Shoot the Bloggers: J.D. Roth

While I was in Portland last month I photographed J.D. Roth, the man behind the blog Get Rich Slowly, for my ongoing project on bloggers.

J.D. had earlier escaped the shackles of a big wad of credit card debt, and has since created a career out of teaching others how to manage their money more sensibly. For the shoot, we did some standard headshots which would be useful to him for his public speaking appearances, etc. But I also wanted to do something a little more intense and/or cerebral, which is what led to the shot above.

If the ambient was decent, I could've done this with one speedlight. But as it happened, the ambient in the room was pretty low so we used three flashes. The first step, as in the Betty Allison shoot, was to kill the ambient. This one would be lit completely with flash.

Betty's shoot is actually a pretty appropriate example, now that I think about it. The lighting setup is pretty similar, even if the look is very different. Once I killed the ambient, I started from the back with a domed SB-800 against the wall. This gave me a very controllable gradient on the background.

Next, came the on-axis fill -- in this case an Orbis with an SB-800. The exposure on this flash was sufficient to light J.D. to the level you see on the far camera right side of his face. It's a little deeper than normal at almost 3 stops down.

The key light, coming from close-in high camera left, was another '800 in a LumiQuest SB-III. But as you can see the light is not wrapping around on the camera-left side of J.D.'s face. That's because I partially gobo'd it with a piece of cardboard clamped to a light stand between the key light and J.D.

This is why he looks like he is emerging into an interesting shaft of light. Because that is exactly what he is doing, only it is a static setup. You tend to see this light in real life a lot more than you might think, only it is usually very brief when it happens.

I still did not quite like it, as his forehead was a little hot. Luckily, the cardboard envelope I was using as a gobo also happened to be my gel kit. So I took a 2-stop ND gel (sized for my studio flashes) out and further cut down the light as it was traveling up the upper camera left side of his forehead.

That gave me the look I wanted -- something more interesting than the standard umbrella headshot. Depending on where / how it will be used, one may be more appropriate than the other. But it is nice to have both.

For a second look we did something a little more pulled back -- and with a little more content, too.

As you might guess from the name of the blog, J.D. espouses the theory that slow and steady wins the race. So my idea was to get him rolling coins at the dining room table.

And it wasn't much of a stretch, as he of course had jars full of saved pennies and other coins.

Again, I am looking for light that is not the standard umbrella/softbox stuff. Where possible, I like to have light that is both motivated and interesting -- but also something I can control.

So I used a normal light stand and a mini-boom to light him from overhead (just in front) with the Lumy SB-III. It had an "overhead lamp" kind of look, which was appropriate for a dining room table. Fill was with (surprise) an Orbis ring at about two stops down.

That retained the shape of the overhead light, but gave some legibility into the shadows.

Here it is without the fill, and you can see how much the ring light is really doing -- without calling attention to itself. There's a little ring signature shadow on the wall, but I am okay with it. Would been easy to kill by moving everything a few feet away from the wall and sticking a flash in there to light the wall only to it's natural level from the key. That would kill the shadows without adding anything.

Start a Project

I am really enjoying the shooting the blogger project, for a number of reasons. Committed bloggers are very interesting people for me to meet. The shoots are cool, but even better is the conversations that happen around them. We tend to work alone, in our respective caves, and it is a cool thing to connect with like-minded people. J.D. and I exchanged good ideas all day long. Not to mention his wife Kris's praline upside down cupcakes...

If you have a camera, some enthusiasm and just enough knowledge to be dangerous, I highly recommend embarking on a personal project of your own. The bloggers are really a side project for me at this point, but I do have something more significant that I am working on.

A little thought (more like 3 years worth, for me) goes a long way. And my hope is to get some of you thinking in terms of a sustainable project of your own. After all, what is the point of growing your skills as a photographer if you don't do something fun and worthwhile with it?

And if you'd rather get rich instead, you would do very well to start with J.D.'s blog.

Next: Nataniel Welch, Men's Journal


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Blogger Simon said...

I really love the lighting setup on the second shot, really realistic. I'd say about 80 % of the light in real life comes from over our heads, that's why I so much want a boom.

I'm looking for a combi-boom (Interfit or Manfrotto). Do you think these are strong enough to support a flash (Sigma 530) and a medium softbox (Wescott 28") or something alike ?

Btw, your project is really inspiring, I start to think about a similar project involving my two passions (photo & music).

August 23, 2010 1:05 AM  
Blogger Michael Carney said...

I'm a regular reader of JD's Blog and I find it very informative for a soon-to-be college grad like myself.

I started my own project yesterday, actually. Its a combination of eating healthier and practicing something I've never done: food photography.

As I'm making new recipes and trying things out, I'm testing new lighting setups and working on getting that culinary look.

Like I said, I just started yesterday, so there is much to be worked on, but I've see improvement over just one day!

Thanks for all the wonderful help David and J.D.!

August 23, 2010 1:18 AM  
Blogger Gustavo Osmar Santos said...

Gustavo Osmar Santos
Estuvo Aquí...wonderfull.

August 23, 2010 2:30 AM  
Blogger stevens6 said...

Hi Dave, Are you sure this is not Bruce Willis :)
Great shot.

August 23, 2010 4:05 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

Two of my favourite blogs collide! Beautiful photos too.

