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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre People Talk 
Thread started 31 Oct 2017 (Tuesday) 13:02
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First time work portraits

169 posts
Likes: 2
Joined Feb 2009
Location: Sarasota, Florida
Oct 31, 2017 13:02 |  #1

Hi Everyone!

I am so sorry to ask such a general question. I have been a member of the forum for many years, read tons of posts, accumulated a boat load of gear, but now I'm getting thrown into something outside my comfort level.

My work (veterinary hospital) knows I enjoy photography (wildlife and landscapes and taking snapshots of my kids) so they want me to take the portraits for the staff and for the website and business cards. I've studied backdrops and lighting, and focal lengths, and posing, but still have a ton of anxiety that I'm gonna do a crap job.

I really like the look of the Peter Hurley headshots, but of course don't have $5500 Westcott lighting.

What would be the ideal setup for a standard headshot? Subject 5 feet+ from the backdrop, lighting from one side through an umbrella at head level, 45 degrees from the subject, with a reflector on the opposite side, and possibly a reflector under the subject. Shooting at f4, with a low ISO. I'd try the 85-200mm focal length.

Anything else I'm missing? Sorry to be so general and vague. I'm assuming I should set up everything beforehand and try on a test subject and adjust as needed.

What kind of lighting setup does everyone else use, if not the Peter Hurley style?


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Cream of the Crop
5,473 posts
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Joined Dec 2010
Oct 31, 2017 15:44 |  #2

A quick Google Images search shows that Peter Hurley style headshots are pretty simple lighting with a blown-out white background. This isn't too hard to accomplish with simple lighting gear; Speedlights will be fine. Some thoughts:

1) You need a little room to work, with length being way more important than width. A little room to set up the backdrop, room to place your lights in such a way that they hit only what you want, and most importantly, room to get distance between the background->subject->camera. 85-200mm is a good starting point - it lets you get a good headshot without having a huge background. If you're setting up in the hospital, you'll likely have to just make do with whatever space you can get, so be prepared to be flexible.

2) For the background, get a roll of white seamless paper and backdrop stands to support it. The 107" is a lot easier for posing subjects if you can leave it permanently mounted somewhere, and roll it out as needed. The 53" is much much easier to carry around and set up and manage.
https://savageuniversa​ …ight-seamless-paper-size/ (external link)

3) Light the subject with one 580EXII in a softbox or brolly-box style umbrella. Throw in some reflectors for fill, if you need them. If you're in a room with a low white ceiling or close white walls, light will be bouncing around everywhere and you won't need extra gear for fill. If you're in a big auditorium, or somewhere else that the room doesn't provide bounce-fill, you will need a fill light and/or one or two or three reflectors.
3a) Position the main light so that the bottom edge of the modifier is about nose-height or chin-height, a little off to one side or directly above the lens axis. A boom helps a lot. If the light is too low, your shadows won't go where you want them. Look at the catchlights in Hurley's headshots and you can see exactly where the main light and reflectors were located.

4) Use your two 430EXIIs to light the background from either side. Direct them so the hotspots overlap a little bit. Set the power level so it's just barely above clipping when all the lights are on. Use a light meter if you want to buy extra gear, or turn on Highlight Alert (the blinkies) on the camera while doing your setup so you can see exactly where you're blowing out.
4a. OR, you can blow out the background with one speedlight right behind the subject, if you just need head-and-shoulders. …of-exposure-verification/ (external link)

Here's an example of a 3-speedlight setup with the last little bit of a 53" white paper roll as a backdrop. I was shooting the cast of my variety troupe, and expected to have a studio space, but the studio became unavailable at the last minute before the shoot. So we set up in the living room of one of the performers.

Setup/BTS: The background lights are on the mantel to the left and on a lightstand to the right. The main light is in a 42" brolly-box style umbrella on a lightstand. The subject would stand at the edge of the area rug (about 6-8' in front of the backdrop and about 2' away from the main light), and I would shoot through a doorway from the other room - this gave me the required distance and perspective to be able to use a tiny backdrop. (note that the subject is not in shooting position in this BTS shot)

IMAGE LINK:​TD  (external link) Moxie_20141005_30201.j​pg (external link) by Nathan Carter (external link), on Flickr

Results. Since I had only the main light and no reflectors, the lighting on the subjects' faces is a little more contrasty and shadowy than the Peter Hurley examples. Throw in those three reflectors and you've got the lighting that you're looking for - but that's a bunch of extra grip gear to set up.

I probably used Photoshop to extend the top of the background just a little bit in this one. The tape that was visible on the paper in the BTS shot was completely gone in the in-camera results, though.

IMAGE LINK:​2U  (external link) Moxie_20141005_30187.j​pg (external link) by Nathan Carter (external link), on Flickr

In this one you can observe the single catchlight for the positioning of the main light.

IMAGE LINK:​TK  (external link) Moxie_20141005_30589.j​pg (external link) by Nathan Carter (external link), on Flickr

I like this one, white on white, because it reminds us to not chase the hill-shaped histogram:

IMAGE LINK:​wx  (external link) Moxie_20141005_30359.j​pg (external link) by Nathan Carter (external link), on Flickr

http://www.avidchick.c​om (external link) for business stuff​m/VictorVoyeur (external link) for fun stuff

Cream of the Crop
18,959 posts
Likes: 1112
Joined Nov 2007
Location: Bay Area, CA
Oct 31, 2017 22:17 |  #3

I will suggest moving your subject closer to the bg. You can even put foamcore v-flat right behind them. No need to light the bg separately. Softbox on top center and reflector underneath will give you nice start. Can add strip boxes on sides if you have.




Since the bg is quite far, it is darker. I should have moved right behind her. You can also put two v-flats to make a box with three sides and then use one light on camera axis.

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Fuji XT-1, 14mm f2.8, 23mm f1.4, 35mm f1.4, 56mm f1.2, 90mm f2, 50-140mm f2.8

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First time work portraits
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