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Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Lesson 25 of 32

Shooting on Location: Low Ceiling, Tungsten Light

Gary Hughes

Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Gary Hughes

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Lesson Info

25. Shooting on Location: Low Ceiling, Tungsten Light

Lesson Info

Shooting on Location: Low Ceiling, Tungsten Light

So we are floating around right now, the CreativeLive building here in Seattle, and there are tons of places to shoot, and there's lots of big rooms with beautiful light, but sometimes you don't always get that. So what I'm doing is, I've picked a few different locations throughout the building, that would be sort of problematic, and how I would deal with those problems. How I would walk into a situation, assess what light is there, and decide what to do and add light. So it's always going to be a matter of walking into a situation and figuring out what you have to work with. The first thing I do when I walk into any room, if you look around here, you're going to see that we have a pretty small space with low ceilings, and there are a lot of white walls which is actually pretty good. So we don't have a ton of visual interest but we do have the ability to bounce a lot of light around, which is gonna be really really useful. So we can get a lot done in this small space. So there are a co...

uple of things that you want to note when you walk into a room. Number one is, where's the light coming from? So if you look around here there's tungsten lights that are overhead. These sconce lights. We have some bulbs that are on the wall. But you don't have the presence of much natural light. So right of the bat, I'm gonna look at it, I'm gonna say all this light is kind of orange and yellow, and so if I'm using a flash, which is gonna be very blue, those color temperatures might mix and give me results that I don't really want. So what I know right away is I want to make the decision to filter out what light is in the room and light the room completely with the equipment that I have. And that's pretty easy to do because a flash is a lot brighter than your typical light bulb. So the concept is, when you're choosing your settings, what you typically want to do is, the way that I do it, and I want to remind everybody that the way I do it isn't necessarily the best way to do everything, but it's the way that works for me. If you've got another way that's better, awesome. I'll see you on CreativeLive next time. But for right now, this is the way that I do it. And so what I want to do is, teach you the way that I come up with my settings. And so the biggest question you get as an instructor is what settings are you using? What lens choice? How are you getting that result? And so I want to take you through the thought process that I go through when I am deciding what to make my camera settings. The first thing that you want to choose, is you want to think about, is what is the intent of the image? What do I want it to look like? And so I go to my aperture. Aperture, you want to relegate that to a specific responsibility. All of the camera settings have a similar function in the way that they can make the image lighter, or darker, and so it's really easy to get into the habit of just trying to find the correct exposure, and when you're always just looking for a good exposure you're gonna miss out on creating style in your images. So I relegate each camera setting to a specific job. Not lightness and darkness of the image, but a different thing. Each one has a unique effect on the image. Your aperture's primary effect on the image, besides the actual lightness and darkness exposure, is going to be depth of field. So relegate the aperture to your depth of field. How much of the background do you want in focus? Do you want to throw it out of focus? How much of the person? Do you want it to be sharp? Do you want it to be soft? Are you trying to incorporate the background as part of the story? So if you want to shoot shallow, then you know what your aperture should be. Maybe start somewhere in the f4, f5-6 range. Now when I go to my shutter speed, the shutter speed's unique aspect, besides making the image lighter and darker, is that it will filter out ambient light. When you're outside, when you're inside, no matter what your shutter speed has the ability to filter out the available light that's in the room. In this room it's not that hard. If you shoot at 125th, 160th, 200th or 250th of a second, and you balance the exposure, you will start to see that orange light drop out and the image be completely lit by your flash. So that's the unique aspect of the shutter speed. We're gonna relegate that to take care of our ambient light. Then we're gonna move onto our ISO, that's the other setting. The ISO is gonna be, the sole thing that the ISO does, is make the image lighter and darker. Now it has some effect on the graininess but with today's cameras, the ISO isn't as big of a factor as it used to be. It used to be you wanted to shoot with the lowest ISO possible but in the world we live in today, with digital photography, with the quality of the equipment that we have, the ISO can enable you to a lot cooler things than it used to be able to do, without the consequence of the quality of the image falling apart. Then we have our white balance and the white balances is the thing that we want to really think about that will, remember in another segment I said that I always want to find the easiest way to do things that's gonna save time. I know a lot of photographers that shoot with an auto white balance. And in this case, what's gonna happen is, I have an off-camera flash hooked up, and so if I have it set up to auto white balance, the camera is pretty much gonna balance for that flash. Which means it's gonna add yellow to the image to compensate for the blue light of the flash. Now that being said, I have all this yellow light already in the room. So the orange stuff might even get more orange. And so what I want to do is to encourage you to do a white balance on sight. Any time you change locations and you've got mixed colors, the camera's kind of dumb when it comes to the white balance in a lot of ways. So tell the camera what the white balance is. So you've got the aperture we're gonna choose for depth of field, the shutter we're gonna choose to filter out what ambient light we want to get rid of, the ISO is gonna determine the overall exposure of the image and the white balance is gonna choose the final color tone. And so moving into that we're gonna look at the room and we're gonna notice that it's small, it's got low ceilings, the walls are white, the light bounces around a lot, and we've got a lot of orange light in the room. So I've immediately decided that I don't want to use any of the available light in the room, that I want to light it completely with my own flash. So then once I decide what the lighting is like, and what I want to do with the lighting, the next thing I want to decide is what aspects of this room have visual interest that