A Simple Portrait by Tomas Jansson

A Simple Portrait by Tomas Jansson



This portrait of a young man was shot by Tomas Jansson, Norway.



Tomas used a softlighter umbrella (a bounced position umbrella with a diffusion screen over the front) for his main light, and a silver reflector for a secondary light source from camera left. This very specular ‘fill’ added some extra shine to the subject’s arm and shadow side of the face.

By keeping the silver card at an oblique angle to the subject, Tomas was able to control the fall of the specular along the arm and (camera) left side of the face. The softlighter also provided some wonderful light to the book case behind the subject, giving the impression of more ambient lighting in the set. Notice the fall off in the setup shot. Also notice how far away the subject is from the background – far enough to keep the light from being blocked by him, and creating a shadow. This also enhances the feeling of more ambient light.


Simple lighting can sometimes do double duty. Providing not only the main light, but also a sense of more ambient. Shiny reflectors create a sense of a secondary light source since they are specular in presentation.


Using a medium to large umbrella, with or without diffusion, create a shot where the umbrella provides not only the main light, but the ambient behind the subject as well.


Photographer Julie Clegg, Seattle.



A main light softbox from slightly to camera left provides the overall illumination. Julie added a fill card to camera right, and it is just out of frame. Directly behind the center fireman there is a gridded spot to add very sharp edges to the subjects. The ambient lights of the firehouse were turned on full, and they even fired up the “emergency lights” on top of the firetruck for the shot.

The result is a dramatic portrayal of a local fire station. Julie used a 16-35MM lens on her Canon to get a bit of a wide angle look (somewhere around 30MM on a FF body). The slightly lowered angle of the lens allowed her to include the emergency lights and get a feel for the ambient area around the truck.


Use light to sculpt and add drama where appropriate. The angle of the camera can have a tremendous effect on the overall feeling of the image, as well as include areas that can be more (or less) interesting. Attention to detail is very important.


Use a second light to sculpt the edges of a portrait. From behind the subject try an unmodified or snooted  or grid-spotted single light. Note the different characteristics of each of these modifiers… they are all different in presentation.

One Light Glamour

Photographer Alicia Bonaterre (Trinidad)


For this shot, Alicia used a single strobe in a dish reflector from slightly to the left of her camera. The hard light provides a wonderful highlight on the models legs and sculpts her form well. Using a single hard light is not the easiest tool to work with. Hard lights can throw shadows from areas that are problematic (nose, lips, arms) but Alicia managed that well with a perfect pose, and the head position coming toward the flash direction. The angle of the face, being closely aligned with the flash creates a very small shadow from the nose, and wonderfully modeled cheeks.


Careful placement of the hard light, as well as attention tot he pose can create a dramatic fashion portrait. Not all light has to be soft.


Shoot a one light, hard light portrait and pay careful attention to the placement of the light and the shadows that are created by it.

Small nose shadows can be OK in fashion/glamour, but watch out for arms and hands and strange areas of darkness that can fall across areas of the subject.

Two Photographs by Sheila Morgan

Two Photographs by Sheila Morgan

Sheila Morgan is a photographer that I worked with in the Bay Area on a One-on-One consultation. Her lighting skills needed a bit of a clean up and we spent a day in the studio and a day on location working on various lighting challenges. I really enjoy the one one one experiences, and for those of you who receive the newsletter, you have read what Sheila thought of it as well.

In this shot, she used lighting and Photoshop together to make an image that would have required more gear than she had on this trip. In addition it would have necessitated a setup that would have been quite difficult to do with the wind gusts.

We used a very simple technique to blend the non-problem areas with the areas that had the light and bright fall off.

This is a video of how it was done.

Photograph by Sheila Morgan

Photograph by Sheila Morgan

The Photograph was taken a little bit north of Santa Cruz, CA on Highway 1. There is no Photoshop on this image other than what you see in the video. Sheila may introduce some other post-processing, but for this article it is SOOC.

Bri in color on the beach

Photograph by Sheila Morgan (click to enlarge)

This photo was taken a few miles north at a beach we found right after the trees shot above. It was cold… no, I mean it was really cold… but we ventured on anyway.

We knew the speedlight was going to be a problem because in this wind, the tripod mounted camera would still be moving. We set up the “big gun” Profoto 300’s with a beauty dish and headed on out to this wonderful little ‘fort’ built out of driftwood. This was quite spectacularly created and the wood was extremely heavy.

We had a wonderfully subtle, but active sky and Sheila wanted to show that off. She began making her exposures based on the Sunny 16 Rule and settled on f-18 at 1/100 of a second at ISO 100. This effectively lowered the ambient about 2/3 to a stop. The sun was coming through a thin layer of clouds which was bringing down the direct sun by about a third every now and then. Sheila wanted Briana and the colors to stand out.

She based the exposure on the ambient being darker than the flash. The beauty dish was brought in to the correct distance and power for f-18 (what, you think I don’t have a rope-meter for myself?) and Sheila began shooting.

Note how she placed the sun to camera left, and slightly behind Bri to cast shadows forward and show the texture of the driftwood. The slight underexposure resulted in the sand not being as ‘hot’ as it was and muting slightly the sky and clouds. As before, this shot is straight out of camera but for a small piece of wood that was coming out from behind Briana’s head. We knew we had to take it out when she shot it,  but it was impossible to move and keep Bri in this perfect composition.

The beauty dish is right out of frame to camera right and at the same angle as the sun from the opposing side. I kept the angle of the BD straight up and down as well, as I didn’t want the shadow Bri was casting to be opened up with that tell-tale flash look.

Briana was quite the trooper for this shot as we were all freezing and Sheila and I were wearing coats.

I think Sheila and Bri did a great job on these two shots, and a big shout out to Shiela for letting me use them in this article.

More coming on this image deconstruction thing here on Lighting Essentials.

See more of Sheila’s work at her website.

Questions? Comments?

Use the comment section below.


Anatomy of a Shoot in the Middle of Nowhere…

Anatomy of a Shoot in the Middle of Nowhere…

“Well, ya’ll could ride with me if you want…”

He was walking toward us from his pickup truck in the cold, early morning light of Florence, Arizona. Wide brimmed cowboy hat and real cowboy boots. And he was all smiles.

Florence is a very small town southeast of Phoenix, and also the home of our state prison. We were standing in front of a little market that was preparing to open. “We” were myself, Jon Gabriel, art director and marketing guy for the Goldwater Institute, and Bob Dunn, Arizona rancher.

We were out to make a photograph of him and a fellow rancher that had just completed a 10 year study on land use and the Desert Tortoise. It had started with a problem and they had worked tirelessly to the end… a good end for them.

And the desert tortoises of Central Arizona.

“It isn’t that far from Florence, but it there is some dirt road,” Bob smiled as he shook my hand.

It was cold and cloudy, but I declined. I had a lot of gear in the car and if it did rain, it could be a problem in the back of his pickup truck.

We followed Bob out along a small paved road for about 20 miles before we turned south on a wide, paved, semi-washboarded road. Directly in front of us was a mountain range and directly over it were some very ominous clouds.

I was thinking we would turn in at each ranch we came to, but we kept on chugging up that road… farther and farther into the desert.

No bars. Yep, we were without cell phones and the storm clouds had mustered up quite a rain for us. It poured like crazy and we slowed to about 30 mph as we bounced over washboards and flew through running creek beds.

We didn’t have to suffer the rain long though.

It quickly turned to snow.

Yes… snow in the Arizona Desert. I mentioned that it was pretty cold, right?

The “bit of dirt road” turned into about 50 miles of dirt road. Hard, dirt road. I was beginning to think it would have been wise to check the gas tank before heading out this far into nowhere, but I figured they would have some gas at the ranch if I needed it.

