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ALEX ORROW PHOTOGRAPHY // Commercial Photography » Latest Commission » Attention to detail – Lighting for an award portrait

Attention to detail – Lighting for an award portrait

The brief was simple, capture a striking portrait of a staff member with their award for leadership, for an internal company publication. The person in question worked across a department involved in creating maps from geological data. I settled on creating two different images. The first a simple headshot of the subject with award and the second a portrait involving other staff members and some action. For the purposes of this post I am using the example of the basic headshot portrait with award to show how using lighting and background can create an effective and engaging image, of what is usually a fairly standard shot of someone holding an award.

With this type of assignment it is preferable to be able set up without causing to much disruption and to be able to do this quickly, especially if planning multiple shots. As such I travelled light for this assignment I had with me x3 SB800 flash guns, x 2 stands, 1 softbox brolly, 1 translucent brolly

For the first shot, the headshot I new I needed a background which I could either blur using a long focus lens wide open to isolate the subject or I could create a backdrop which was tied in a little more to the story of where the subject worked and could also serve as a background to the second shot involving some action. After a quick scout of the open plan office I settled on the option to create a colourful and striking backdrop using the many maps found in the office. The map we selected was pinned up over other maps already covering the wall to create a large area of map and colour which would provide a large enough background to fill the frame.

I made sure that the space I was going to use would provide enough depth to allow me to light for both the background and the subject as well as allowing me to throw the background out of focus slightly. I set up 2 lights on stands one with the Softbox and the other with a shoot through brolly. The softbox was placed high and close to the subject on camera left so that light would fall on background, as well as creating quite hard shadows on the subjects face. I took the first test shot to see how this looked.

Award Portrait for internal publication - lighting test
Award Portrait for internal publication - lighting test

This has created quite a punchy image, but I felt that the shadow created on the subject’s left side was little dark and needed fill. I also noticed the background seemed a little dull. To overcome these issues, I placed a light with shoot through brolly on camera right, close to my position and high. For the background I placed a 3rd light on a box low down behind the subject on camera right. I left this third flash bare without a gel or any light modifier. The other 2 had green and orange gels, the purpose of which was to match the flash light with the white balance setting on camera and the ambient overhead flourcesnt of the office and also contrast with the bare background light. Shooting with my chosen white balance setting with the bare SB800 meant the background took on a subtle bluish colour. After some tweaking by aiming the light away from the background slightly the light fall off was enough not to be distracting and gave the maps more life.

Award Portrait for internal publication - Final shot
Award Portrait for internal publication - Final shot
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