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Shoot: One Strobe Portrait with Gray Backdrop

Lesson 26 from: Strobe Lighting on Location

Joel Grimes

Shoot: One Strobe Portrait with Gray Backdrop

Lesson 26 from: Strobe Lighting on Location

Joel Grimes

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Lesson Info

26. Shoot: One Strobe Portrait with Gray Backdrop


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Develop your Artistic Vision


Learn Strobe Basics


Which Strobe Is Best For You?


Strobe Questions Answered


Balance Strobes with Ambient Light


The Sunny 16 Rule


Choose the Right Modifier for Strobes


Lesson Info

Shoot: One Strobe Portrait with Gray Backdrop

All right, look at this beard! Whoo hoo! Here's the beard. I appreciate you warming it up for me. Sure. Yeah. Okay, now this is the real guy, right? So, what I like about this is because I call this the character portrait. The real character portrait. Now I've photographed a number of musicians, when I was in LA, here's what I discovered about musicians, they are artists also. So that's good news because then they actually appreciate what you're going through. Is that true? Yeah, you're not getting paid for this either, right? No, but as I say, I didn't get to that. Musicians don't have any money. (laughing) Typically, unless they're-- That's where you were going with it. Yeah, unless they're really, they've made it. And then what they do is they think, well hey, I'm successful and then you just do it for free. Does that make sense? Does that kinda, yeah. So in LA, that's what I learned very quickly. But I love musicians. I play the guitar, I was in a band, wrote songs,...

