Simple setup for budding pros.

You saw my picture the other day. That was shot quickly, and I’ll explain how.

Here’s a very simple studio (or portable studio) setup for such quick portraits:

  • Two lights aimed either at a white wall behind you or into (or through) umbrellas. Both of these 45 degrees above, on either side. (45 degree high and 45 degrees left or right).
  • The main light (which is usually two stops above the other, fill, light) preferably through an umbrella; the fill light can reflect off an umbrella.
  • One light behind the subject aimed at the wall behind him or her, perhaps through a grid.
  • Optionally a hair light, perhaps using a snoot.
  • As a starting point, set your camera to manual mode, 1/125th second, f/5.6, at 100 ISO.
  • No flash on the camera, of course.
  • Check the histogram. Adjust aperture or light power accordingly.

For the shot here, we aimed both lights at the wall/ceiling: quicker than an umbrella and since here we did not need accurate pointing and shaping, it did fine.

When the histogram looks good, finally remember to get your subject to smile, as my colleague photographer Dani Valiquette did today, when I asked her to take a portrait for me. I don;t smile, except she made me.

And hey presto, one minute later you have a simple portrait.

You need to click and then view at original size to see exactly how sharp this is. Bright flashed pixes are sharp pixels.

Personally, I prefer the serious one, but I am told by many that I look less handsome when grumpy. Surely not?

This will be a common occurrence for you as a photographer: you like one shot, and the subject likes another – often the one you think is the inferior one. Get used to it and shoot both. Without giving up your artistic integrity, you can give the customer what they want.

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