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5 Corporate-Style Portrait Techniques

This article exploring Corporate Style Portrait techniques is by Bryan Larson, Liam Richards, and Trenton Lepp from The Binary Crumbs.

Flash photography is a difficult topic to discuss as there are so many different stages where shooters might currently be at.

The process for most people I talk to begins by first learning how to shoot under ambient light, then starting to play with your camera’s built in flash. Soon enough, that special day comes around when you buy your first external flash, which is commonly followed by a long period of shooting with the flash firmly mounted onto your camera’s hot-shoe. A while later, the off-camera hot-shoe cable is purchased allowing the flash to stretch within an arms reach of your camera – most people never get past this stage. For the slightly more aggressive lot, however, the day finally arrives when the tethering bind between flash and camera must be severed.

Much like the severing of the umbilical cord, this will be the day when you are first born into true flash photography. Even here there is room to grow, as another process inevitably starts beginning with wireless, infrared flash communication, and growing into complex studio strobe setups fired by radio transceivers.

As photography exists merely as a byproduct of light itself, it should come as no surprise that the ability to control and manipulate light has grown so far, so fast. Light can now be hardened, softened, bounced, colored, directed, spotted, and widened using a variety of tools readily available in almost every photography store in the country.

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If you’re ready to start playing around with multiple flashes, the best place to begin is portraiture as it allows for the most freedom to experiment. There are a lot of lighting guidelines out there that in many cases need to be followed, but I don’t want to rehash the same old setups that have been passed along now for years and years. Today I want to talk about controlling light without constraints; to use your flashes in accordance to your subject, not because a manual told you that that’s how it ought to be lit. To provide some structure though, I’ll narrow the topic down to corporate-style portraiture using two flashes.

Technique #1: The Simple Studio

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If you’re using infrared flash communication, most cameras require you to have your master flash locked into the hot-shoe. Not a problem. There’s still a number of possibilities for portraiture that can be achieved by simply moving around your flash slave. One possibility is the ultra-clean, white-background head shot that can be done by bouncing or diffusing your master flash (1) onto your subject, and firing your slave (2) at the wall behind him/her. Paper backdrops are quite inexpensive and work great in these types of instances. The simplicity allows the shots to be easily integrated into promotional material, used on business card templates, for online profiles, and so forth. The example above is one of about 160 shots I took for a single business. The easy setup is imperative when you’re “hammering out” a large number of portraits over the course of days, months, or even years.   

Technique #2: Exterior Spaces

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Just because you start shooting with multiple flashes, doesn’t mean that your confined to interior spaces and studios. In fact, exterior flash photography can really make your subject stand out from the outdoor background. I personally like shooting at dusk or dawn as it makes for a darker background. Overcast days are good too. For the above sample, you could even use a off-camera shoe cord to pull your master (1) flash to the right with a secondary slave (2) to the left if you were relying on infrared communication. For this shot, two Nikon SB25’s were used – the master flash was angled down on the subject, and the slave was at about head level. If you want your subject to stand out, focus your flash in on them to avoid lighting the background. Alternatively, you could snoot one of your flashes if you really wanted to focus the light. Just expose your camera in accordance to your subject and let the background slightly underexpose.

Technique #3: People and Props

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This shot was taken for photojournalism purposes which rely heavily on props and setting to more clearly tell a story. If you’re lighting a subject with a prop, use it to your advantage. Place your subject and prop together in a way that is aesthetically pleasing first and light second. In this case, a relevant scientific machine was used as a prop and placed at an angle to draw attention towards the subject. The master flash (1) was gelled (CTO gel) and reflected into an umbrella to saturate the shot in soft, warm light, while the slave flash (2) was diffused and fired through the machine to cast a slight shadow on the subject in order to further draw attention to his face. Both flashes were Nikon SB800’s and were triggered using Pocket Wizards (radio transceivers).

Technique #4: Confined Spaces, Multiple Faces

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Again, this shot was taken for photojournalism purposes. The group was developing a “space elevator” for a NASA challenge. The space elevator couldn’t be photographed, so to further connect with the the story, the team was shot in a real elevator. Now we have a problem: it’s hard enough to fit five guys, one photographer, and a pile of camera gear into an elevator, despite trying to light it and frame it so it’s pleasing to look at. The camera was angled down on the group, and two Nikon SB800’s (1 & 2) were angled up to bounce light off the roof at very low power (1/32 and 1/64). The shutter speed was slowed down to generate motion blur in the background.

Technique #5 – The Close-Up

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Corporate head shots don’t always have to be boring studio portraits, and they don’t always have to be head and shoulder shots. If you’re working with a photogenic model, and you have time to do some experimenting, move in for the close-up. In this example, the subject was framed using a fur-trimmed hood. For corporate portraits, I recommend incorporating the business whenever possible. For instance, if you’re shooting a portrait of someone who runs a chain of sunglasses stores, then by all means have them wearing a pair of sunglasses. For this shot, the master flash (1) was used as a soft fill camera right, and the slave (2) was also softened to highlight the subjects face. For close-ups, it’s always a good idea to soften the light as it also makes the skin appear softer and more flawless.

So these are five of literally an infinite number of flash setups. Overall, my intent here is not to explain photographic lighting down to the smallest detail, but to encourage you to think about lighting as something that’s modifiable, experimental and fun without rigid rights and wrongs. So embrace light, play around with it, make mistakes, shoot masterpieces – in the end it all goes to make you a better photographer who’s able to think outside the box. Learn from others, but always be willing to make your style your own. And of course, happy shooting!

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Bryan Larson
Bryan Larson

is a blogger at The Binary Crumbs blog – a blog by actual industry workers who make a living in the fields of media production.

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