I love that culture. Not that I was, I'm not a rapper, you know. But I love musicians, and so, to me they make perfect subjects. And again, I did a book on Navajo, spent two years photographing the Navajo. One of the things I discovered, in terms of getting recruiting, is that when I went to some of the Navajo artists, sculptors, painters, and whatever, they were very willing to sit for me. Where other Navajo weren't as willing. It took a little more twisting their arm. So if you want to get subjects, find people that understand what you're doing a little bit. They're artists that understand the process, being creative, and all this and they make really good subjects. So-- Joel? Yes, question? Before we get started, we just wanted to have Ryan come out, we're going to hand you a mic so that we can actually hear you and just introduce yourself and tell us who you are cause we're thrilled to have ya. Check, test one, two, yeah, I've gotta check mic and I probably hold it more like a rapper than a (laughing). Ryan Abeo is my name. I go by RA Scion. Formerly of Common Market. Victor Shade, Blinking Sphinx. Yeah, I have been in Seattle since and have a great appreciation for the artistic community in Seattle and especially what they create in this space, so thank you for having me. I appreciate being here. Thank you. And Ryan, 10 days ago found out he was going to be recruited and so he started growing his beard then. (laughing) And that's a 10 day growth right there. So thank you for doing that. Barley and hops. (laughing) How you feed a beard. That's right, I might try that. Cause I need it. All my boys have beards. You know, so I need a beard. All right, so okay. So since my laptop is setup with the Camranger, what I'm going to probably do is have John actually hit the button, right? So let's do this first. Let's get you in here. I have my shutter speed at 200th of a second, that's my sync speed. I can't go any higher. And I'm just going to knock out all this ambient light. And I'm at 7.1, which is my sweet spot of the lens, typically. We should be fine in this, even though we got a lotta ambient coming through here, we should be fine. And so I want to shoot and test a base shot first. So, let's make sure this light is directly overhead. Okay, and put your back as close to that gray as possible. Okay, so, and you're a little taller than John. So let me get right up in here. And get my focus point right on the top in the middle. Okay, so I'm focused. And we're going to fire off one here. All right, whop, that, I think we have to take this out, stick it back in. Go at 5.3. There it goes. All right, so let's try it again. (camera shutter clicks) There it went off. So my glasses are over here. And that looks pretty darn good. So I'm gonna walk over here and just see, which is just what we do John, just go and click that right there. Okay, so there's our base shot, on Ryan. Wow, that's a beard. That is like, (whistles). Did you do the Photoshop thing already or-- Not yet. But now, remember this, I understand the vision here because I've done this. So I can envision texture behind him. Right now it's just gray, right? So it's kinda boring. But I'm gonna, that's okay. I'm gonna get it. I'm gonna get my sequence. So, what happens if I raise my light? What does that do to my shadows? (mumbling) It what? (mumbling) Well it makes them longer. It makes a longer shadow. So I go up makes 'em longer, down makes 'em shorter. So like he doesn't have a hat, but if he had a hat on, I have to get underneath that hat. That's a really hard thing to, you know... In this scenario, let me just show you. We'll fire one off here. We're going to raise it up and elongate the shadows a little bit. Just so you see, kinda, I'm shooting kinda up here, but that should... And just click on it. Okay, see how now he has more shadow underneath his nose? Now you can't see his chin, but the point is is, that's elongating my shadows. Now, which is the correct position of a light? What's your vision as an artist? Right, what's your subject? Already, right now, I feel like elongating the shadow looks better on him. On a female model, I'd probably shorten the shadows. So it depends on who your subject is, what you're going after and right now, I think actually having a little bit longer shadow looks great. Let's go and click on the one before. Look at the shadows that his glasses are causing. They're really short there. Now go to the next one. Look how they dropped down a little bit. I don't mind that. I personally, I kinda like it. So, that's what I'm looking for is, where's my shadows. Now, here's another thing that's really interesting. The shadow on the back of Ryan, right behind his neck there, that will actually be preserved later in Photoshop. So when I add my texture, this is why it's really cool. I add my texture with an overlay or a soft light blending mode. That shadow shows up on the back of that texture like he's actually standing up against that texture. Isn't that cool? That's what blending modes do. And so, with that, I think we're pretty good. That's why I wanted him to go up against the gray. So he actually creates a shadow against the gray. Does that make sense? So, let's do this. Actually, just stay where you're at. I'm going to walk back here and I'm just gonna slide this over just slightly, so he's dead center. So I make sure I get my gray. And then, I'm gonna go and we're gonna focus now. I guess what we'll do, John, is that if you go up here. Got to set the ISO, I don't know where you want to set it. Oh yeah, what's my ISO, let's take a look. I'm at 100 now. So that's my base mark. We're starting at 100, we want three shots. It's not doing it, stops, that's working. Okay, here let's just do a capture. Let's make sure that this is-- Okay, now it's working. Just make sure, sometimes that's what it takes. No? We got, let's go back over here. Make sure my preferences are setup at shadows is my starting point, that's what I want. Shadows starting point. Let's-- Should the start value be higher? Let's do this, see what happens if I do this. There it is. So it's not liking that for some reason. Well, if that's the case then we need to go to say, let's go to F8 for now. We're just gonna test one off here. So stare the camera down, ready? And here goes just one, sorry. Two, we're just making sure it works. Okay, it says bracketing sequence was successful. So let's take a look. The darker and you moved a little bit, but that's okay. The normal, that looks pretty normal. And the over. Okay, so that looks pretty darn good. So let's go back, now we're ready to hit manual. Hit manual. Hit manual and we'll get goin'. So let me get you all setup here. And then, wo that should be about one second between each one. So you just kinda stare at the lens. Told you about those glasses. Yeah, they're slippin'. Okay, so maybe drop your chin just a little bit cause we're gonna kinda look you up slightly. Okay, so I'm clear on your top here. So John, give me the first one. Ready, count to three. One, two, three. (camera