Environmental Portrait Using Three Speedlights


Does the background in this photograph tell you anything about the person?

An environmental portrait shows a person within a context that explains something about the person. Usually, the image includes elements of the environment and these elements are visual clues about the subject matter.

In this case, I took a portrait of a Lutheran Minister (Pastor Bill) and wanted to include some parts of the back wall of the church altar. This required that I light the background on a completely different plane than the minister.

(You can click on this lighting diagram to open a larger one in a new window.)

Background light: First, I placed a Vivitar 285 on the floor near the back wall and placed a snoot on the flash to localize the light on the wall in a small area. This flash unit was set to 1/4 power.
Pastor Bill was positioned in the center aisle of the church, about 40′ from the back wall.

Main light: I placed a Vivitar 285 on a light stand, camera left, with a white shoot-thru umbrella. This flash was set to 1/4 power and was placed about 3′ from him.

Kicker light: I then used a Home Depot squeeze-clamp to mount another Vivitar 285 to the top of a pew behind and to the camera right of Pastor Bill. This flash was set at 1/16 power and also had a snoot on it to avoid lens flare. This light provided enough separation to keep Bill from blending into the background.

Camera Position: I placed myself about 20′ away from Pastor Bill and used a longer lens to compress him with the background, yet leave the background slightly out of focus.

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