Monday, December 17, 2012

Fashion-style Christmas Portrait (Updated - with BTS)

The previous week our daughter got sick.  She got well then my wife got sick.  Then my son.  I thought I could dodge a bullet but we got exposed to the cold rain on Friday night, so yes I got sick too, but I think the fever broke last night.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago my wife wanted a "fashion-style" portrait.  I looked at the examples she gave me and I interpreted it to mean slightly edgy portraits.  What tools would you have used for that kind of project?  I'll post the setup I used tonight.

Hit the jump for the setup I used.

We took the shot in our garage which I hastily rearranged.  Here is a shot of the setup:

For the key light, I used a Nikon SB-800 with a beauty dish  (IIRC it's a 17-inch Fotodiox beauty dish).  Whereas a shoot-through umbrella will scatter light everywhere, a beauty dish is much more controlled and has a rapid falloff, which lets me choose what to light and what not to light.  To me, it's somewhere between hard and soft, and it looks more dramatic than some of my other light modifiers.

For the fill light, I thought about using a high highlight-shadow ratio to make it feel edgy, so I just used a 42-inch reflector.

For the background light, I used a Paul Buff ABR800.  Actually I don't usually use it for that purpose.  I could just as well have used the B1600.

For the rim light, I used an SB-800, which I clamped to one of the background stands.

To trigger and control the whole setup, I used a combination of Nikon CLS Advanced Wireless Lighting and the Paul Buff CyberCommander. (I don't like having to go to each speedlight or strobe to adjust the power.)  The SB-800 in the beauty dish was acting as master flash, and was connected to my camera via a TTL cord.  I could have used another SB-800 to control it wirelessly, but if I did that it would have contributed to the exposure and I didn't want that.

To sync the CyberCommander to Nikon AWL, I first tried connecting it to the SB-800 master flash.  Although the ABR800 did fire, it was not syncing correctly, and I could not see the ABR800's light in the shot.  I tried another way, which is to connect the CyberCommander via PC sync to my camera.  Unfortunately since the D600 doesn't have a PC sync port, I was forced to use my Fuji S5 which is my only DSLR with a PC sync port.  Connected that way, the CyberCommander synced properly with the Nikon AWL.

This was pretty much the SOOC shot, with some cropping:
Note that my kids' lower body has much less light than their faces - that's the beauty dish falloff in action.

In post, I decided to add a couple of graduated filters to remove some of the light on the right side and make it look like there is a shaft of light behind them.  I also exported to Lightroom in order to use ShineOff.

Here again is the end result.

One speedring to rule them all
Cowboy Studio Speedlight Bracket
Formal Portraits with a Flashmeter
Are you ready for AlienBees?
Quality vs. Contrast


  1. Oh my, do get well soon !!
    And that is a splendid portrait of the kids. Very good lighting control, and their candid expression was precious.
    I actually did comment on the KL blog entry but I am not sure how the comment is no longer there.
    Nevertheless, if you do come by KL again, please let me know!! Will take you to less "touristy" places, as you have probably seen on my blog.

    Keep doing what you are doing here, you have some amazing stuff going on this blog. Stay well !!

    1. Hi Robin! Thank you for the well wishes and for dropping by our humble blog. My coauthor MShafik, who is an avid reader of your blog, is probably the one who contacted you about KL. I myself have not gone there although I have a close friend who lives there so who knows, I may go there someday (when kids are grown and traveling is much easier).

      Hmmm I'm not sure either what happened to your comment. It might have been my overzealous deletion of spam comments (our ratio of spam to real comments is something like 10:1 but we don't want to use captcha to make it easier to make real comments). I apologize for that! Thanks again for the encouragement!

      Best regards,

  2. Hope your family are well. Your children are just lovely! My guess lighting setup is main light camera left + rim light camera light up high + background light?

    btw, I ordered a D600 kit last week from Adorama, got an email they are OOS. Let's see if they can ship to Canada before christmas.

    1. Hi Xiaoli. Good to hear from you. My daughter's all well now and I think my son will get over his cold soon. Thank you very much.

      When I post the BTS you'll see how close your predicted setup is. :)

      Re the D600, check out B&H, Amazon, and the Nikon store too. I believe the promo got extended to 12/29. Also you may want to check your local Nikon's policy about cameras bought from other countries. Last time I checked, Nikon US will not service a camera that is not local. Don't know about Nikon Canada...

      Best regards,

    2. Mic,

      Nice explaining about the setup! How would you compare the beauty dish to similar size softbox (e.g light quality, light spread).

      Thanks for the reminder about the warranty. Just checked with Nikon, it seems Nikon canada will not service camera bought from US either. Due to the possible oil/dust problem, I am debating whether I should cancel the order or just bite the bullet. Tough decision.


    3. Hi Xiaoli. My impression is that a beauty dish is more controlled. Fortunately i have a similar size softbox and can run a comparison when i'm feeling better.

      Re the d600 do you travel to the US often? If so maybe it might be doable. Otherwise thats a significant risk. It can also decrease the resale value (unless you try to sell in the US).

      Best regards,

  3. Mic,
    Thanks for explaining the light setup. You have wonderful subjects to photograph.

    Due to your lighting focus, my eye is drawn to their smiling faces, however, I can't help but notice your daughter's left foot is cut off and find it distracting...

    1. Hi Ken. Thanks for the feedback. Yeah its distracting to me too. My camera was on a tripod and the kids wouldnt stay put. They kept running around and jumping, appearances notwithstanding. :) perhaps i can clone it in. Hmm

      Best regards,


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