On Assignment: Theresa Daytner, Pt. 2

Having shot the section front photo of Daytner out in the lobby, we quick-walked the lights into her office area. Working from the back and by swapping just one light mod, we were able to get something pretty different for the inside pages.

Arnold Newman, the father of environmental portrait photography, said it best when he noted that environmental portraiture is 10% photography and 90% moving furniture. That was kinda verboten in the more journalistic confines of the Baltimore Sun. But I'm not there anymore.

So we found a blue wall with a little depth to use as a background, then worked forward from there. By moving a white table about three feet over to the right and using the papers from one of Daytner's public works projects, we created a setting with layers of planes and angles, leading lines and some subtle curves.

Stravinsky at the Piano it ain't, but I'll still try to play with geometry if I get the opportunity and it is appropriate. And her office was so unphotogenic (not messy, just not great for photos) that it seemed best to do something elsewhere.

We had used eye contact in for the cover image, so I wanted to go the other way here. (More of an editing thing than a shooting thing -- we shot each one both ways.)

I used the same three flashes as from the first shoot, with one quick mod swap. The background gets the gridded bare speedlight, scraping across the wall to provide both texture and a leading line in the form of a shadow. The gridded mini dish remains in use as the key.

Exposure-wise, both of these lights are adjusted just to taste -- not unlike adding salt to soup. As long as you kill the ambient with your exposure first, you simply adjust the power on your flashes to hit the proper exposure on the wall and her face. And these are two tight-beamed sources, so for the moment everything else is going to be black.

That's until you add the fill light, of course. And that fill light (on-axis, behind the camera) has been swapped out from a 43" umbrella to a 60" SoftLighter II.

This is simply so I could squat down in front of it without losing all of my fill light. That fill light will wrap right past me. That said, I have been walking 6-7 miles a day this summer, and hope to not need such a big fill light to wrap around me in the future. We'll see, though.

Here is the setup from the subject's position. The intensity of the fill is done taste, too. Prolly two stops down from the key. You could make the photo flatter or more contrasty by varying the power of this light.

Normally, I bring in the fill first, to give a safety net of legibility everywhere. But this time I was playing with the geometry of the photo, so I started from the background light and worked forward from there. One variable at a time -- ambient exposure, then add and adjust one light at a time. It is actually pretty difficult to screw up this way.

Of all of the things that happened during the assignment, it was probably the few minutes we spent talking together -- before I even scouted -- which had the most influence on the pictures. I had a better feel for her, she had more trust in me -- just a better connection altogether.

I even found out that she had been photographed recently by one of my favorite photographers, Ben Baker. He shot her for Forbes Magazine. As such, Baker was a little higher on the production scale -- assistant, big lights, more time -- but I really like his photo.

Always neat to see how someone else treats the same subject matter. But I am glad I saw it after making my shots, and not before. Otherwise, no matter what I did I would feel influenced by what he had done. Human nature.

Apologies for the length (even when cut into two parts) but every now and then I feel like it is a good idea to go a little more 360 than just the lighting and get into the rest of the process.

Next: Soccer Through Sunset


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Blogger Seul said...

Thanks, glad you took the time for two long posts, really insightful.

October 13, 2011 9:29 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...


These are fantastic posts and not too long at all. Keep them coming!

October 13, 2011 10:04 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Love this information! I thought it was so informative and really loved how you broke down each light and why you put them where! Thanks so much!

October 13, 2011 10:07 AM  
Blogger Kathy Chruscielski said...

I look forward to reading your blog - thank you for these wonderful behind the scenes articles. Is one speedlight enough to light up the 60" Softlighter?

October 13, 2011 11:02 AM  
OpenID schultzphotographic.com said...

I also appreciate they 360 pull backs in your posts. Keep them coming please! It's nice to not only see light on the subject but also to see the lights themselves.

October 13, 2011 11:24 AM  
Blogger Raul Kling said...

I could have taken three or four parts ;-)

October 13, 2011 11:33 AM  
Blogger bmillios said...

I like your photos over Ben's. Yours tells more about the person. Great job.

October 13, 2011 11:48 AM  
Blogger Rajan Chawla Photography said...

I've noticed your boom rig in a number of your posts - this post, the motorcyclist etc. I'd love to know what you are using.

October 13, 2011 11:55 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


The motorcyclist was a Paul Buff boom. Daytner was a C-stand (complete).

October 13, 2011 12:09 PM  
Blogger Tim Piggott said...

One of the most useful posts I've read in a while - the BTS pullbacks are especially helpful - Thanks

October 13, 2011 12:53 PM  
Blogger Sunita said...

Okay, I'll be honest - great post and lighting but the model's pose doesn't do it for me. I don't like her pose (too much slouching?!) and she looks disconnected from the rest of the image in her attitude. Since you were looking for an angle that was not directly staring at the camera, perhaps a view of her studying her designs might have been a nice difference? Just a thought....

October 13, 2011 1:24 PM  
Blogger diegonyc said...

Another great read David. Thanks again!

October 13, 2011 1:27 PM  
Blogger BrewyetPhoto.com said...

