Building the light

From the shadows come…

I have been working on a “headshot” project for a large company over the past month or so. I put headshot in quotes because they are using a wider view than a typical headshot. I am actually coming in late on the project. It started with one photographer traveling around the country to do the bulk of the photos (around 600 individuals). After that sprint they are finishing up with local photographers around the country to photograph new hires and do re-takes on some of the originals. That’s where I came into the project to finish up the Seattle office photos. As there were already more than 500 headshots done, I had to match the lighting from the previous photographer.


I was given a rough lighting diagram, seen here, of the five light setup and a few example photos to reference. But I still had to build up the light with the equipment I had available. And here I want to show what went into the build.

There are a few ways to build a lighting setup. Some photographers start with the fill light and build up from there. I like to start with my key light and add the fill and accent lights onto that. So, with that in mind, here we go…

s1 main light

I started with an Interfit Photographic S1 strobe in a Deep Zoom Reflector with a 40-degree grid coming in from camera left. The grid is being used to restrict the light on the subject so it doesn’t hit the background and cause a shadow on the right side of the frame.


The next light is an Interfit Honey Badger in a 7-inch metal dish reflector with a 10-degree grid. This light is placed directly over the lens and is concentrated on the subject’s face. Again, the grid is used to contain the light and not affect the background too much. I had a number of concerns about this light as I was sure that some subjects would be wearing eyeglasses. But with a little bit of angling the direction of their faces, it did not end up being an issue.


The third light in the mix is a 60-inch octa powered by another Honey Badger. This light is directly behind the camera, giving an overall fill and providing a base for the shadows. It doesn’t look like much on its own, but in the overall final image it becomes important.


The fourth light is from another Honey Badger pointed into a 60-inch Photek Softlighter without the diffuser (basically a large umbrella) from camera left to bring out the color of the background and to provide a space for the employee biography that appears with their photograph.


The final light in the setup is another Honey Badger in a 1x3 strip box with a grid. It is set up on a boom arm coming over the top of the roll of seamless paper. It is there to give a tiny bit of separation between the subject’s head and the background.


And finally, all the lights combined for the final image to be delivered. All of the power settings on the lights remained the same from the individuals to them all combined. I found it enlightening to see how they all came together in the final image after looking at how dark most of them were on their own.


Here is what the final setup looked like. The background is Savage Ultramarine seamless paper. About half of the photos were made on this color, and the remaining were photographed on Savage Slate Gray.

The yellow dot on the small extension arm is a tennis ball to make the arm more visible so a klutzy photographer doesn’t walk into it. The client specs called for all persons to be seated on an apple box. The second apple and the foot stool are there to position the feet and legs in different ways to give some variety to the photos.