BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots for Conor O'Brien, photographed at The Vintage on 05 December 2012.

Keeping things simple on another round of Saturday Light. This is Conor, the co-owner of The Vintage in downtown Scranton. But more than being a local entrepreneur and a huge supporter of the local art scene, Conor is himself an actor. So when he needed new headshots to share with the casting folks, he asked me to shoot them.

We handled the whole session in about 20 minutes at The Vintage, working on an upstairs balcony against two different colored sections of the wall. Everything about this shoot was simple. And really, it should be that way, because as assignments go, it was very straightforward.

Conor’s request was for a selection of images to use digitally and in print. He wanted tight headshots with a neutral expression, processed in black & white. Having been in theater for years, he knew what he was doing when it came to his expression. And he knew what poses he liked and what he didn’t, so we were able to get right to the look we wanted.

It’s always great to work with a subject/client who knows exactly what they want. Instead of experimenting with different options, you can start producing keepers almost immediately. Granted, it may not be as creatively free as an open shoot, but there’s a time and place for both.


As you can see, this was truly a simple setup. I’ve got a single YN-460II speedlight in my DIY beauty dish. The dish is high, angled down, and is almost directly in front of Conor. It’s an unusual setup for me – probably for most photogs – since it’s much closer to being an on-axis light than is usually used. But I’ve seen David Hobby use the technique several times in portraits and it really works well. It’s a little more distinctive look.

The beauty dish is the key light. It’s also the only active light source, as my shutter speed is killing most of the ambient. But after the first few shots I decided that there was just enough angle to the light to put some shadows on the left side of Conor’s face (from the camera’s perspective) and I didn’t like them. So I opened the 43” reflector I’d brought along and propped it in a chair next to him, using the white side to bounce some of the flash back at him.

It’s a very indirect bounce, since the dish isn’t really pointing at the reflector, or vice-versa. But there’s enough spill out of the dish to make it work. And it accomplished just what I wanted it to, providing fill for the shadows without completely erasing them.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots for Conor O'Brien, photographed at The Vintage on 05 December 2012.

As you can also see in the diagram, both the speedlight and the reflector were very close to Conor – about as close as I could physically get them. Naturally, this makes the light sources relatively larger in relation to the subject, and thereby softens the lighting. It also makes the flash more efficient.

For this shoot, I used the E-M5 + 25mm at 1/160, ISO 200, and f/3.5. The shutter speed is the E-M5’s max sync speed (one of its few shortcomings) and the aperture was selected for the mix of sharpness on Conor’s face and background fall-off.

In reality, the background walls are purple and a light blue. But since we’re converting to black & white, I didn’t have to worry about that and was able to use them with the expectation that in post they would simple be a darker and a lighter gray. I shot both to give us options; individuals usually look better – or at least prefer how they look – against one or the other. (Conor tended towards the darker background in his selections.)

The conversion was done in ACR via my Visco Film plugin. I tried a couple of different looks before settling on the Kodak Tri-X 400 emulation, with some adjustments to add a touch of fill light and eliminate the grain.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots for Conor O'Brien, photographed at The Vintage on 05 December 2012.

A quick and easy shoot. The client is happy and has what he needs and I was able to finish the gig without having to lug in a bunch of gear, or setup a background stand, or tune in multiple lights. Sometimes the KISS principle really is the best.

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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