Shooting Black on Black – Reality

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was able to meet up with Katie, and old friend from high school, who agreed to do some modeling – which was great, because I’ve wanted to get her in front of the camera for a long time.  Unfortunately, we had a less than ideal setting – my parent’s basement – so space was at a premium, which was somewhat limiting.

The theory had been to place Katie, dressed in black, against a black background and light her from the front with a pseudo-Octabox, with a single strobe for backlighting.  The reality was a bit different, as is usually the case, but the photos worked.

The key light is provided by two Speedlites firing into reflective umbrellas at camera left, stacked one immediately atop the other to create a larger, continuous reflective surface.  The original plan called for shooting this light through a white cloth diffuser to further soften it, but that got scrubbed.  The backlight is a single Speedlite with grid.

What I’d really like to have done is something like the McNally shot that inspired the shoot, where there was enough room for Katie to jump around a little.  Instead, we had to settle for portraits, which was still fun, just not what I’d hoped for.  And since the scene was a little static, Katie switched outfits after a little while to add some color to the scene (the green sweater really pulls out her eyes!).

The lighting switched around this point, to a clamshell setup using two Speedlites with shoot-through umbrellas, the top one a stop above the bottom.  After a few shots I flipped the backlight around as well, so it was pointing at the backdrop directly behind Katie, instead of at the back of her head.  I’ve always liked the way black backdrops respond to a background light – it sets them apart from the model very well.

The whole session was shot in full-manual mode, both the camera and the lights, which were triggered by my modified Cactus slaves.  I started out shooting with the 7D + 17-35L, due to the space constraints, but switched to the 50mm Mk 1 when I started with the clamshell lighting.  Shooting around f/2.2 gives great out-of-focus backgrounds and makes the eyes pop.

So not exactly the shoot that I had hoped for, but a good one nonetheless.  And it definitely paves the way for a round two, when hopefully I’ll have enough room to get some more action in the frame.

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. A deviation from my usual quips, and some serious critique.

    1. The best of the lot. Your really nailed it – great image

    2. Models face is over exposed/lit (I looked on 3 diff monitors)

    3. Technically good, Nice facial expression and composition. Not sure I like the strand of hair hanging down on the models left side or the light on the back of her neck.

    4. Maybe a tad overexposed. White spot on lower left of the images could have been cloned out. Nice compostion.

    • Brent Pennington

      Thank you Mike, I really appreciate the critique! Between having been sick for so long, and the less-than-ideal space I was working in, I felt like I wasn’t quite on my usual game. Hopefully next time will come out better.

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