The One Minute Portrait

Today, my friend Steve at the car dealership asked me to do a quick headshot snap of his managing director.

No time to think: right now!

Never to be one to shy away from a challenge, I quickly did the following:

  1. Move to the available backdrop with corporate logo.
  2. I used my Canon 1Ds MkIII with a fast prime lens, the Canon 50mm f/1.2L.
  3. Quickly, as we walked to the backdrop I put a flash on it: a 580EX II speedlight.
  4. Looking around, I saw a white ceiling above me so I knew I could bounce the flash off that ceiling.
  5. I ensured I bounced the flash 45 degrees up behind me, so that the light would come from “in front” of the subject. At a slight angle to my left, so as to aim light onto his face straight on from a 45 degree up-angle. Now this is important. If I had aimed up, or even worse, in front of me (a classical beginner’s mistake!), then this gentleman would have had raccoon eyes, reflective glasses, and a shiny head. If I had aimed straight behind me I would have had “broad lighting”: also not what I wanted.
  6. To mix a bit of ambient light, I set my camera to manual, and selected 1/100th second at f/2.2 at 100 ISO. I did a test shot.
  7. I found that this mixed too many different colours for my liking (flash and tungsten and fluorescent), so I decided to go “flash only”. To do that, I selected 1/250th second at f/4.0 at 100 ISO. That made sure no ambient light took part: the light was all flash. The open aperture at f/4.0 gives me that beautiful bokeh: the creamy softness of the background.
  8. I used TTL (through-the-lens automatic) flash metering, and in view of the white background, I selected a flash exposure compensation (“FEC”) setting of +1 stop.
  9. I positioned the subject at a slight angle.
  10. Now I did my second shot. Checked it on the back. Bingo, all good. Catchlight, check. Sharp, check. Exposure, check. Loved it. Took a few more just for safety’s sake.

That is ten steps in less than one minute. As an event and news photographer, I have to be quick. “Hang on while I think” is never acceptable when photographing executives.

The result is below, and I think you will agree it is a shot that, especially when you click through to see it at original size (you like sharp? I give you sharp!) cannot easily be distinguished from a studio shot.(I really encourage you to click though a few times until you have the full size pic, then view it at full size).

Managing Director Mark LeRoeye

Managing Director Mark LeRoeye

All that in one minute!

If I had had time? I might have tried softboxes, a longer lens, and even more different angles. But I would have produced roughly the same. As a photographer, I need to be able to think on my feet. As you will have to – so my advice: practice a lot, until these things become automatic.

Just like in flying airplanes, where engine failure automatically results in the pilot going through a sequence like “trim up – turn with wind – look for field – check fuel switch – check primer locked – check main switch on – mags left/both/right/both – carb heat on – mixture rich – check oil T&P – check fuel sufficient – line up – use flaps if needed – brief passengers – radio mayday – main switch off”. No more complex, and no less complex, than what I did for this shot.

Practice makes perfect, they say. In photography, practice makes consistent.

4 thoughts on “The One Minute Portrait

  1. I asked Michael to Take a Picture of Mark as he was Leaving , actually it took him 30 Seconds to set up his gear as he walked from my desk to the Backdrop! Total time for Taking about 6 Pictures was about 3 Minutes….Amazing!!! The showroom is Difficult… Fluorescent Lights under the Low Ceiling..about 30 Large Tungsten Lights From the Ceiling in the Main Showroom Bathing Everything and Natural Sunlight Streaming in through Blue Filtered Main Windows…Cannot Believe the Final Result…I know how hard it is in there to get proper skin tone with no reflections! I have seen Pros with Studio lights and not even close to your result!!!
    I Appreciate it…and I am sure Mark will once he compares some of his other Pics…

    The Best Part??? I got a Hands on Lesson 🙂

    • Thanks for the confidence vote, Steve. Taking quick headshots is indeed not easy and I can well imagine the problems the other pros had. Fortunately, I am indeed experienced in quick event shooting as well as in lighting – see the title of this blog of course – and the two is what I needed here. Fun to shoot!

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