studio photography: low-key lighting – vintage portrait – Randy
Randy has a look reminiscent of Ava Gardner, so I asked her to be a subject for my book on Portrait photography. I wanted to create a portrait of Randy in the Hollywood Glamor style of lighting, similar to the vintage styled boudoir photo session (with Olena). And it looked great! But while I had someone so photogenic and with such dramatic styling, I wanted to take further photos of Randy, and she happily indulged me.
For one of the setups, I wanted to explore again using the Profoto beauty dish (B&H) as a single light source. As mentioned in a previous article - thoughts on using a beauty dish - a beauty dish is best used with a grid to contain the light spill. This does mean a beauty dish has to be used in a specific way – close up to your subject, and with specific posing. Without additional light from other light sources to give fill-light, a beauty dish can be fairly challenging as a single light source.
I wanted a low-key look, so I used a dark grey backdrop, and worked well ahead of it so that the light from the main light (beauty dish) had very little effect. (The Inverse Square Law helps here with the non-linear light fall-off to the background.) But to not have Randy’s dark hair melt away into a black background, it needed a hair-light of some kind. I set up a gridded Profoto RFi 1×3 softbox (B&H) behind her light from the back (and above).
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thoughts on using a beauty dish as a single light source
A beauty dish is one of those light modifiers that sound attractive just by name already. And when photographers start exploring other options than direct off-camera flash and umbrellas or a softbox, a beauty dish is usually one of the first alternate light modifiers that catches attention. Mine too. Right after I bought my first Profoto kit, I purchased a beauty dish for it and started exploring using a beauty dish.
A beauty dish is ideally used at a closer distance for portraits, with the light “focused” on the face, creating a gradient where the light rapidly falls off between the lighter and darker areas – yet looks soft where the light is focused. But there’s more to it than that – a beauty dish is best used with a grid to help control the light. Or used with a sock, but then the beauty dish acts very much like a round softbox, and some of its specific qualities are lost.
Quite a few of the softbox options for speedlights offer a way to create a beauty dish-like effect. An example is the Westcott Rapid Box Octa Softboxes (B&H), as mentioned in the review: Westcott Rapid Box 26″ Octa Softbox. You can take the front diffuser off, and add the Westcott 2030-DP Deflector Plate (B&H), turning it into a beauty dish of sorts. But the same limitations appear.
Looking at the portrait of David above, you’ll notice a semi-circular band of light to the left. This is because, even though the light from the beauty-dish-ified softbox focuses light on him, there is light that spills from the edge of the speedlight. The detail photo of the Westcott RapidBox will explain it better …
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For on-location work, I’ve been using the Profoto AcuteB2 600 AirS/R Power Pack (B&H), and it works like a charm:
- shooting wedding photos in the mid-day sun
- wedding photography – lighting large groups with a large light
The only downsides to the AcuteB2 600R is that it only has one output. For many situations where you use a simple lighting setup (ie, just one large light source), it is perfect. The battery of the AcuteB is rated to give 200 bursts at maximum power, Again, for most uses, that is plenty.
But I’ve been considering future shoots where I would like to use two lights. For that the Profoto BatPac portable battery (B&H) would be ideal, offering two AC outputs – enough juice to run two Profoto D1 500 Ws monolights for quite some time.
I’ve tried the BatPac out in the studio just to see how it works, and that it does indeed work. But that’s nowhere near as satisfying as using it on an actual photo session. For this part of an individual workshop at my studio, we didn’t really need more than just one light … but still, it felt good to take this puppy out and try it on an actual shoot.
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My daughter, Janine. She turned 16 in September, and I have so very few recent images of her. None of which are of professional quality. So I cajoled her into this, since we’re snowed in this afternoon .. and she loved the results. “Facebook profile photo FTW!”
portrait session, using a beauty dish
The image is straight out of camera, aside from healing brush on a few skin blemishes. This is how I had set up my B&W images to look in my Nikon D3 bodies. I still shoot RAW though, so could always go back to the color image. But I like these rich-toned B&W images.
A little more about the lighting:
The main light was with the Profoto beauty dish (B&H), using the Profoto AcuteB 600R power pack (B&H). I used a diffuser sock (B&H) over the beauty dish. The light on the grey backdrop is a Quantum flash, with the usual Q-flash diffuser disc over it .. pointed directly at the backdrop.
The sock over the beauty dish really helps me. It brings in more light into the shadow areas in how it disperses the light differently from the open beauty dish. I’ve read elsewhere that with a sock over the beauty dish you’re essentially no better off than using a softbox of the same size … but I still prefer the look of the ‘socked’ beauty dish over the ‘unsocked’ beauty dish.
1/200 @ f10 @ 200 ISO
Nikon D3; Nikon 105mm f2.8 AF-S VR (B&H)