Yes David, feel free to make long posts whenever you'd like!! Love the in-depth information. It is all relevant and useful. Much more to this stuff than just "takin a picture". :-) Love the stories and the pull back shots. Keep em coming. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us all!

October 13, 2011 2:05 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Never ever ask for forgiveness because one (or two) of your posts are allegedly too long. This kind of article is pure gold !

With all the time I've spent reading all your blog posts for the last three years (and I've read them all from the very beginning), I know how to light a shot. What I want know now is to understand your thought process behind these kind of project. How you approach the subject(s), how you approach the shoot (subject-wise), how you scout, what you're looking for, how you set a mood, an ambiance for a shot.

At some point in the last few years, you made a post in which you've told us that holding hands was over. We had to figure things a little by ourselves. That you'd no longer refer to exposure in terms of camera settings, but in terms of relativity. This step helped me a lot in understanding how to craft a lighting setup. Now, what I need is to learn the same language to better understand how to create, how to take someone who's worth a frame, cast him/her into a relevant environment and tell his/her story in picture. I want to improve my story-telling skills.

And these articles help me. A lot.

October 13, 2011 2:07 PM  
Blogger Stephen Shimshock said...

I am curious about how you rig the softlighter with a speedlight. Were you using 1 or 2? And, how are you mounting them to the stand? I have one but I don't like how high the light sits in the umbrella, would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks, great post as always.

October 13, 2011 2:13 PM  
Blogger Matti Vaittinen said...

Good post! I like the peaceful feeling in this inside photo and the colors :)

October 13, 2011 2:21 PM  
Blogger Alan Borrud said...

I was wondering if there is one boom rig that would work in 99% of all shooting situations involving speedlights: Avenger, Red Wing, Paul C. Buff.....? Your two-parter on Theresa was much appreciated.

October 13, 2011 2:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Loved the two-parter on Theresa! I don't think it's overkill for most people. I was wondering if there's one boom that would do the job 99% of the time with speedlights: Avenger, Red Wing, Paul C. Buff....? I know there's cost and quality differences.

October 13, 2011 2:39 PM  
Blogger John said...

I liked the lengthy post. :)

This post reminded me of your seminar during the Flash Bus Tour which was the best photography seminar I have been to.

I really like the walk-thru's done piece by piece. It really helps to see the thought process laid out with photos.

With all of that walking, maybe the next time your fill can me a 43" shoot thru. ;)

October 13, 2011 6:49 PM  
Blogger dwbell said...

Gotta say I'm loving DH with the PJ ethical restrictions removed. Each shoot evolves the style and they're getting better and better in my opinion.

Lovely work, very engaging.

October 14, 2011 5:45 AM  
Blogger ronanpalliser said...

Clever use of the stapler to keep the drawings from rolling back!

October 14, 2011 7:28 AM  
Blogger Mark n Manna said...

A ton of great information here,and the thought process that got you to the final image is much appreciated.
All this,and you still have time for a six mile walk every day? :-)

October 14, 2011 9:20 AM  
Blogger Paul Rice said...

I love the BTS articles. Another good one. And by the way, your shot's are every bit as good or better than Baker's. More environmental than straight portraiture

October 14, 2011 1:35 PM  
Blogger Rodney Horne Photography said...

That use of the speedlight and dish really helps me out. Thanks

October 14, 2011 2:21 PM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

Not to change the subject (love long posts)..... But how long did it tske to work up to walking 6 to 7 miles per day? Thats a lot! Shin splints? Congrats on that one!!

October 14, 2011 6:36 PM  
Blogger Parabola said...

glad to see the longer posts. thanks.

October 16, 2011 3:00 AM  
Blogger Rey Bugia said...

Hi david,

Did your second photo in this article already had the Softlighter fill? Iwas wondering if you still really need the softlighter and could you have just used the ambient as fill (unless it's as ugly as the light from the previous post)

I also have the feeling you forgot to bring the orbis this time and had no choice but to use a different mod for fill.

Great post as always!

October 16, 2011 9:43 PM  
Blogger Clipping Path said...

I always like the style of writing your post.

October 17, 2011 3:23 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Nope, the ambient woulda been pretty crappy color and direction for fill. I had the Orbis with me, but I use several different kinds of O-A fill -- 43" umbrella, 60" softlighter, queen-sized shooet, Orbis, whatever gives me the feel I am looking for.

October 17, 2011 11:22 AM  
Blogger aaronkershaw said...

In 30 days I went from being a "good photographer" in the semi-professional realm to "being a newb" as a professional.

Shooting on purely Manual settings, using what I have learned here. I have grown immensely, it doesn't hurt that I shot about 8000 pictures in said timeframe. to check/recheck and retake until I understood, why and how.

Thank You and please keep the knowledge flowing...

October 17, 2011 4:47 PM  
Blogger andy said...

Thanks David, you make it seem so damn simple :)

October 19, 2011 8:13 AM  
Blogger Fabio Bosco said...

I could have not asked for a better lighting tutorial than this. Great job!

November 09, 2011 1:03 PM  

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