Taking Epic Portraits - It’s All About the Light

When a client photo shoot gets scheduled, we take the opportunity to rent the best gear for the job (whether we’re shooting shoes, wallets, or babies). One of our recent shoots required super sharp close-up shots with a shallow depth of field. So we rented the following equipment for our ideal setup:

  • Canon 5D Mark III
  • Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro Lens
  • Canon 580EX II
  • Westcott 26’’ Octa Rapid Box

The Canon 100mm Macro is notoriously Canon’s sharpest lens, even with the aperture wide open, so we knew it was the right tool for the job.

The great joy of renting gear is that we normally get to do a test run the day before to make sure everything is working properly. This particular setup gave me the idea of playing with epic portraits. So we took a couple hours, set up the gear, and captured some shots. (Click any of the pictures in this post to view the fullsize images to see just how sharp they are.)

We used a white backdrop, with the 580EX II (remote triggered) in the Westcott softbox at a downward ~60 degree angle, pointing from about 3 feet behind the subject at the back side of their face (when shooting profiles). The subject would sit in a stool about 5 feet in front of the backdrop to give enough room for the flash.

The key to this shot is the light. Having the strobe come from behind the subject at an angle creates a sharp outline of the face with deep and interesting shadows. It also compliments the sharpness of the 100mm macro nicely as you can catch almost every little detail of the face and hair. You can play around by moving the light to different locations and seeing the effect it has on the shot.

Thanks to Owen, Elliott, Anjali, Saad, Joseph, and Minh for being my fearless and hilarious stand-ins. Check out the full Flickr set.

Zach is a senior digital strategist, combining client-focused business acumen with creative digital ideas. He helps bring on new clients and ensures their success, including Discovery Channel, ESPN, Dick's Sporting Goods, and POLITICO.

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