Saturday Light: Paul’s Reflection

Paul Sevensky, reflected in a childhood portrait of his grandfather, photographed on 27 December 2011.

This was easily the most unusual portrait shoot I’ve yet done, and one of the most difficult.  The idea was Paul’s – my good friend and fellow photographer, who wanted to put his own face alongside a portrait of his grandfather as a young man.  But rather than simply pose with the portrait (heck, anyone can do that), he suggested reflecting his own face in the glass.  Cool idea, can’t be that hard, right?

Famous last words.

You’d think that such a simple concept would be easy enough to execute, but appearances are deceptive.  The original setup was pretty standard; photog, model, portrait, background, in that order.  Granted, the model is facing away from the camera, which was a little strange, but the setup worked once we got the portrait aligned properly, such that I was able to comfortably shoot while keeping Paul’s reflection aligned with his grandfather’s suit.  The portrait itself is hanging from an umbrella adapter on a lightstand (it’s always a good idea to bring along an extra).

Problem was, the first shot showed Paul’s reflection – and my reflection and the room’s reflection.  The word “disaster” is too strong, but the setup needed a complete revamping.  Ended up tearing down the entire set and reassembling it, this time with the black background between myself and Paul, just low enough for me to crouch behind and shoot over top of.  It looked ridiculous, but it worked – the reflection was limited to just Paul.

This was a two light shoot (both Speedlites): a YN 460II in my DIY beauty dish to camera right, illuminating Paul’s face, but feathered slightly away, and a 430EX with a shoot-through umbrella to camera left and slightly behind, illuminating the portrait itself.  (In the diagram above, imagine that the flower pot is the framed portrait.  And my backdrop was black, to cut reflections.)

Several factors were less than ideal.  For starters, we were working in Paul’s living room, with the furniture pushed back as much as possible.  You get used to this when you’re doing location shoots and actually become something of an expert at dismantling and reassembling living rooms.  But it really makes me yearn for a studio of my own,  where there’s always plenty of open space and tall ceilings.

This shoot also took place the day after my 24-70 died, leaving me shooting with my next widest lens, a 50mm.  It was a little tight, but we pulled it off.  You work with what you have and find ways to pull it all together in the end – that’s part of the fun.  And certainly part of the satisfaction.

Once in post, I finished out with a tight crop along the frame, along with perspective control to straighten it out a little.  A curves layer, a little dodging & burning, and we were done.

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. Sounds like it took a good bit of effort to get the shot but you got it. Way to go!

  2. Marie Pennington

    I love this! Great idea Paul. Very nice!

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