Just how much lighting does an image need to make it work?
This is a portrait of Mark Agro. Mark is the president of Ottobock Canada, a health care device company. Several years ago he was in Austin, Texas for a week long meeting and we were called on to make a portrait of him for use in advertising and on the web. We had at our disposal the new U.S. headquarters of the same international company. It's a beautiful office on the sixth floor of a new building at the Domain Center in north Austin.
One of the features of the building that every portrait photographer would enjoy is the floor to ceiling windows along one entire side of the building, facing north. The light coming through the windows is soft and gorgeous. The interior of the building provides a lot of architectural stuff that looks good thrown out of focus.
I set up one, big soft light directly above and behind my camera position to provide an almost invisible fill light. I used a 60 inch, white umbrella and a small, Yongnuo strobe to provide the illumination.
For this image I used a Sony A7Rii and the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 G zoom lens at f4.0 to f5.6.
The flash was set at something like 1/16th power and was about 15 feet from Mark. While the web is filled with forced examples of people using very expensive strobe kits to do the same kind of lighting an expense of $58 for the strobe is really all that was needed. If I remember correctly the umbrella cost a few dollars more than the light source.
It's easy to read too much stuff from people who are directly or tangentially linked to strobe or camera manufacturers and come away with the idea that certain pieces of expensive gear or complex techniques are mandatory for professional work but the truth is that knowing where to put a light is much more mission critical than which particular light you might select. The same applies to cameras and lenses.
The portrait was successful. It is one of my modern favorites and it led to dozens more executives being photographed in pretty much the same spot with similar variations of the same lighting. It was additionally successful in that I got to meet Mark and share a pleasant conversation which ultimately led to a very nice friendship.
In an earlier segment of my career I would have shown up with a bunch of Profoto lighting gear, run cords all over the place, and probably butchered the wonderful natural light that was freely available. I would have been so fixed on technically based solutions that my honest rapport and easy conversation with Mark might never have happened. So, how much lighting should you use to make portraits? The absolute minimum you need is just about right....