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Fortune/People Magazine Shoot Behind the Scenes


The Assignment

I was contacted on a Friday for this assignment which was to take place the following Tuesday. The shoot had to take place in the morning and be delivered to the contacts at People and Fortune by 12 noon. To meet the delivery time, I suggested we start shooting at 8am and I made plans to edit and deliver the photos on site. I arrived on site with an assistant an hour and a half early to scout the location and setup lighting. Because time was so tight, my goal was to come up with one pose and lighting setup that could be shot with different lenses to achieve at least two different looks in a short amount of time. I knew I wanted to mix strobes and ambient light, but without knowing the exact setup going in, I brought extra strobes, reflectors and light stands just in case.

This shoot features Arnold Harvey, a driver for Waste Management. In 2007, Arnold founded God’s Transition Connection, a non-profit charity that helps over 5000 families a month through food donations. Because of this, Arnold was selected as one of 50 people to be featured in Fortune’s “Heroes of the 500” series. His story was also picked up by People Magazine. Arnold was fantastic to work with. Take a look at his features here and here.

Gear List

The gear list is purely for reference. None of this specific gear would absolutely make or break the shoot. Substitutions of similar quality gear of course, will result is a very similar image.

The Setup

My contact at Waste Management requested we use one of their trucks as a backdrop, which I thought was perfect. The magazine requested a landscape portrait and Waste Management wanted their logo in the shot along with possibly some items from Arnold’s charity. Because we were mixing natural and studio lighting, everything needed to be planned around the position of the sun. I had the truck positioned so the sun was backlighting our subject and slightly to Arnold’s left. This would allow the sun to act as a rim light. I set up a 40 inch octobox as a fill light centered in front of the subject. To further fill and enhance the lighting on the subject, I placed a small reflector right under the octobox. Another Strobe with a 12 inch reflector was used to brighten the backdrop and also acted as a secondary rim light coming from the subject’s left side. With the same lighting, I was able to get two different compositions, one fairly standard medium shot with a telephoto(my preferred shot) and another slightly more dramatic wide angle shot from a low camera position that included the entire truck.

This setup was used for all shots. I had an assistant on set to help setup and test poses and exposures.
Setup and testing poses and exposure.

Exposure and Blending Light Sources

I chose an aperture of 8.0 to separate my subject slightly without blurring the WM logo too much(even shooting at 8.0 with a telephoto lens at close range will allow a good amount of bokeh to separate the subject from the backdrop). I chose my camera exposure based on the ambient light(via setting ISO and shutter speed) with a particular eye to get the rim light at the right levels. When using strobes outside, the sun is the constant variable. The ambient exposure achieved a good rim and kicker effect on the subject, and the two flashes filled in the rest of the scene. Keep in mind when shooting with flash, you are often limited by your flash sync speed — which in my case maxes out at 200. I metered the key light to be the same as my aperture(8.0) and adjusted the backdrop light by sight to a level that looked good on my tethered screen.

Camera Settings

  • F8.0
  • 1/200sec
  • ISO 100
  • 90mm

Exposure with and without flash

I took a shot without triggering the flash just for comparison purposes. Take a look at the rim lighting in the first photo — the exposure is essentially built around that and the shadow areas of the subject and backdrop are filled in with strobes and modifier. Getting the balance exactly right keeps things looking natural.

Controlling Perspective

Different focal lengths allow the photographer to control the perspective and what appears in the backdrop. A telephoto lens has a tighter perspective and will compress what is in the background(showing less of the background) and a wide angle will show more of the background. This remains true even if you change your distance from the subject to make the subject appear the same size via both lenses(ie: walking up close to the subject with a wide angle or shooting from a distance with a telephoto). I used two lenses for this shoot. The canon 70-200 for the medium shots, and Canon 16-35 for the alternate take. In the studio I’m a real fanatic for prime lenses but on location with an environmental backdrop and a tight time schedule, a zoom lens allows you to change perspective very quickly and try a few different options without wasting time changing lenses. I preferred the tighter half-length portraits but I wanted some wide shots to offer as an alternate option for the client. Because of the position of the sun, I got a good bit of flair in the wider angle shots — but I like the effect it gives here.

Tight and wide perspectives shot at 90mm and 29mm respectively.

Other Details

I always shoot portraits with the camera on tripod. Cameras are heavy — and slightly shifting compositions bug me! For the strobes, I used a wireless trigger and controller to adjust the lighting as needed. I had a battery pack on hand in case we didn’t have access to power for the strobes — luckily we did have convenient access to power. As with every location shoot I do, I was tethered to my Mac Air. Tethering save times and allows me to instantly spot errors as I’m shooting.

Editing and Delivery

Immediately after the shoot I sat down with Arnold and another representative from Waste Management. We selected the 10 best shots out of the 200 or so we shot. After color correction I sent compressed versions of these ten images for approval and final selection by the marketing team(based in Houston). They quickly narrowed this down to their top 3 images and I did some light retouching(removed a few distracting elements and enhanced the contrast on the logo slightly) before delivering the final full resolution images.

Editing on site

Final Usage

Fortune ended up using the tighter image as the cover image for the entire ‘Heroes of the 500′ feature online and the wider shot next to Arnold’s Profile. People used an alternate tighter image.

Final image on the front pages of Fortune.com

About the author: Joe LeBlanc is a headshot photographer based in Washington DC. He founded Ars Nova Images Headshot Studio in 2008 and shoots over 300 headshots and portraits per year. You can follow him on both Facebook and Google+. This article originally appeared here.