Senior Studio Portraits – Review

Part two of my senior portrait shoot is now complete, which wraps up that project. It has been an interesting experience, trying some new techniques and returning to old ones, and I’m certain that the client will be thrilled with her images.

The main portion of the shoot was studio-based and went pretty much as predicted, although there were some early issues to overcome. The home-office space that I used wasn’t quite as large as I would have liked, but worked better than any other option I had. Ideally the room would have been longer, to put more space between the model and backdrop.

On the other hand, that would have caused yet more problems, as my roll of background paper isn’t wide enough as it is. In fact, it was causing such problems during the setup test shots done with my assistant for the day, Mandy, that I ended up supplementing it. The quick fix was to cut off the length of paper, then roll out another. I overlapped the two pieces, taping the cut-off piece to the backdrop stand and the roll sheet using painter’s tape. (There was a seam line, but the BG light helped hide it, and a quick use of the Heal tool in Photoshop fixed the rest.)

Setup - Portrait Studio

As we were just about to get started – as in, the model had just arrived – the lightstand holding the BG light took a fall, and in slow motion I watched the flash explode – batteries, battery door, and baseplate all blew off. In an amazing bit of luck, the flash’s internal workings were undamaged, and I was able to jam the battery door back on. The baseplate plastic was broken, however, so instead of mounting it back to the light stand, Mandy became my voice-activated lightstand for the duration of the shoot.

A side note – of my three Nikon Speedlights, the other two already have homemade base plates on them. One I broke after buying and the other I got cheap because of the broken plate. Since I won’t ever use these on camera, it was no big deal to open up the bottoms, remove the hotshoe connections, and glue on a dummy baseplate – a piece of plastic the right size and shape, so they can still mount to the lightstands.

Using the clamshell lighting I talked about in the pre-game post, I shot four different outfits, each in a variety of poses, with some differences in the BG lighting. The BG light varied between 1/4 and 1/16 power, depending on the colored gel or lack thereof. The clamshell strobes were set to 1/4 and 1/8. All were shot with a Canon 400D & 17-40mm lens combo at 1/200th, f/4, & ISO 200.

Clamshell lighting really is a great technique – the effect is smooth and well diffused, and shadows are minimized, especially against a white BG. It’s also easy to setup and work with – the lighted area is actually fairly large, so small movements in the model’s position don’t require resetting of the strobes.



After packing up the studio, we made a quick stop at the client’s grandparent’s house, where we did a few more outdoor shots. We were looking to capitalize on the foliage – aided by the lovely afternoon weather – and we weren’t disappointed. A rope swing in the side yard became the main site, and lit by a single flash, we were able to capture some amazing shots!



The outdoor shots are lit once more by a single strobe with a shoot-through umbrella, held aloft by my assistant. I was shooting at the max sync speed, f/5.6, ISO 200, with the flash on either full or 1/2 power to balance out the afternoon ambient.

I still cannot recommend this technique enough – once you nail down the ratio of strobe to ambient – this took me about a minute’s worth of test shots – it remains constant as long as the light doesn’t change. (And even then, gradual shifts in lighting are easily compensated for on-camera.)

All told, I took over 500 photos during the afternoon. Edited down, the client will only get a fraction of that number – but still, I don’t envy their job of picking the ones they want printed!

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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1 Comment

  1. So Mandy is the assistant for the day (and voice activated to boot!)

    Does she know this?

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