I could use. If the room has no aspects that are really catching my eye, then I might shoot at a shallow depth of field and try to blur a background to sort of make it look innocuous, like there's nothing really there. But if there are other areas of the room, if there are leading lines, if there are cool things, if there are reflections, if there's depth that I want to use, then I will find a way to use that. Since I'm lighting the image from scratch then we're gonna be able to kind of make whatever lighting we want. And so I'm gonna start looking for visual interest. So the first thing I saw in this room, is we've got one corner of the room over here, that is kind of a natural brick wall. Now you've got a lot of cool old buildings in Seattle, and sometimes the interiors are exposed brick and it's been painted white. I love that texture, and I love that look, and so I want to maybe use that out of all the walls in this room that are just white dry wall. That has visual interest. And then I'm looking at the wall there, and I see that there is a window leading to kind of the control booth area and from where I'm standing it has leading lines that will lead into the subject. So I know that if I shoot along the wall I'll have depth, I'll have visual interest and I'll have leading lines going into my subject. So now I've described how I'm gonna use my settings, how the room is gonna work, and where in the room I found first to do an interesting shot. So let's bring Jen in, a model from before. Okay? And we're gonna place Jen over in this position by the window, okay. So the first thing I want to do, is, which I did before we started broadcasting, was that I did a custom white balance. And if you're not sure how to do that you can find probably about a hundred million videos on YouTube that will tell you how. But I do use this cool little device right here and this has white, gray and black, so there's no way your camera can get it wrong. You shoot this on auto white balance, set the custom white balance on your camera, and then change the setting to custom white balance and you're good to go. So since we've already done that I notice that on auto white balance everything was looking a little cool so once I did my custom white balance it added just a little bit of warmth into the skin, which we're gonna see as we pull it up. So the first thing I'll do is I'll take a test shot. I've set my light up over here, my Speedbox-70, with just my Speedlight connected to it and I'm using the Canon 600 RTs, the remote-control ones. And what these do is they have a built-in radio slave so I can not only control that flash and make it fire, but I can also control the power level of that flash from here without going and adjusting my light. So I've got a nice soft light and I know that all this white wall is gonna make that light bounce around. So if I give it a general direction of light which is gonna be, probably about 45 or so degrees off this subject, and then not pointed exactly directly at her center, but feathered off just a little bit so that the edge of that box is getting to her and then the rest of that light is gonna hit that wall behind her, hit the wall in front of her, and bounce around, and give me a nice lighting ratio. So let's take a look at what that looks like. Jen, do me a favor, just lean your shoulder against the wall there. This is one of my favorite shots when I pose in a, more editorial, is a shoulder against the wall. And so what you're gonna find when you do this, is that it's gonna look really good if you can instruct the person that you want the shoulders just a little bit further ahead of their feet, which means they're gonna kind of have to lean and then lean, and that will bring the face the closest thing to the camera, as Jen's already gotten here. So what we're gonna do is do a test shot and I'm gonna show you what I'm looking at. Then go ahead and just give me a, have you got pockets on those pants right? Let's just relax the stance we're gonna go a little more casual editorial. I'm gonna zoom in, start with something kind of three-quarter length and let's see, make sure that all the lights fire. Boom! Okay, here we go. I've got a little, so my settings are locked in, I'm shooting at f4 now, ISO 200, 160th of a second. F4 because I'm shooting with a long lens that's compressing and so I want to throw that back wall just a little out of focus but it's gonna be sharp enough at this distance to where she's gonna be completely sharp. 160th of a second at ISO 200 is going to make sure that I'm filtering out all that available light. Now if you watch what happens if I take a picture without the flash. It will show you how much of that ambient light is getting through. And you'll see when that almost completely black image comes up that no light is getting through the image except for the light that I'm putting into it. So if you're taking an image and you want to make sure that only the light that you're putting in is getting there, then you want to take one without the flash and make sure that it's mostly black. Alright, so let's take a couple of test shots here. One, good. And two. So this is cool, I really like the look, it's got a nice soft light. We've got a, mostly kind of flat with a little bit of direction to it. We've got a nice visual interest in the background. But I also notice as I'm standing here, that she's standing right in front of this cool mirror, and I could create something maybe with just a little more depth and interest if I turn my image landscape. And so let me go ahead and focus. Good, alright. Lower your chin Jen, just a little bit and turn your head this way ever so slightly, right there. That's perfect, thank you. So if I pull back a little bit I can also get her reflection in the image, which gives it just kind of a little more you know, a little more creativity, which is kind of cool. So now I've got a really great nice casual editorial image. And it's on white, so it's gonna be easy to get a lot of good bounce light around here and now I've even added reflection into it to give it a little more depth. Alright. So let's go ahead and I will have Doug come in. Jen, thank you so much. I'll bring you back in just a second. Alright, I need to adjust the height to the light, where's Savanna? Can you raise that light just a little bit? Okay, Doug do me a favor, I want to kind of show you, kind of doing the same thing with a man. Step slightly back for me, good. Alright, and I want you to relax those hands in your pockets. This is one of my favorite casual guy poses. And then lean forward and put your shoulder on the wall. Yeah, that's perfect. Now you see I'm gonna have his head tilted towards the light which is also his far shoulder, it's gonna be nice and relaxed. And I'm gonna go ahead and do a quick test, see how that looks. There we go. Let's give this a shot. And, raise your chin just a little bit Doug. That's perfect. Yeah, looking good. Okay. Might be a little hot but I'm cool with it. Alright. Good. Perfect, and now we'll do the same thing, create a little interest by giving Doug a reflection. So I've found, in a part of the office here, that would be typically, maybe you'd walk right by it and I'm able to make something that is a little interesting and a little cool, alright? Here you go Doug. Master of the universe. Looking awesome (laughs). Lift that chin just a little. There you go, perfect. Now the chin raise is kind of an interesting part of the pose where you can give someone a lot more assertion. If you raise the chin a little bit it becomes confident, if you go too far you're shooting up their nose but just a slight tilt of the chin above lens level gives just a touch of confidence and if you bring that chin down with me Doug then it's a little more intent. So there's intent and then there's confident. So they both do similar, but different jobs. Okay so, but I think that looks awesome. So what I want to do is, as promised, I want to add to this image, I want to make something a little cooler, I want to add some light. Maybe add an edge light to it. