but the person´s face!), a kicker light to give a nice edge from behind and a fill light that fills in shadows.
Although in outdoor photography, a fill light CAN come from the camera, in studio photography you would usually set it up so that it marks the right-angle-point in a right triangle with the two other lights. You may have noticed that I didn´t use a flash but a simple white reflector. It catches some light from either key and kicker light and throws it in the general direction of the person, giving a smooth and discrete fill for the shadows while retaining the beautiful structures of both face and clothing.
You will also have noted that I didn´t take care of lighting the wall! In the picture you will see that there is a slight blue shade in the top corner, but I didn´t bother. Should it not match the customer´s wishes, I´d clear that in Photoshop. Luckily, it did. Please note that this is a direct-from-camera-JPEG.

Ulrich Löchter,

I usually keep distances as follows: 1.8m from key to fill and 1.7m from fill to kicker. Kicker is as close to the wall and angled as steep as possible toward the subject (when you use an umbrella, you have to watch that the flash light does not spill onto the wall, giving an umbrella-shaped shadow and uneven background lighting). So you can copy my setup right away, maybe varying f-stop and ISO due to use of flashes different than mine. Flash zoom is key=35mm to fill the whole umbrella and kicker=50mm to keep the flash from spilling. The key light umbrella will take care of lighting the background wall. A softbox wouldn´t do that, because it´d be much closer to the subject and produce more concentrated light. There would be a shadow gradient on the wall, darkest to the upper left. One more thing that´s nice about this setup: The physical presence of the fill light keeps the kicker light from hitting your lens, reducing contrast and producing flare and sad customers. Keep that in mind: In order to get a good, clean photograph you want to avoid hard light sources hitting your front lens!

I like to use the smaller silver umbrella for kicker light, because being a smaller source, it produces harder light than a white umbrella would. Plus, it is my smallest umbrella so I don´t have that much trouble pushing it closer to the right frame border and keeping it out of the shot. In fact, you can use a bare bulb flash as a kicker light, it wouldn´t matter much. Kicker lights always come in hard, because they make a direct reflection on the subject´s skin and clothing. I just like to soften it a little in most cases.

For the second shot, I had him stand up and put his jacket on, just to have a variation that looks less casual and relaxed, but more like a reputable executive:

Look, Ma! Same light, different position.

The setup didn´t change a bit, but he stepped back a little. You can see that the shadow fill lost a lot of power. This happens when you increase the distance between subject and light. The light power drops exponentially. Your fill is the weakest light in this setup, thus loses first when your subject changes position. I liked the look of it, giving him an even stronger touch of sincerity. Thus, we kept it this way.

Here you can see what each light does:

Sorry for my hideous arrow drawing skills.

1 comment: