Portrait by Kirk Tuck.

"Sometimes, Soft is a Good Thing."

Wright Bros Dairy Truck, by Kirk Tuck

When I walk around with my camera I like to photograph the silly topical things I see, like this food trailer/truck just off 3rd St. When the food trailer fad fades it will be a nice reminder of what downtown Austin used to offer. I also like double entendres. 

Nex 6. 50mm. 

How do I light headshots on Wednesday, May 29th? (Caveat: I change it up all the time...).

Kirk Tuck, Self Portrait. 2013

I was lighting a portrait today in my little West Austin studio and the photographs of the attorney would was my subject this morning turned out very well. They're not great art, they are good, straightforward headshots that he'll use in his business. I wanted to write about today's session because I used a mix of lights and modifiers that aren't necessarily mainstream. I didn't use monolight flashes or battery powered flashes. I didn't use softboxes or umbrellas. But I'm happy with the colors and the results I was able to get.

The image above is to give you a general idea of how the lighting worked out. No big deal. I used the smile detection automatic function (glorified, semi-intelligent, interactive self-timer) in my Sony a99 in order to get the camera to fire for this test. I had a different, more glowering expression in mind but this was as close a compromise to a "slight smile" that the camera would accept.... For a client portrait this would be step one of three or four steps of retouching and post processing. I wasn't paying myself so I decided I didn't deserve the extra steps. :-)   (humor implied--note added for the linear thinkers).

My lighting for this set up consisted of three lights, one reflector and one diffusion panel. (You can click on any of the images in the blog to see them larger).

Kirk's basic headshot lighting setup.

I started with a gray background at the far end of the studio and a Sony a99 with a 70-200mm f2.8 G lens on the other. I figured out how far I wanted the subject from the background and I set my posing stool there. Then I back away until I got the right head size at around a 100mm focal length. That's the basic starting strategy for me. Once I know where my subject will be in relation to the background I can set up my main light.

Fotodiox Day-Flo Max DF-1500 Fluorescent.

I really like the light I'm getting out of the new generation of fluorescent fixtures. The one above, the one I'm using for my main light, is a six tube version that belts out a lot of power. Today I was running it with only two of the three banks engaged since that was all I needed to get a base exposure of 1/60th of a second shutter speed and f4 @ ISO 320. The light is being diffused by a Chimera ENG panel outfitted with a one stop diffusion sheet.  I'm pretty old fashioned. I set the light by looking for a little triangle of light on the subject's far cheek from the light. I don't want the triangle to exend much below the subject's nose and I want a small shadow under the nose as well. I've probably been to conservative with my light direction lately and should move the main light further off axis to create some bolder shadows. But then, we are all creatures of such habit.

Kirk Tuck's easy fill light...
My preference is to always use a passive fill. That basically means that I don't use a separate light fixture to fill in the shadow side of the face, I use a white card, or in this case a white fabric panel on a frame to bounce light from the main light into the shadow side of my subjects faces. The one above is a Westcott Fast Flag frame and fabric. I like them because they fold down small. I am able to quickly move the "flag" in toward the subject or back away from them in order to control the amount of fill and hence the amount of contrast.

Kirk Tuck's Portrait Lighting Set-up from the side.

Please note that even in the controlled environment of my own studio that the main light and the diffuser in front of it are both anchored with sand bags for the safety of my studio guests. If you are using heavy lights and metal frames yours should be anchored as well..."a gram of prevention.."

Kirk Tuck's Net Covered Hairlight.

I used a second light in the set up to backlight my subject. He was wearing a dark jacket and I didn't want him to merge with the gray background, especially if I decide to add a bit of vignetting in post production. I used the smallest of the Fotodiox lights which features one bank of two tubes. There's no dimmer on these units so we dim them in the traditional film school fashion by adding "nets" to the then. In the example above I'm using a two stop net from my 4x4 foot Chimera ENG panel kit to make the backlight more subdued and rational. Set you backlit in the right place after you get your subject settled.

A close up of Kirk Tuck's "Net Technique."

The use of panels and diffusers, reflectors and nets gives me a lot of flexibility when it comes to fine tuning light. But not everything in the studio is given over to fluorescents. I'm using one of the best LED lights on the market today as my background light. It's the Fiilex P360 and I wish I had the budget to buy a box full of these guys. I'm using the fixture with a Broncolor grid to give me a centralized spot of light on the background but with soft edges. Almost light what you might get with a fresnel spot light spotted in tight.

Kirk Tuck's amazing Fiilex P360 LED light with grid and C44.

Why do I like this light so much? Well, it's very, very bright, small and handy, kicks out nice, direct light that's different than the panels and can be very well color balanced for just about anything. Today, set just a little under it's maximum (coolest) temperature setting it was the perfect balance for the fluorescents. And having a background light that can be dimmed without changing color temperature is great. Why the grid? The light spread would have been to wide and too sharp edged if used unmodified...

You can see by referencing the clothespin
that the Fiilex is a small fixture but it has 
high, clean output. And a cooling fan that's quiet 
enough to be used near a video camera recording 
sound. Amazing.

Kirk Tuck's portrait lighting from the background position.

The panel to the far right of the frame is black on the other side and I use it to keep light from spilling around from the main light and lessening the contrast on the background. If you look through the windows in some of the shots you'll see that the lights are very color neutral in relation to daylight. That's how my lighting rolled today. Slightly conservative to match the personality of the sitter and his intended uses for the photographs. But done with continuous lights instead of the old iris pounders.

A perfect blend of lights for someone who likes shooting with an EVF. Comments? Derision? Weird, disconnected comments that attempt to direct readers to weirder online shoe stores? Leave em below.

Edited in later: The cheating version: