Fully Lit: How to Light Bomb Senior Portraits Like Shawn Lee
by Jessica Gordon
July 29, 2014 —
If the Motor City were a campus, Shawn Lee would be the big man on it. A photographer—as well as part-time radio personality and community leader—he opened Shawn Lee Studios in 2009, and is adept at lighting (and teaching lighting) for studio portraits. In our new how-to column, “Fully Lit,” Lee breaks down three recent concepts and setups.
All photos and diagrams © Shawn Lee
DREADLOCKS IN MOTION
With two light strips facing him at a 45-degree angle, I had him swing his head up so his dreads went in the air. He was sitting on a crate, so I also stooped down to be eye level with him while shooting.
We got this shot on the second try. The way that he looks relaxed, calm and engaged with the camera while chaos is going on was in a phrase, “very on purpose.” High contrast really makes for a dynamic and very striking image, which I think defines my style as a photographer.
With high school seniors, I make sessions an experience—I bring in snacks, we play music. Every parent comes in saying, “I’m on a budget, that’s all I’m spending,” but after this session, they ordered everything!
Shawn Lee's 3-Step Process:
With the 6-foot Octabank that you can see in her eye as a highlight, I had her facing me and used my 40-50mm lens at f/7.1. This is a one-light-source shot; remember that the bigger the light source and the closer it is to your subject, the softer the light will be. With that in mind, we moved Ambur right next to the huge Octabank and had her head quarter-turned toward the light.
Depending on varying degrees of darker skin and what you’re trying to accomplish, you may have to expose one to three stops more. It’s always a great idea to meter light to the skin (using a properly working light). Also, because of variety in skin types, a lot of skin can be oily; make sure you have a makeup artist who is experienced with all skin types and conditions.
My assistant was off to the left side, throwing oranges in front of my subject as slow as she could while he posed as if introducing the suit. On the third or fourth try, we got it!
We put an unfiltered strobe on the backdrop with a gobo between it and the subject. I used a softbox to his right, and behind me to the left was a 6-foot Octabank just to throw a little fill light on the shot. I shot at 1/250 of a second to stop the oranges mid-flight and also to stop light from reaching the right side of the subject to create the contrast I wanted.
Shawn Lee started the photographic bus tour "I See Detroit," which twice a year takes 50 or so people on a six-hour air-conditioned ride to learn about and photograph the city's most iconic sights. Visit shawnleestudios.com for more information.
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