I ENJOY environmental portraiture…
… a face in a place. It gives me a chance to get out of the office and it gives the client an opportunity to tie their persona to the work they do.
Because of that, I almost never shoot on a flat backdrop unless there is a very specific reason for doing so. In this case, the factors were time, budget and style. And, I should mention the style sort of arose out of the time and budget.
So now what? You’re stuck in a situation that could lead to some fairly brand photos. The problem is how are we going to keep things looking elegant and modern while shooting on a flat, white background?
Well, I love shadows. Shadows instantly add depth. I was going to give the entire portrait a slightly under-exposed look, so I started by globally lowering my exposure by minus 1 ev to help bring the shadows to life. To do this, I expose properly, then dial down the exposure one stop. Then I tweak the back drop lights so I am getting pure white on the seamless, taking care so that no flare or wash is creeping in around the edges of our subject. This is backwards from most photographers who will expose for the background first (because it can be tricky) and then expose for their subject once they are on set. In my situation, however, I exposed subject and then background and went from there.
Lighting this turned out to be one of the most fun photographic exercises I have done in a long while. I had lights dedicated to the subject and some for the background, but I also had some lights that were both flagged for the background and diffused for the subject at the same time. By the end of this endeavor, I had 4 lights total lighting the scene.
The star of the show was the Einstein 640 studio light which continues to really impress me with all of its little tricks. I bought a small cyber commander which allows me to meter, adjust and shoot – all without ever touching the light. I know this isn’t new technology, but the Einsteins do it much better than even the much more expensive profoto and broncolor lights. Impressive indeed.
Here you can see an iPhone production shot of the set up we’re using. The camera is our older 5D Mark II, with the very cheap 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, which actually works great as a portrait lens. The large octobox houses our Einstein 640, the rest of the lights are AlienBees. We’re also using one canon 600ex-rt speedlite in a gridded strip box as a hair light. That light is triggered through a second wireless remote that runs out of the cameras sync cord connector. Yeah, it’s a bit of a Frankenstein, but it’s important to know that you can mix nearly any type of light on set to achieve the conditions you need.
Our Lighting Set-Up
Benjamin Lehman is a commercial photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.