On Assignment: Blind Snoot Portrait

One of the things I like best about shooting with snoots on my strobes is the ability to control the light levels in the rest of the frame.

You can keep your strobe from contaminating a projection screen, as we did with Abstract Concrete earlier, or you can just snoot to let other areas in the frame go dark.

This can be useful when you have a busy background, as is often the case. Or you can have a specific reason to control the background or foreground, as was the case in this portrait of a data networking company CEO.

I am always looking for a subtle (or even subconscious) visual hook. Among this company's specialties is fiber-optic networking. And I happened to notice that the grey blinds in the CEO's office had tiny little holes in them, which looked kind of like those splayed-out fiber optics photos you see in the annual reports.

So I wanted to use those dots to connote light-as-information.

Problem is, when I lit the guy with an umbrella, (in this photo) the blinds showed up as the grey they were, and no shutter speed combo would make the dots pop well enough to come through our photograph torture reproduction process intact. So I had to restrict the strobe light from falling on the blinds in the foreground.

If you have gone through your Lighting 101 pages, you know we have several ways to to that, the most restrictive being the snoot. Which is exactly what I used here.

So, my guy is lit by the direct flash, which is harder light than when I used the umbrella. But he's a good looking guy, so he can handle hard light. (Not every face can. Be reasonably kind to your subjects.)

So now, looking at the top photo (which is the one the designer chose as lede) we see a darkened background and a foreground that is dark enough to help the daylight sing as it comes through the holes. You can see the natural grey of the blinds just behind the guy's head in the snooted photo, too. I did not record the exposure, but the aperture was set to expose for the guy's face. Then I opened up the shutter speed until I got enough daylight coming through to make the effect.

Two more things:

First, I used plenty of flash power in the shot. Probably between a quarter and half power, which is a lot of light from the 4-5 feet flash distance. Reason was to base my exposure on a stopped-down aperture - say, f/11 - so I could start with nice, dark foreground blinds to build the effect.

Second, where the heck are the guy's reflections in his glasses? He is facing toward to light in both frames, which usually yields glare in the lenses.

Well, as it happens, this guy has what are called "low-reflection" glasses. I am not kidding. People in TV (or people like this guy, who appears on TV pretty frequently) tend to have these wonderful glasses. Light them however you want. No reflections.

I think everyone in the world who wears glasses should, by law, be required to wear these wonderful, photog-friendly, expensive as heck, low-reflection glasses. Under penalty of death.

But I digress.

Here are the specifics. My shoe-mount strobe was on a small Bogen 5-section compact stand. Light is coming from my left, and up about 40 degrees or so. Direction should be obvious from the shadows on the guy's face.

I gave the flash plenty of power, probably at 1/4 power or so. This gave me a very stopped down working aperture, which at my fastest synch speed, which pretty much made everything else black except for the dots. Then I simply opened up my shutter speed until I liked the look of the (backlit-by-the-sun) dots.

Bottom line on this kind of light is, it's a fairly dramatic look that you can get with just one small flash (and some cardboard) to save you from the terminal boredom of one more person-in-a-boring-office shot.

Next: Conference Room Quickie


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Anonymous JAWspeak said...

This is great. Thanks for the post. I found it via Photojojo.com

October 26, 2006 9:13 AM  
Blogger dyathink said...

yeah, i found you through Photojojo..great photo! Super effective. I really enjoyed your ckear writing style too.

October 26, 2006 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto, also by Photojojo. Great post, very clear, very informative, and a great photo to talk about, too! Very impressive! Thanks!

October 26, 2006 7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, bookmarked Strobist. It's a keeper.

November 01, 2006 8:22 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

It's been a while since you posted this (I'm only starting to catch up), but I wanted to let you know what was so special about this guy's glasses.

The eyeglass lenses are coated with a special anti-reflective coating. Probably Crizal or Alize brand coatings as they call them in that industry.

September 02, 2007 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Charlie said...

First off, great job here, loving the site.

Second (and I am in no way qualified to critique others work, but I'm going to anyway...), whilst the use of a snoot to create a spotlight effect has clearly worked really well on the non-subject areas of this shot, shouldn't something have been done about the shadow from the guys nose across his left check. To my (unqualified/uneducated) mind this spoils the photo and could easily have been fixed with a softer spotlight and/or change of angle. I only mention as I'm interested in a professional's view point on that kind of detail.

Thanks again,

November 27, 2007 5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very cool image and an awesome teaching tool. Thanks a bunch!

January 26, 2008 4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Really cool shot and super nice of you to detail how you got it. Found you on Dpreview.com. I'll be doing more reading.


February 19, 2008 12:05 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

This gents glasses have a multicoating on them similar to some more expensive UV and CP filters that cuts reflections. Pretty standard for spectacle lenses these days and great for photogs. Crizal Alize as Tim mentioned is one companys particular brand however all lens companies have their own version. If you hold the lenses to the light at an angle you can see a green or blue coloured bloom in the lenses.

February 27, 2008 7:17 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Wow. Thank you so much.

March 04, 2008 5:06 AM  
Blogger John Leonard Photography said...

From a flikcr discussion here:


Someone is using your images here:


Just thought you'd want to know.

March 13, 2008 8:51 PM  
Blogger Geoff McGeachin said...

I used to do a lot of PR portraits for major corporate clients and always made it a point to casually suggest to people wearing glasses that they consider getting non-reflective lenses next time. I kind of put it in terms that suggested all the smart up-and-comers were going that way. I figured it was a way of making things that little bit easier for myself and other photographers next time round.

April 15, 2008 12:36 AM  
Blogger Ben Moscrop said...

Sorry if this question sounds dumb but I'm trying to get to grips with this kind of lighting. Can you explain what you meant by "the aperture was set to expose for the guy's face." I'm assuming you were operating in manual mode and I'm wondering how you knew what aperture to use to get the right exposure?

March 30, 2009 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very good shot, what about a polarizer filter to remove the blue reflexes in the windows? could it works?

March 31, 2009 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Joe Federer Photography said...

Grids and snoots are awesome. I'd been doing a lot with hot lights - flashlights, movie-lights, etc but might move to simply gridding my speedlights instead.

March 31, 2009 12:19 PM  
Blogger JL said...

@ Ben Moscrop

Aperture was set to expose that guy's face meant simply that. CEO's face will be correctly exposed. How does he know 1/4 flash power placed 5ft away is f.11? That's through experimentation at home and on-site.

Try this, start with a reference settings: Shutter speed 200 ISO 400 and strobe at 5ft away with the lowest power 1/128. Then find the aperture that correctly exposes it. For me it's f1.4. Then increase the power to 1/64. proper exposure should be around f4 etc at 1/4 it should be around f8. Once you establish this reference you can tweak shutter speeds to control ambient light. Aperture to control flash.

January 29, 2011 11:21 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Love the site! One thing I have wondered about....it can be difficult to determine EXACTLY where the flash will illuminate the subject without a modeling light. I was thinking that a powerful flash light, shining through the snoot, prior to the exposure would help nail down exactly where the light from the flash would fall. Simply insure that both are placed in the same position, angle, etc. What do you think?

May 29, 2011 10:43 PM  
Blogger wormulus said...


I'm just wondering, what is the ambient light inside the room? Is it all coming from outside through the window blinds or was there any electric office light on the ceiling or wall?

September 27, 2011 4:05 PM  

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