Did some portraits in my garage this weekend with the lovely Symotris. (Great name, huh?!)
Even though it was 175 thousand degrees in my garage and we were surrounded by tools and bikes instead of being at some fancy art-directed location, I was super excited about this set up, as I love environmental portraiture. It’s tied with sports / adventure as my favorite thing to shoot. And you know what? I think it looked dope in there. I wanted to create a sort of cabin-ish, cozy & warm set up. To get that vibe I gelled all the strobes w orange to mimic the soft glow from the string lights and lamp. For wardrobe we picked a warm sweater that would contrast nicely with her complexion and dark hair, and I felt the white pants would play well with “Dudley” the goat and the white rug.
On a technical level, the main challenge of portraits like these is making sure not to overpower the lamp and string lights with high powered strobes, which is very easy to do if you’re not careful. That sweet lamp and the string lights are crucial to telling the story, so I exposed for those first before adding strobes as my base camera settings.
In terms of lighting, like most portraits, (and most photography I’m learning), to some degree it’s subjective and could have been lit a bunch of different ways, but this is the set up I settled on. Not because I’m an expert by any means, but because it’s what seemed in-line with my vision.
Main light: 20 deg gridded beauty dish, gelled with a combination of orange & yellow gels to make everything nice and warm. I felt using a grid to narrow the beam and focus the strobe on the model and not the entire scene would help not over-power the ambient light, especially since I would be adding a fill. I positioned it far to the left side, to essentially mimic the light from the lamp.
I used a 60″ Octobox set to the lowest power setting to add just a hint of fill on the opposite side of the model, but mostly to fill the whole scene with just a splash of light so things aren’t overly dark.
I also used a golden reflector to bounce light from the beauty dish to help fill the opposite side of her face. This actually turned out to be really important, because I still wanted nice shadows and I suspect that a strobe might have been to intense. The reflector was a nice and subtle way to add some fill while retaining shadows.
Here is me doing my thing:
And here are the portraits:
For the below shots I used a Canon 50mm 1.2 L with an ND filter to knock down the exposure 3 steps, allowing me to shoot around 1.8 – 2.0 without High Speed Sync. (I also like the NDs, especially outside, because by default it kinda knocks the highlights down a bit. I dig that look).
For the wide, I used a Canon 24-70 L2 at F8 I believe.
I rarely do this anymore, but since these images had a slight hip, vintage feel to them I used a VSCO film plug-in while post processing. I warmed them up a smidge and de-saturated them a bit.
We also took a couple of minutes to get some simple, one light portraits. It was a nice reminder of how great a portrait can look with just one light and nothing else if the subject is interesting. I dig these soft, quiet portraits.
So yeah. That’s the technical stuff, but I guess none of that matters if you can’t connect with your subject and capture some kind of personality, emotion, or performance.
Ryan Phillips is a freelance photographer based out of St Louis, MO, and a founding member of the internationally known rock band Story of the Year.