shutter clicks) Real still, don't move. Now I'm going to go to next level. Hit it again. (camera shutter clicking) There we go. And then we're gonna go down here. Ready? Yep, just go right away. Okay. (camera shutter clicking) Boy, that took a little longer on that last one. Okay, so there's our nine images. That's a lot, okay. And so, it goes back to, is it worth it? Is it worth all this work, right? I think it is. So there's your, let's just do this. That's my, so that screen looks a little bright over there. That would be my normal there. Normal in the middle. And then normal in the bottom. So one of the things I like about Ryan is he's got some nice tats. So let's see how we can get the tats to show up. So what if we... What would you do, I don't know, crossing your arms, probably not going to be that, but what would you do to kinda bring your arms in a little bit? What would you do? You want 'em-- Well, kinda straight on, but... Let's try it, okay? So now move that way a little bit. And then just square up your shoulders though. Dead center over here, okay. Okay, and let's just see what this looks like. Okay. And all right, John, so what we do is, you just count to three and fire 'em off and go as quick as you can. One, two, three. Real still. Does it need to be reset? I don't know. Like I said, we literally never use my laptop. I'm always doing, there it went. Sorry, now we'll just do it again. Discard that. Here we go, ready? I'm ready, stare me down. One, two, three. We're gonna move to the next set and here we go. Do it again. Okay, good job. And one more coming up here. Hit it again. Okay, so there's my nine images coming up, okay. So that's pretty good. Let's try another one, where you're kinda like this. So I still see some tats. But it's kinda straight on again. Cause this is kind of a, this is a little more of a straight on type of scenario here. Okay, ready. I like your head tilted, perfect. John, go for it. First set. (camera shutter clicking) Real still. Beautiful. Second set, here we go. (camera shutter clicking) Perfect. Perfect. And the last set, here we go. (camera shutter clicking) Okay, there's my nine images. So, that's not rocket science, but it's a little bit of a fiddling. But now I've got, look at his tats. They look great there. See, and then go back, now they look good on the arm coming down here, too. So, that's gonna give me my sequence images to go into Photoshop. That's why, it's kinda hard to see it right now, but we'll see the whole process in the next session. So, let me do this. Let me now, I've got the sequence, everything's working perfect, let's try a couple more and, let's see... You're the star here. So what else would you do, I know it's kinda like you've gotta be still, but what else would you do? Maybe bring one hand up, what would you do? Sure, contemplating. Okay, here we go, ready? Okay, John, get ready to fire it off, ready? Okay, I'm good, go for it. (camera shutter clicking) First one, second one, third one, okay, next sequence. Hit it again. First set. Second one, third one. Love the arms, again. Here we go. First, second, third. Now, in photo merge, no problem, it'll all come together. Even if he's moved just a slight little bit. On occasion, I will get just a little teeny, like it fits everything but there's a little bit of a, kind of a bump on the arm and I just take it out in Photoshop. That happens very rarely. But on occasion it will do it. But that looks pretty good. Look at his arm. Now you wanna try one again. Only when your hand, I love it, but don't block too much of your lips, just bring it down a little bit. Just kinda bring it down, whatever feels natural but just I want to see your lips. Right there. Ready, hold on a second, let me get all set. Ready, go for it, John. Hit that button. Okay, you know what's happening, sorry. Let's start over. You know what's happening. This is sticking a little bit, my pad. Okay, trackpad. The trackpad's sticking, so you gotta kinda go on the side. Okay, let's try that again, sorry. Ready, hold on a second, John, let me get everything ready. I'm focused, it looks perfect, go for it. There you go, One. Two, three. Okay, next set. Here we go again. One, two, three. And then the last set. Right here, perfect. Go for it. (laughing) Sticky pad. Okay. Poor Ryan, he's trying to stay still. Okay, so, yeah. So, that is my gray scenario with a stitching, bracketing ISO, giving me nine exposures. And any questions? Joel, you know there are questions. Okay. A couple of things, first, you just said it but I wanted to reiterate for this segment. That the bracketing that you're doing is ISO bracketing. That's right. Versus what some other people might be bracketing with the auto exposure, what have you. Can you tell us again with the strobe, why we're focused on that? Okay, well, let's go back because probably some people are tuning in and they haven't seen the whole thing. So the good news is that they have to go buy the whole session, right? To get all the stuff, but no. A time exposure, your shutter speed will not allow you to bracket your strobes. That's only your ambient. Right now we've knocked the ambient out. It's the only variable that covers both your fast duration of your strobes and your time exposure is your ISO. You have to either do it by hand, for a portrait, it doesn't make any sense. Or purchase a device that automatically does it. Because most cameras will not. I still haven't found one yet on the market that does it. I could be wrong, but like I said, people have said, oh I found it and then we can't get it to work. The Camranger, which is right here, allows me to create a wifi which connects to my laptop but normally I use my iPhone or iPad, and that way I can automatically bracket my ISO. So really, that device gives me that flexibility to do that or the option to do that. And as I said before, it's a little bit of an investment. It's about $275, somewhere around there. $250-275. I have to look at the website. And it's well worth it. I would say that out of all the little gadgets I've bought, some end up in the closet. This one goes with me everywhere. It's the best 300 bucks I ever spent. So, I would encourage you, and I think most, some of you have done this. When I teach at Texas school or somewhere, and I have 28 students, usually about of them walk out with a Camranger. That's how I think it proves its worth. It's a really amazing device. So it's a really good dollar for dollar thing. All right any other questions, cause we're going to move onto another portrait. So, you know, you talked about being 50% gray, I don't think you actually tested that with your histogram, did you? No, I didn't, no. So is it pretty much on all the time when you use-- Yeah, right now he's up against it, that should be pretty much... There's nothing I could do anyways at this point. This is gray, 50% gray. It doesn't have to be exactly, but when I use a white sweep and then I bring him out, like I'm using a white sweep and I bring him out so that the background goes