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna put more distance between my subject and the background so that I can shoot light and maybe even gel that background and do something cool with it, without it getting on Doug. So Doug would you come up here to the edge of the wall, right there? Savanna, would you run and grab that light? And put it in a similar position, just bring it a little closer to me. And I'm gonna back up here. Good. Okay. Now what I've got in my pocket, is I've got a set of gels, That we talked about in the gear section, and a common hair tie. Alright. So I have no idea if this is gonna work (laughs), but I'm gonna give it a shot. Alright. I've got Doug over here in a beautiful green shirt and a green tie. So, and I've got a white wall. So maybe I'll throw a little bit of green onto that background and see what happens. So Savanna, would you bring that other light around? Cool. And let's go ahead and gel that. Leave a little space so it doesn't melt the gel. Cool. And again I'm using those portable stackable Manfrotto stands, along with the Manfrotto adaptor for Speedlights. The Manfrotto umbrella adaptor. Make sure this is turned on. Group C, DTL, and I've got to change the channel on this real quick. Channel 15. That's where, okay cool. We're linked. Alright, Savanna, go ahead and put that over there in the corner of the couch a little bit. Okay. And tilt that up just a little bit, and we might even add a flash bender just to, okay that is number C. Letter C. So what I'm doing is, I'm in the same space, I'm gonna try to add a little bit of color, to sort of match what he's wearing and maybe that'll be interesting. Maybe it won't, but we'll see. Alright. It's okay too, like if I do something and I make a mistake, part of what I want to do is make sure that you see going through the process of doing something like this. No matter how good you are, almost every photographer in the business takes more bad pictures than good pictures. They just don't show you the bad ones. So don't ever be discouraged if you have to take ten pictures to get one really good one. So I'm gonna start kind of low powered 'cause I'm not really exactly totally sure. Savanna would you feather that light on Doug just a little bit? I'm gonna do, I've got a little bit of natural light coming in from the other side now. So I just want to do another test without light just to make sure that it's not affecting the image, and it's not, I just took a test shot and you cannot see it. And now we're gonna give this a whirl. Let's test it out. There we go. Boom! Alright. Now when you're shooting on a white wall, you need, the gel isn't going to be as noticeable as if you're shooting on a darker wall. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense but you've got to realize that a bunch of light is being shot through that gel and if you shoot it onto a white wall you're not gonna get green you're gonna get tinted green which is actually kind of working out in this case. Doug I want you to scoot your heels back about 6 inches. So what I've done is, I'm gonna use, I've found I got a little too much shadow on this side of his face. And so I'm gonna back him up, just a little more please, so that when he is leaning against the wall like he was before, that the white wall that's next to his head which wasn't next to his head before is now gonna act as a reflector. So I'm using what's in the scene to sort of make the image more interesting. So so since Doug, I want to make him more powerful I'm gonna take a slightly low angle and that's gonna make him a little taller a little more the boss. Alright. Good deal. Now Doug I want you to tilt your head this way just a touch. Turn it a little bit into that light. Alright. And let's focus. See what we, okay. I want you to take a deep breath, and I want you to slide those shoulders forward. Yeah, there you go, bring that face in. That's perfect. Alright, let's take a look. And you see we've got a little more green in there, in that background, so we're able to create an image that's kind of matching what he's doing just by using a gel, which is kind of neat. So I want to even lower the power a little bit on that gel. There we go. Perfect. Yeah, alright. So right now my camera settings are f4, 160th of a second, one 160th of a second (laughs). And, hey Savanna what is that backlight zoomed in at? One of the things when you're bouncing light around that's very, (Savanna mumbling) 24 millimeters? Can you zoom it in just a little, maybe 50? I just don't want any light on Doug over here. Perfect. Okay. So let's do something with a little room around it. Now I'll often, thank you Savanna, I will often shoot in landscape as well as portrait. Sometimes these images are gonna be used for websites, sometimes they're gonna be used for marketing materials and you need room for copy. So not a bad idea to grab a couple like that. Lift your chin a little Doug, perfect. Take a deep breath (exaggerated exhale). Yoga pants! Awesome. Perfect. Yeah there we go. Looking pretty good. I'm digging it. How about that? Yeah not too shabby at all. Take another one in landscape just to see, make sure we've got going on. I'm gonna move myself just a little bit, I want a little more of that wall behind him. There we go. And focus. And once you're focused and you're ready to shoot and everything's locked in, pop out from behind the camera and talk to your subject. Right Doug? We're getting along pretty well. (laughs) There you go. Boom! So what we've done is we've created a really kind of interesting way to take something that's pretty plain and we've got really cool leading lines with the reflection in the window. And we used gels to just change the color of the background and we brought our subject away from the background to create a little more depth. All in an area that you might walk into, in a setting where you go into a professional office and you might absolutely just pass right by it. But even if this is all you've got you can still use really simple equipment to create really compelling images. Yeah. Alright, looking good man. That's awesome. Okay so we're gonna move on to our next setup.

