Backgrounds and sharpness and white balance: oh my!

I thought I would chat about some of the things that go through my mind when doing a portrait, like this one last night:

Questions like:

  • What camera and lens? In this case, the Canon 7D and a 50mm f/1.4 lens.
  • What settings? Well, manual at 100 ISO, 1/125th second, f/5.6 is my standard start point, as it was here.
  • What lighting setup? In this case, a standard two main lights (softbox main light on camera left, umbrella fill light on camera right) with a snooted hair light behind left, and a gridded gelled background light. Note that while the main lights were monolights, the background light was a small speedlite fired by a pocketwizard through a Flashzebra hotshoe cable.
  • What lighting ratio? In this case pretty flat, but usually more like a 3:1 key:fill ratio.
  • What body position? Usually angled, in this case toward the softbox.
  • What head position? In this case, straight on since the subject wanted it that way.
  • What colour background? In this case I used a blue-green gel from the new Honl Photo “Autumn” colour gel set.
  • What viewpoint? I carefully choose this by moving myself left and right, up and down, until the person looks best to me for the portrait wanted. If in doubt, I take multiple views and choose later.
  • What white balance? I set it to “Flash”, even when shooting RAW, just so I get OK views on the back of the camera.

That’s all there is to a quick snap like this, which took a few minutes – if that.

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