In today’s video and this post, we’re going to walk through the pose and the photo studio lighting setup for this image of a high school senior guy playing the flamenco guitar.

This particular image uses Lighting Setup #3 in Volume One of the Portrait Photography Posing Lighting and Idea Guides – Four-Volume Set.

So let’s get started.

I’ll Take a “Bandie” Anyday

If I had to choose my favorite high school senior subject, between say the pretty/handsome cheerleader/athlete type or the kids involved in theatre or band? I’d choose the theatre/band kids every time. Without question. 

I suppose part of it may be because I’m artistic myself and my son was always in theatre and is very artistic as well. So I have an affinity for those kids. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed (almost;-) all of the seniors I’ve photographed. And I understand what a difficult time of life high school can be. But the band and theatre kids just seem to want to have fun.

This is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite images. I really like the theatrical look of the lighting. In my opinion, if you didn’t know better you’d think – other than the Old Masters painted background – that this was taken on a stage during a performance.

When I’m photographing high school seniors with their instruments I ask them to just play. I get my photo studio lighting set up and dialed in and then . . .

Go ahead and play, anything, scales, your favorite song, Smoke on the Water.” (I always ask them to play Smoke on the Water – and they always go, “Huh?” Guess I’m old.)

And then while they play I start clicking the shutter. Moving in and out and around, capturing a variety of images and expressions.

We’ve heard some awesome impromptu performances in the studio. Had a cello player one year who played first-chair for the Southeast Minnesota Youth Orchestra. He was incredible.

And I’d never heard someone play the flamenco guitar before this guy – it is very cool. And this kid was awesome as well – or so it seemed to me.


Photo Studio Lighting Used in this Image

As I said at the outset this image uses photo studio lighting set up number three from Volume One of the Portrait Photography Posing Lighting and Idea Guides – Four Volume Set; but with a bit of a twist.

For starters, I didn’t use a fill light. Normally setup number three includes the White Lighting 1800 fixed-fill that’s bounced into the back wall of the studio. Again, I was going for a theatrical – almost spotlight – type of lighting. I wanted an image with dark shadows and bright highlights. Eliminating the fill light meant the shadow areas would go black.

Typically, in setup number three the Larson 14” x 48” strip soff-box is the main light and the Larson 9” x 24” strip soff-box is the kicker – but I reversed them on this image. Used the 9” x 24” as the main and the 14” x 48” as the kicker.

I raised the 9” x 24” up quite high and pointed the light down at a sharp angle – to imitate a stage spotlight effect.

I could have used, as example, a 16-inch parabolic with barn doors to create a similar effect. But when you use a parabolic you have to be pretty precise when positioning the light and you want to get your subject posed and steady. You don’t want them moving around or it ruins the light pattern.

I used the 9” x 24” soffbox because I wanted a smaller light source without a lot of spread. Had I used the 14” x 48” as the main, the image would have likely had a more intense overall exposure. Using the 9” x 24” gave me the desired spotlight effect but with the softness of a softbox.

You can see the effect of the kicker on the back of his left arm, upper shoulders, neck, and hair. Using the 14” x 48” as the kicker gave greater coverage and provided that continuous outline of separation.

You can also see the effect of the background light – the Photogenic 750 with the honeycomb grid. As usual, I should have had it pointed a bit more to camera left so that brightest area was behind his back.


Processing the Image

There is a significant tonality difference between his hands and the guitar, and his face. I remember processing this image and trying a vignette across the bottom to bring down the brightness of his hands and the guitar body – but I didn’t like the look.

Your portrait subject’s face should never be secondary in an image but in this case, it almost is. Your eye is naturally drawn to the brightest part of an image and his hands and guitar are brighter than his face. But when I applied the vignette the image seemed to lose its effect. He was concentrating on his fingering and plucking and you could argue; this is as much a portrait of his hands and guitar, as it is of him as a whole.

I like the tight, frame-filling composition of this image. In an ultra close-up image of someone’s face your eye has nowhere else to go but to the subject’s eyes. This tight crop has the same effect. If there were space all around him – as in a typical portrait – you would feel as though you were standing back – detached from the subject. Here you are drawn into the image.

I know some of this sounds artsy-fartsy. And honestly no, all that stuff was not going through my head when I created this image. But that is what’s important about really looking at these images, really studying them. Why does an image work, why does it evoke a feeling and how can you do the same thing in your own work?

Think about what you can take from this image and use in your own imagery. I did a portrait of a chess player one time with very similar photo studio lighting. Granted chess players don’t perform on stage under a spotlight, but I wanted the viewer’s eye to be drawn to the senior guy and his chessboard, and that was achieved by using this spotlight-type lighting.


That’s a Wrap

So that’s about it for this image and Posing and Photo Studio Lighting Lesson #4.

Remember to download your own four-volume set of Portrait Photography Posing Lighting and Idea Guides right here.

Thanks for reading and watching and have a great day.

How can I help you? I’m here to answer your questions whenever I can. Just shoot me an email right here and I’ll get back to you as quick as I can. 


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