I don’t know why I thought that, it just felt good to think about as we were without cell phones on a now tiny dirt road way far into the desert in a snow storm.

Finally we headed up a hill and around the bend into a wonderfully grand house in the middle of a rustic, working cattle ranch. We were greeted with an astonished… “You drove THAT all the way up here?”

I guess PT Cruisers were not the choice of ranches where the roads were less than hospitable. Who knew?

(As to why I am driving a PT Cruiser… it is a long and painful story.)

We were invited in for lunch and to wait out the misting snow and rain, and we met some of the nicest, and smartest, folks around. There were a lot of PHD’s in that room of ranchers. More than one each. Land Management, Sustainable Ranching, Land Use and Water Rights…

As I said, some really smart guys.

As fast as it came in, the rain dissipated and we headed outside for the shoot.

We had chewed up about an hour waiting for the rain to subside and both of the guys wanted to get back to work.

I grabbed my two bags, one camera bag and my Standbagger Grab-n-Go with two speedlights, two stands, a mini boom, two umbrellas and a set of triggers. In the car was my Profoto kit with an extra battery, four stands, a larger boom, some modifiers and two additional sets of triggers.

Camera wise, it is the same kit I carry for nearly every shoot. Canons, an assortment of lenses from 20MM – 200MM and my Minolta Meter.

I set the gear up on the porch and moved it to the very saturated grass as I built the lighting. I used a couple of speedlights on a boom, and radio triggers to fire them.

Radio triggers that didn’t seem to want to cooperate in the still misting air.

A quick trip to the car for my backup kit, and we were up and ready for that first test shot.

“Thanks” they said and started to walk off.

We said we were coming up to do a picture of them and I just did one.

Ranchers near Superior, Arizona, 2012

This was from the first set of images we did on the little bluff. Behind them and out of sight was the stables area, and I loved the clearing storm clouds for the backdrop.

We explained that I will probably do several more shots and I got the sneaking suspicion that they then figured I must be new if I have to take more than one.

Sometimes I feel the same way.

I did a shot of Bob and Walt (Meyer) on a little spit of land overlooking his stables and then I realized that this big ol’ tree was just the thing I needed to give the image a bit more context.

Still using the speedlights, we got them under the tree and relaxed, talking about the land and the great weather we were having. Right on cue, the dog joined us. We also included Walt’s daughter, Katie Cline in this shot as she was a big part of the study.

I got six shots, and the shoot was over.

“Got lots to do…”

I was shooting to a square format, as the original designs were to be square. A change in design meant a change in the imagery, but that was not a problem. I shot with some room around the subjects to give the art director some wiggle room with the images.

Here is the image as was used in the 2011 Goldwater Institute Annual Report.

Goldwater Institute Annual Report Photograph by Don Giannatti

And here is the original image as shot.
Goldwater Institute Annual Report Photograph by Don Giannatti - no crop

Sometimes you get all the time you need to shoot, and other times you better be prepared for not having much time at all. This was unique as after driving for nearly two and a half hours, I would have expected to have a bit more time. But that was not the case. The storm had eaten into my shoot time, and now it was down to a matter of a few minutes.

In the end we got nearly 30 shots total – including the test shots. There were so many places and ideas that I had wanted to do that it was a bit disappointing that I couldn’t keep shooting.

The final shot looked pretty good, and the client liked it a lot. So I count this as a successful shoot. This was one of six portraits we shot for the annual report, and all of them were unique in their own way. I may share some of those stories as well.

I really enjoyed this shoot, and working with Jon was a blast. We made it out of the mountains and to a gas station with no problem and by the time we were back in Phoenix there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.


I was recently on creativeLIVE and have received some rave reviews of the workshop. If you are interested in taking a look at the workshop, you can find it on creativeLIVE’s web site here. I think it is a tremendous value and if you are unable to attend any of my workshops, this may give you a ton of information you will want to have to push your photography to the next level.