gray. Then I test with my histogram. Yeah, on here I don't have to test it. I could. All right, Joel. Some folks at home were asking if they could actually see if we could zoom in a little bit more and see as you are doing that sort of panning up and down in between on the camera itself and just kind of seeing that motion. And as you do it, if you could also talk about the settings on your beauty dish and kind of where you started with those and maybe how you adjusted that. See the axis there? Great. That's spinning straight up and down. I've got to make sure my tripod's balanced, in terms of leveling. So I'm a little off there. So usually I just level it up. That looks pretty good right there. So I can take a horizontal line like this window and Even then I'm still a little off. But the point is, is I line it up pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. This way, this is my axis. If I do a landscape, a landscape, I go horizontal, this way. So, on this one, I have to kind of fudge it a little bit and go up and done this way. So, that's that motion. And then what was the other question, you said that they... I'm changing my output right here to get my exposure really good-- Bracket's the same power, we don't change the power. We're not changing the power up here. And what did you start it at? Or where did you start? Well, see, I never look, I don't care. It's like maybe quarter power. So, I am putting out what would be a good F8 light on my subject to give the exposure that I want. My camera's set at F8. So, I'm just watching the value of what the back of my monitor tells me is a good exposure. So I'm not, because that's my intuition tells me that. My intuition is saying, I like this value. Cliff may make it a little lighter or a little darker. Or you may make it a little lighter or darker, I'm giving what I call... My middle exposure, then I'm going one stop under and one stop over bracketing sequence. And the power is staying the same. The power always stays the same. That's the beauty of ISO bracketing is that, my power is not being up and down. I can't do it. Unless I physically go up there and do it or-- If we did that, we would have to wait for it to recycle or dump, so we'd have to fire it sometimes twice. So the ISO is really the way to do it. Yep. Cool. That's the beauty of this whole process. ISO bracketing. And it gives me that extra little tool that most people on the planet are doing. So, question in the back. Are you manually focusing or are you focusing as you go down? Well, okay, so that's a good question. I'm at an F8 so I have plenty of depth of field, but I have my back focus button right there set. So it's auto focusing but not by my trigger here. So what I did was I went to his eyeball, I went zip, it focused and then I'd leave it. Pop, pop, pop, pop, all the way down. Cause I don't care if it's a little soft down here, right, cause it's gonna be fine. But yeah, his eyeballs what I'm worried about. Now, here's a good little tip that I learned cause I use tilt shift lenses. In fact, I've tried the tilt shift lens with this scenario, a 24 millimeter with a 2X on it. Which gives me almost a 50 millimeter which is where I'm at right now. And I can shift up and down. Kind of a cool result, pretty close to what I'm doing here. And then there's no nodal point. You don't need a nodal point shift, but, when I do a landscape and I'm using my tilt shift, I'm not doing nodal point, but I'm tilt shifting, I will usually focus on my, not my closest foreground but let's say I have this... Like I was at Point Lobos, I had this pool of little water with a rock in the middle. It was about five feet, six feet out. I focus on that, I still, I can go and when I shift up to the top, I'll focus on infinity, I shift down I focus on the rock, and I shift down here and I focus down on the foreground. So I'm actually changing my focus as I drag down. Then when I put all three of those images together, I have a depth of field, I'm still at my sweet spot on my lens, right, 7.1, but I have a depth of field that goes all the way from two inches to eternity. Or infinity, sorry, not eternity, infinity. So, does that help? So you could change your focus on this if you wanted, but I don't know why I would do that at this point. But in a landscape I would definitely do it. Another question in the very far back. I just want to clarify two things. For myself and the audience. When you say the nodal point, by sliding it out, you're actually putting the optical center of the lens over the center point of your tripod, so you're spinning the lens around the optical center and not around the sensor. Yeah, so, here we go. Side profile, right? Here's what you'd normally mount, take this thing out and you'd be mounted right there. As you rotate, you're center axis is in the middle of the camera. And that does not make good for stitching. I mean in terms of when, your parallax will be off. So if you have a checkered floor, that's a real good scenario. So I had an architectural photographer friend of mine, I was all excited about this newfangled idea or this stitching thing. And I, cause I kept saying, he goes, well, there's not lenses wide enough that can cover some of my architectural needs. I said, well you should stitch. Oh no, you can't get it to work. I said, give me the hardest scenario out there. He said, checkered floor. We went into the Denver train station. And we ended up, which had a floor that was blocked and you had chunks of squares. And I went in there with a 16 millimeter lens. I had my nodal point. Who knows where ti was, but I was like this and so then I went, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, like that. We went back into the studio. We pieced it all together and it worked perfectly. All the checkered floors were perfect in position. So, guess what he did? He ordered The Really Right Stuff, tri pod and ball head and all this, right there on the spot. Cause that solved a problem he couldn't do before. But yeah, getting your nodal point. And you can't say it's dead center here. It's just optically it's in there cause those little elements are moving around. That you find that nodal point and it is true. It's over that axis somewhere, but they call it nodal point. But, like I'm taking it on its side and I'm fudging a little bit here on the side. I really thought about picking up The Really Right Stuff two axis pano head. It's not real expensive, I mean, it's about 300 bucks, I can't remember, they had a couple of models. But then I would not have to do this side, I could leave it back in the middle of my tripod. But when I do my stitches in my landscapes, I usually do one row. I don't do like multiple rows. That gets way to big a file. Especially with 50 megapixel camera. That would be like, smoke would be like coming out the back of my computer. But, there are some options. So if you go to and look at their catalog, they have pretty much everything you would need to do pano's, a lot of the stuff that I'm doing, the solutions that I'm doing here.