Class Description


Professional portraits go beyond the standard headshot. With the age of social networking upon us, businesses often have the need for environmental and editorial portraits. Not only will you understand individual portraits, but you will also learn to execute large group posing for corporate clients. By adding these to your client sessions, you can add to your business plan AND widen your target client outreach. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ten Tips for Professional Portraits

SEO Workbook

Posing Guide

Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



Gary is super knowledgable, yet down-to-earth and relatable. I love how he explains the exact gear he uses but also describes ways to accomplish the same look using DIY and less expensive alternatives. The segment where he demos a live shoot in multiple, difficult lighting situations is worth the cost of the class alone! Bonus: He's super funny. He could probably double as a comedian on the side, but I digress. This class was informative, funny, and very practical for any photographer that wants to increase their profit and expand their business into the professional world. He gives all his prices and workflows so you can get up and running in 2 days! :) Awesome class overall, and it's a great sequel to his professional headshot class (which I also bought and loved.)

Richard Blenkinsopp

I love Gary's straight teaching style, and appreciate him demonstrating with regular people, not models. This is the real life of a regular photographer! I wish Creative Live could show more from the photographers viewpoint, so that when he's posing and moving lights etc, we see exactly what he's changing, and can analyze why... not sure how they'd achieve this in a live environment though. Loved his going around to less than ideal locations and finding the place that works. My favourite course on Creative Live so far.


Gary makes taking editorial portraits look simple and fun. I want to start shooting heads! I love Creative live and Gary is really doing a great job. I got to buy the class next. Thank you.