Recently I was commissioned to photograph the directors of LexisNexis at their Head Office here in Durban for their Corporate Profile. This type of shoot is standard stuff for me, until I get a curve ball at late notice. I was expecting to do head and shoulder type portraits on a white background, so I brought along two SB-800 units and an old background flash that I use with an optical slave to brighten the background to pure white. However, when I arrived at their offices my liaison person from the marketing department said that they wanted full length photos on the white background. Ack! Panic!

Usually when I do portraits on white I simply stand the background flash behind the subject and aim it directly at the background – it doesn’t show in the image so you can stand it on pretty much anything you like. However, full length stuff is a completely different animal because you have to use two background lights and then at least one more for your main subject. You can’t place the back ground light behind the subject, because whatever you stand it on will be seen in the shot, so you have to do it from the sides using either barn doors or large scrims so that you don’t get flash for the background spilling onto your subject or causing serious flare in your lens. One light in a confined space doesn’t illuminate the background evenly, but two lights aimed across at opposite sides does the job nicely. Unfortunately I only had three with me, two of which were needed for the subjects.

What makes a shoot like this even more challenging is that you’re under pressure from the clock. Directors simply don’t have the time to be hanging around on set while you fiddle and faff with lighting set-ups. You need to know what you’re doing and do it fast. On this particular occasion the marketing department at LN was really lucky to have had all the directors in the same place at the same time, so what I decided to do was shoot full length and not light the background. This meant it went a shade of light grey, which is not first prize, but at least it makes it easier for the graphic designers to deep etch the subject and then put them onto a white background.

These were all taken using a 1.5m wide white backdrop, two SB-800 flash units, a Nikon D700 and a Sigma 24-70mm 2.8 EX zoom lens. The room size was about 5m by 2.5m.

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