Miller Mobley on Making Work for Your Portfolio

Editor's note: Please welcome New York-based photographer Miller Mobley as our guest poster today. Miller specializes in advertising, editorial and portrait photography.

I'm from a small town in Alabama known for it's college and more importantly its college football; Tuscaloosa. I had never picked up a still camera until I was entering my sophomore year of college at the University of Alabama.

I wanted to major in film production, but came to find out there was no such thing. The next best major was studio art with an emphasis of b&w darkroom photography. I picked up a camera and started taking pictures. As my junior year of college rolled around I was making tons of work, but really not getting paid for any of it. So I started meeting with ad agencies and magazines to show them my portfolio. Suddenly, things started picking up and I was getting quite a bit of work.

I decided that the whole college thing was not for me, so I dropped out and pursued photography full steam ahead. I'm now 24 years old and living in New York with my beautiful wife.

I first just want to thank David for giving me the platform to share, what a great opportunity! There are so many things that I wish I could talk about, but the one thing I want to focus on today is making work for your portfolio and of course the technique.

It's so important to create work. It does not matter if you're a painter, architect, or photographer. Creating work is what will ultimately satisfy you in whatever field you might be in. It's also important to push yourself into different directions and to explore techniques such as lighting that you've never explored. For most people there's always that one setup, or that one look that you have your subject give you, or maybe even a certain angle.

I believe it's okay to stick with what you're comfortable with, but I also believe that if you push yourself a little further to making something that you're not comfortable with the rewards can be astonishing. It makes you a better photographer and it also opens up all kinds of new inspiration that you might not have thought you had.

I was going through a period of time where I felt that I needed to create more "advertising" work. (Still am) There's nothing more that I like than creating a simple, yet beautiful, quiet portrait of someone. But in this case I needed to almost be selling something. Wether it was the car, the suit, or even the lifestyle. I knew in my head that I wanted to create something that was a little hero-esque. Hence the dramatic light, confident gaze, and low angle.

So, with the help of my wife, we started to concept the shot. We decided we wanted to have a luxury car because I had never shot anything with a car. We also decided that we wanted a good looking older, somewhat rugged dude. And lastly, we needed a bad-ass looking suit. So we started making phone calls to pull this shoot together. We ended up finding someone with a Maserati that was happy to let us use it and also a clothing provider.

We searched and searched for a model that we thought fit the part, but did not find anyone until a friend recommended a friend of a friend. So there we now had a model, clothes, and an awesome car. We then location scouted and found a great building for the background. We hired a makeup artist and an assistant and finally we were all set for the shoot at 5AM.

The Lighting Setup

This image was made with a combination of three lights. To camera left was a Profoto Compact 300R w/ Reflector. This light served two purposes.

First, it was the backlight that kicked the car and the subject -- it gave both a nice separation from the background. You can see that the background is somewhat dark, but the left edges of the car and also the edge light on the subject somewhat separate them from the background and pull you into the image a little more.

The second purpose of the light was to have a somewhat interesting lens flare. I achieved this by just bring the light close into the frame and also pointing it towards the camera more than usual. I think I might have even taken the lens hood off of the camera.

The second light was a Profoto Compact 600R which served as the key light. It's a pretty simple setup. I basically put an Elinchrom Octa-Bank on the strobe and raised it a few feet above the subjects head. I then pointed the light down to give some nice shadows. I usually like for my key light to be a little higher than the subjects head and usually pointed down.

The third light and one of the most important was the fill light, which was placed directly behind the camera. It was another Profoto Compact 300R with an Elinchrom Octa-Bank attached. This light served for filling in the shadows and also giving more light to the suit.

We then had our subject open the door and step out of the car while buttoning his jacket, we did this repeatedly until I felt that we had the shot.

Final specs for the image: Camera: Canon 5d Mk II; focal Length 55mm; f/stop: 5.6; shutter: 1/160

Editor's note: Check out Mobley's work at


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