On Assignment: Miller Mobley's Birmingham Chaplain

Ed. Note: Today's guest post is the second of two, from NYC-based photographer Miller Mobley.

Back in December I was commissioned by a local magazine in Birmingham to do a series of portraits on hospital Chaplains. To be honest, I had not been given any art direction on how I should execute the photographs, I basically had the freedom to do what I wanted -- it's a great feeling by the way!

I immediately started to concept some ideas for the shoot. Unfortunately, I was not able to do a location scout of the hospital sanctuaries where these portraits would be taken. I decided that if I liked the location then I would do an environmental portrait and if I thought it was drab and boring I would setup a background. I had been practicing a new lighting setup that I really wanted to try on the Chaplains. So I was hoping for the background setup, and to my luck it just so happened.

There are two important points that any photographer should know in a situation like this. One is to always test before going out. There are definitely times where this is not possible. But most of the time, testing proves to be invaluable. The second thing is to always try and have a backup plan.

The lighting setup here is very simple, yet powerful and iconic in a sense. There are only 3 lights used here in a very basic setup. I will explain below….

The Key Light

For my key I used a Profoto Compact 600R with a gridded reflector. The light was placed just outside the right camera frame, it was probably only a foot away from the subject's face. I raised the light about a foot above the subject's eye line because I wanted the light to be shining down… it give a somewhat "Holy" feel to the photograph.

The Fill Light

This is probably the most important light. It's crucial because this light is what makes those dark/black shadows open up. The important thing is the intensity of the light, too much light and it will over power the effect of the key light, and if the light is too dark then we will lose the left side of the subject's face. The fill light was a Profoto Compact 300R with an octabank attached. This light was placed a few inches directly above the lens of the camera, shooting straight eye level with to the subject.

The Hair/Background Light

For this light I used another Profoto Compact 300R with a gridded softbox, raised about 4-5 feet directly over the subject's head.

The most important aspect about this lighting setup is the intensity of each light. I used to think it was all about where you placed the light. And don't get me wrong that's very important, but I believe paying great attention to the intensity of each light can yield incredible results.

Obviously by looking at the photograph above you know that the key light had the most intensity. It really makes the subject pop, while the other lights have been toned down a bit. I wanted there to be shadows, but I wanted the viewer to be able to see into the shadow. That's where the important fill light came into play.

All in all it's a pretty simple light setup, but powerful at the same time. If there's one thing I've learned about taking on all kinds of different assignments -- from food to interiors to portraits -- It's about taking an assignment that could easily be executed with no creativity and pushing yourself into making it something beautiful, inspiring, and truly special.


Editor's note: Check out Mobley's portfolio and blog, or follow him on Twitter, below:

Website: MillerMobley.com
Blog: MillerMobley.com/blog
Twitter: @millermobley

Next: Finn O'Hara: Mixing Light


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Blogger Jay.CA said...

Beautiful shot! Going into my inspiration folder. :)

March 21, 2011 12:19 AM  
Blogger Dave6163 said...


A wonderful shot. Thanks so much for the background and setup.


March 21, 2011 6:50 AM  
Blogger imnophotog said...

This light makes the picture look dreamy, I like the effect, although it also adds a bit of a holy-religious effect, I think the postion of his hands adds to this impression.

March 21, 2011 7:26 AM  
OpenID Joe said...

Great shot. I like the idea of using a single light for the hair and background. Excellent result utilizing three lights. Will keep this in mind as I presently shoot with three strobes. Great example of "less is more". Thank you for sharing.

March 21, 2011 9:37 AM  
OpenID tskipperphotos said...

Love the lighting. Reminds me of classic Hollywood lighting with the face being lit by two different values.

March 21, 2011 10:14 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

this is such a restrained effect but very effectively done. One of those that you can almost look right over because it doesn't draw attention to itself but to the sugject.

Very nice indeed!

March 21, 2011 11:13 AM  
Blogger Surly said...

Thank you Miller. Your editorial portraits are inspirational. Very nicely done.

March 21, 2011 1:18 PM  
Blogger DaeJon said...

How does he get those muted colors in his pictures, they almost look like film??

March 21, 2011 2:40 PM  
Blogger diegonyc said...

Thank you for passing along your words of wisdom.

Excellent read!

March 21, 2011 3:00 PM  
Blogger csquared imaging said...

I would have liked to find out what the relative ev's were of the lights. What ratio was achieved?

March 21, 2011 6:36 PM  
Blogger Zeee said...

love this. the lighting is so subtle. i looks like a painting. i have to try something like this with my uncle

March 21, 2011 11:14 PM  
Blogger Miller said...

Can't thank everybody enough for the comments! It truly means a lot. @DaeJon - It's mainly a mixture of desaturation and curves. You just got to play with it enough... @csquared imaging - I do not light using any ratios... I just turn on the lights and start to experiment. It may sound un professional, but it works for me. Thanks again guys!

March 22, 2011 9:02 AM  
Blogger Glenn M said...

I love this! It is so beautiful. I'd really like to try this type of thing on my father. Because I need a headshot of myself right now I sat down last night to create something like this and failed miserably. I was using 2 speedlights (no hairlight - don't have a third light): an 800 in a 64inch PLM and a 600 with Honl grid. I was using my new Flex mini/TTs. Tried both manual and ttl, and in both cases just could not get the power down enough to emulate. Way too hot. Any suggestions?

March 22, 2011 10:58 AM  
OpenID nowheremanphotos said...

I love this kind of lighting, and you really pulled it off exquisitely. Nice job, David!

March 22, 2011 2:05 PM  
Blogger sitbonzo said...

How can we submit pics for you?
David Berman.

March 22, 2011 4:21 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


There is no "submission process," actually. You give me too much organizational credit. And besides, I have already written about you three times, dude!


March 22, 2011 6:21 PM  
Blogger 2z said...

Miller, this is such a terrific shot: capture and post. I went into my studio and tried it immediately.

As an aside, while you and many others do not use lighting ratios, I believe that they are a good thing for any aspiring photographer to learn. Sort of like a recipe for cooking, they're a starting point. An understanding of them can help anyone visualize a shot faster.

March 22, 2011 6:53 PM  
OpenID P6lptX8z2OsIzwKZ0FloJBCd5fN7TyV.ThpIPoKkQ45f3mKzhw-- said...

Nicely done. Peeked at your site as well, some nice work there!

I'd honestly say I wouldn't normally be a fan of the lighting you used here but it's so well matched to the subject that it's great.

Thanks for sharing with us.

March 22, 2011 7:53 PM  
Blogger Andor said...

'that could easily be executed with no creativity and pushing yourself into making it something beautiful, inspiring, and truly special'

...and that's why i love to do photography (even as just a hobby for me) - so as to read this blog!
Thanks for the great post again!

March 23, 2011 2:51 AM  
Blogger hhgabriel said...

I'm sorry to spoil the fun but this looks to much like a Madame Tussuad wax figure then the real deal. Don't get me wrong I love everything except what it was done to his face skin. His hands look great but I see two colors tones here and it looks .... Face vs hands, I don't know, photoshop it's great but you have to be consistent when editing. I hope I did not offended anyone but good I believe in constructive criticism

March 23, 2011 2:54 AM  

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