Photography Blog

Ethan: Portrait Session

Typically, my portrait sessions are on location and I use the surrounding landscape as my backdrop. In this particular case, I used a backdrop and leveraged a semi-industrial setting to enhance the session. So here’s some of the process.

I have an obsession with the neutral soft tones frequently drawn out with Oliphant backdrops, which first caught my eye in Annie Leibovitz’s work. I also studied Mark Seliger’s use of light in the Oscars portrait room for Vanity fair. I kept my eyes open for a portrait session which would lend itself to this style when I was asked to do a shoot with a local young musician.

Going into the shoot, I knew I needed a space which would let me place both my subject and backdrop in a larger setting to add to the overall style, rather than take away from it. Fortunately, the church I attend has a few industrial walls with exposed pipes - those worked flawlessly for this.

I also knew I could not afford a proper Oliphant backdrop. They’re hand painted, large, and expensive. So I did a quick search online and came across a muslin that had a similar tonality and hit it with a steamer before the session.

I dragged out my biggest umbrella (Fotodiox Parabolic with White Interior, 60”) with the Godox/Flashpoint 600 w/s monolight. I perched a smaller Flashpoint Evolv 200 behind my subject to add dimension and separate from the backdrop. It gave a great highlight on his face. The key light was close to the subject and high, pushing the light downwards and creating a nice soft wrap while defining the jaw/chin. You can mostly see the setup in the shot below.


I could have added a grid to narrow the light spread a bit and darken the backdrop but I was pleased with how everything was pulling together (doesn’t always happen like that).

There wasn’t much touchup needed in post. Ethan nailed his posing, and everything was already neutral in tonality, so just a few touches to exposure in Lightroom and we’re good to go.