I couldn't agree more with the advice about starting a personal project. In May I began photographing ten of my friends in their homes and recording them talking about their lives right now, with the intention of repeating the exercise every ten years. Since it's 2010 now and we're all in our mid-twenties it has a pleasing symmetry to it. I've photographed five of them so far. Already, I'm seeing ways that a project like this introduces you to new ways of working. I'm used to editing shoots very quickly after the event, in order to deliver the photos. But with this project, I have the luxury of printing a bunch of small copies and really taking my time with the edits. I hadn't thought of this aspect before I started.

August 23, 2010 6:16 AM  
Blogger pinguino said...

I'm also on the lookout for a boom, especially one I can add to existing light stands. What are you using here. Any other recomendations?

August 23, 2010 6:38 AM  
OpenID Zack said...

Huh. The wall in my living room that I shoot against is the same colour as that first shot. I love it, because I can either get a nice rich background colour, or if I'm shooting black and white, it's somewhere around 18% grey.

Thanks for the setups. Using an ND filter as a gobo isn't something that had previously occurred to me.

August 23, 2010 8:19 AM  
Blogger Tim Skipper Photography said...

Always great to see what your doing behind the scenes. Going to have to check this guy out, managing money is always a strain for me.

August 23, 2010 9:06 AM  
Blogger Addison Geary Photography said...

Hi David,

What are you using as a counter weight on the boom, hang from the red ball bunji?

August 23, 2010 9:55 AM  
Blogger Mitchel said...

This is a superb piece of work--both the lighting and the thoughts re: personal projects. Thanks for the inspiration.

August 23, 2010 11:48 AM  
Blogger Frederick said...

Nerdy detail request: add a link to the mini-boom. Please. I'm on the hunt for one and figure that your field use is a good proxy for most of us. Thanks!

August 23, 2010 12:46 PM  
Blogger Cheryl Hargraves said...

Having read J.D.'s blog in the past, I was surprised to see the first shot. I think you got the look you were aiming for, and you certainly gave me a view of a different side of J.D. I think he can use this shot to get a side gig on CSI :)

I loved the shots of him rolling pennies. Definitely worth a thousand words.

August 23, 2010 1:20 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hey David-

Nice shot. You work harder than I do. I would of darkened his forehead in PS.

Who makes the boom you have in the shot? I have been looking for one. I was going to buy the interfit hand held one and slap an old Lowel clamp I had laying around on it.


August 23, 2010 2:05 PM  
Blogger Danny said...

Thank you David, you're a real inspiration!

August 23, 2010 2:48 PM  
Blogger Mike said...


I have a long term project in mind. It involves kids and heroic lighting any tips would be most welcome.

August 23, 2010 4:44 PM  
Blogger John said...

I love that top shot! Thanks for this post. I've been experimenting with trying to create that shaft of light, but haven't been successful, without a lot of labor. This was really helpful!

I'd also be interested in knowing what brand your mini boom is. :)

August 23, 2010 5:31 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hi David, we are following your blog down here in Brazil. Really cool stuffs. Regards.
Alex Amorim

August 23, 2010 6:31 PM  
Blogger David said...

re: Boom Q's -- I will post more detailed info on it in a couple days.

re: Guess the Lighting, I tweeted on it last week. Most of the short-form stuff like that goes out on the @strobist twitter stream. Even if you are not on Twitter, you can RSS the stream if you like.

August 23, 2010 6:37 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hi David,
I have some friends following your blog down here in Brazil.
Really great light tips. Thanks!
Alex Amorim

August 23, 2010 6:39 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Thanks for the lesson. I like the gradient background and will try it with a small soft box.

August 23, 2010 10:22 PM  
Blogger diegonyc said...

That's it! I'm ordering an orbis right now. Seems like it's the one light you use on a pretty consistent basis with spectacular results.

August 24, 2010 12:29 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Great post, viva Portland. At your workshop here (I was in the back with lots of questions), I didn't look close enough at your Lumiquest setup. I can't seem to get mine fixed tight or straight enough to my SB-800, even with dual speed straps (inside/out). Is there a trick to fight the floppiness, or should I go permanent velcro to one of my strobes?

August 24, 2010 6:31 PM  
Blogger tim said...

your "available dark" made me think more of my farm house project, lot's of great knowledge through the archives, thanks alot eh!

August 25, 2010 2:30 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Please disregard my question about the Lumiquest box; attaching velcro permanently to the outside of the box's tabs combined with a 2nd speed strap around the outside did the trick. Thanks again for all your work on the blog, workshop and for giving back so much. And great interview on the Candid Frame podcast!

August 25, 2010 3:22 PM  
Blogger Problem Photography said...

creative lighting LS413B

Best guess at the boom used in the photo above.

Found one a prophoto in puddle jump for $140, Amazon for $143, but perhaps it is not a CL after all.


August 25, 2010 10:00 PM  
Blogger Danie Nel said...

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of my personal project called "Wax Lyrical" - it started with muso's in Cape Town, SA, but has extended to all disciplines of art. Will start an online display soon.

I agree, it's a great excuse to meet people I respect and admire, but also, a great place to let rip with lighting and ideas.

August 26, 2010 4:10 AM  
Blogger Derek said...

This is awesome. I'd like to think I "introduced" you two way back in the day. Glad to see that the relationship while starting off rocky has gotten better over the years.

August 26, 2010 12:25 PM  

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