ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard | A Little Head Shots Project

A Little Head Shots Project

February 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I have known Lucy for quite a few years and was really happy to help when she contacted me about getting some headshots done for some upcoming auditions.


Lucy is not only a lovely young lady but is a very talented one too with energy, focus, passion and an infectious enthusiasm for the performing arts.  She has been very busy studying in college and is working hard to promote herself and get auditions for the fast-approaching time when she will be graduating. I have great confidence that she will go far and the opportunity to help in any small way is always a pleasure.  One of the many things I love about photographing her is that she can morph through many different looks by quickly changing her hair and gaze...formal, informal, innocent, confident, soft, dramatic....


For portrait photography my love is for on-location shooting for the challenge of seeking out a suitable set-up in very ordinary surroundings and the opportunity to use a mix of both ambient and flash light.  I brought along my 2 Profoto B1 off-camera flash lights.  These are wonderful lights for a photographer working alone as they pack the power of studio strobes but have a clip-in battery good for well over 200 flashes, thus doing away with external battery packs and trailing cables.  They are therefore dead easy to set up and move around on lighting stands.  The B1s also offer high speed sync (HSS) with Nikon compatible TTL air remote, which is awesome for this kind of work, as it means I can shoot at wider apertures to blur distracting backgrounds and use a faster shutter speed to reduce the ambient light exposure instead of stopping down the aperture.  Many shooters scoff at TTL flash but I love its flexibility and the way it enables me to work faster and keep the attention of my subjects without constantly making adjustments and manually metering.  It's reliable and makes life easier....what's not to like!?  In any case, it is easy to dip in and out of TTL and make any minor adjustments direct from the air remote on the camera. 


Much of my recent shooting has been with the wonderful Fujifilm X-system cameras that I steadily seem to be migrating to, but that system still lacks a little something....namely the ability to shoot TTL or high speed sync flash with the Profoto B1s, so out came the Nikon D800 and Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR2 lens.  This is a pretty stunning combo for this kind of shoot as I can crop into the subject and use the telephoto/wide aperture combo to make simple or distracting backgrounds pleasing.  The Bokeh of this lens is not buttery smooth at all times, but I rather like the specular bokeh balls it produces and optically it is up to the D800's high resolution.


This time I met Lucy at home and we did the shoot outside in the garden.  It was a bright sunny day but chilly and due to the timing, we had midday sun to deal with.  Lucy has lovely, curly (big!) hair, so backlight had to be the way to go for at least some shots.


For outdoor shoots now I tend to use the robust Manfrotto 1005 stands as they comfortably support the B1s on less stable ground or if there is a breeze.  For key light I used the Profoto OCF 2' Octabox.  This is a great soft box for my way of working.  Yes it's quite small, but when working alone, it's less likely to get toppled, it packs down to almost nothing, is double-baffled to eliminate hotspots and gives nice rounded catchlights in the eyes.  For the softest light, I got it as close as I could to Lucy, which is easy to achieve when shooting cropped-in with the telephoto.  The only caveat here is that when shooting in HSS the lights will only shoot at an energy level of 8-10, which is quite a high output, even in HSS where efficiency is reduced.  If images are overexposed, it means having to shift the light a bit further away from the subject until it is ok.


We started using the sun as a backlight and with a single B1 in the Octa from the front.  Here a high shutter speed was needed to control the bright ambient light, so HSS was used.

1/500 f5.6


1/1000, f4.  A breeze kindly livened her hair up a bit!


We then tried some in the shade against a short section of brick wall.  Normal flash sync here with the soft box very close, which gave a very soft light indeed.

1/250, f4


1/250, f4


We then tried a 2-light recipe for the last part of the shoot.  Using the same B1 in the Octa for the key light, I added a second B1 to the rear.  For the first shot here it was set at a slight angle to the rear to cast light on Lucy's hair and the side of her face, as this can often add more depth.


For the second shot shown below, the light was directly behind to backlight her hair more dramatically.  Although Lucy was in the shade, I wanted the sunlit background to register in this exposure.

1/250, f5.6


As always, Lucy was a gem of a model and this fun shoot showed the effectiveness of the Profoto B1 lights in getting great light in any location.  Not only that, but their portability and TTL allowed me to work faster and get far more variety of shots than if I had used a fully manual set up, which was a real bonus on this chilly day....I didn't want to freeze Lucy even more than she already was, as she may not want to use me again! 


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