UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021. Here is what I am up to now. -DH


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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