Contact Sheet color

Did headshots for the cast of The Vintage’s production of “Pride & Prejudice” over two evenings last week. Simple, clean headshots – nothing fancy here, just working to capture a good portrait of each actor for use in the show’s program. The whole thing was designed to be pretty low key.

The crew is rehearsing in a converted warehouse space in Scranton that’s a sort of conglomorate arts space; there’s production booths, a smallish bandstand, some open areas for theater, and best of all for my needs, a photography studio setup in one corner. This is apparently used by one of the local newspaper/magazine shooters, but I annexed it for a little while both nights.


It’s your basic seamless paper set, and well-used based on the density of dirty footprints on the bottom portion. The other photographer’s setup was nice; AlienBees with a pair of gridded striplights and a beauty dish. My setup? Well, I felt a little hillbillyish, since I was using my original pair of reflective umbrellas.

The ones I bought when I started photography seven years ago.

The ones that are actual umbrellas with the plastic handles smashed off, that were originally spray painted silver inside, and which I had just re-painted white. (They still stank to high heaven.)

P&P Headshots Lighting Diagram

I was also using my DIY beauty dish, made from a plastic planter and a CD spindle. All with YN-460II speedlights. On the up-side, my entire lighting setup cost less than one of his striplights.

But I digress. I used the umbrellas, one setup low and the other above it, to blast the background to pure white, using the “blinkies” on the camera’s histogram to confirm. My subjects sat on a borrowed posing stool about 6 feet in front of the background, bodies facing the beauty dish to camera left, faces turned slightly to look back into the lens. They sat and I stood, so the final image is from a slight downward angle, which works well.

I used the E-M5 + Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens at ISO 200, 1/160, and f/3.2 with Cactus radio slaves driving the speedlights. The Oly 75mm is an amazing lens and stopped down a little like this, it is very, very sharp. It’s the only lens I’ve ever owned that I’d say can almost be too sharp for portrait work, as every blemish, flaw, and pore shows up.


In post I did most of my adjustments in ACR, getting a better feel for how the new adjustments work for portraiture, before moving to Photoshop. A layer of skin touch-up with the healing brush, a minor curves layer weighted towards the darker tones, and some quick dodging to the eyes in a low-opacity layer and I was done.  (For the program version, I also ran a black & white conversion via an action.)

Quick, simple, and unobtrusive. I was able to get in, get my shots, and get out again in less than an hour without stressing anyone, which is always good – and especially when you’re working with a busy cast of actors.

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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