Setting up a basic portrait shot

kerry.jpgSetting up a basic portrait needn’t be that difficult. With a few key placements of some lights and reflectors, some great results can be obtained. For this basic setup, we used the Lowel Omni light to hit the back of the head and the hair, the Dynaphos light with a shoot-thru umbrella for the key light, and reflector to ease up the shadows, and a flash for some simple fill.

Let’s dissect the entire setup and see how it was done.

The most common mistake in doing a portrait is to use an on-camera flash. While an on-camera flash will illuminate a subject well, the direct head-on light will wash out all the shadows making the face look flat. So our first rule is to have the key light off to the side of the subject’s face.

port_setup.jpgTo start off we setup the Dynaphos light with a 1000w bulb off to the subject’s right side. Note the lines indicating the direction of the light.

With just the key light, you will get very harsh shadows so the reflector was placed off to the left to reflect some of the light back up at an opposing angle. With a dark background, it is very easy to lose the hair detail into the background. To solve this we took the Lowel Omni light and raised it up pointing down on the back of the head to bring out some hair detail.

Now, the second mistake is stopping here thinking you have enough light on the subject, however, when you fire off a shot you will notice a lot of shadows around the eyes, in the setup, the subject’s left eye does not really have any light source working on it. For the final setup, we attached the Olympus FL-50 flash to the E-500 body with a Gary Fong Lightsphere diffuser on it. Shooting from about 8 feet away and using the Lightsphere pointed straight up we probably toned the flash down by at least a stop. This gave just enough light to take out the last of the harsh shadows.

Finally a few touches in Photoshop to add some effect to what we were aiming for, and we ended up with a fairly nice photo.

Happy Shooting


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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