Friday, 17 January 2014

Backlight your headshots by shooting a flash through the backdrop

Along with the umbrellas, lightstands, and other whatnots, I am always carrying a bed sheet in my portable studio bag. I have written two articles on how to use the bed sheet to create a backlit silhouette, and how to use it in combination with a front light to create a film noir type high contrast image.

The bed sheet setup is the same as in the other two articles. As before, I ensure that the light hitting the bed sheet is spread very evenly by first shooting it through an umbrella.

The key light is also a shoot through umbrella. If you imagine the subject standing in the middle of a clock face and the camera being at 6 o'clock, the umbrella will be at 7:30. It is a bit higher than my head, and angled down.

I used an 85 mm lens, and had the camera mounted quite high. I shot at 1/80s, f/8.

A good headshot is about more than placing the lights and setting the camera. Shooting someone with glasses can be tricky. You want the subject to angle his head so that wrinkles on the neck are minimized.

Peter Hurley recommends doing that by "putting the forehead forwards", which is what I did in the shot above. When you do that, you have to take care so that the frames of the glasses don't cover the eyes. As you can see, I'm cutting it close in the shot above.

If you put the subject very close to the bed sheet, or large softbox if you prefer to use more expensive gear, you will get a wrap-around effect from the light. Photons move in straight lines of course, but some of them will move from the edge of the bed sheet at an angle such that they hit the side of the head and the upper part of the front side of the shoulders.

To help light the face evenly, I use two reflectors. The first reflector is a triangular silver reflector held at chest level, just out of frame. The second reflector is the white door on the subject's left side.

You work with what you have got. If there hadn't been a door there, I could have used a large piece of white paper, or a third flash on a low power setting.

The same subject, bed sheet and doorway as in the headshot. Everything else is different though.
I am continuously amazed by how you can deliberately create entirely diferent photos, and tell different stories, by changing the light, shooting angle, lens, posture and clothing.

As a photographer, I want to do it all. While you can certainly become very good at something if you specialize, you need to do a lot of different things if you want to be truly creative.

Now, it's time to shoot again.