Class Materials

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Bonus Materials with Purchase

Bonus Video - One Light Portrait

Ratings and Reviews

Christopher Langford

I love Joel, even though I'm not a big fan of his style. He's a great teacher, really down to earth, and best of all, humble. He's a true professional and knows the business. Even if you're a seasoned photographer, I believe you will pick up some great tips throughout this course. What I enjoyed most from this course was learning Joel's thought processes and how he takes on challenges.

Dana Niemeier

After seeing Joel at Shutterfest 2016, I am a fan. He is intense, but that is inspiring. I especially like the segment using ND filters as I live in Florida where bright sun can be an issue! His teaching method sets the student at ease. You see him make mistakes and then figure them out! Makes us believe there is HOPE for us in the learning process! I also bought his commercial photography class as an add on. Great to see him work and think on his feet. Thanks CreativeLive for giving artists this platform that reaches out to artists around the globe.

Gilbert Wu

I did enjoy the class despite not being used to the American product placement culture. The British say “the proof is in the pudding”, Joel’s pictures are fantastic and create drama. He has the eye. I like his very down to earth approach which is far better than many youtube photographic charlatans. Apart from the techniques he shared, one very important thing I learned from this class is “Be an artist and not a technician”. If you want to learn from people who can take better pictures and more confident and experienced in his/her work than you, Joel is one of those people.

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