Stage Lighting for Portraits
A local musician asked me to photograph him for some promotional pieces. As I thought how I would photograph him, I decided to place him in a small jazz club. I had planned on photographing him under the club’s lighting; however, I realized that I might not like the result unless I could go into the jazz club and adjust each light individually. To have more control over the lighting, I decided to create a live look in the studio. For inspiration, I looked back on my last concert shoot.
Before setting up the lights for any photo shoot, I always take the time to think of what angle is the most flattering side of the instrument or my subject. In this case, it’s the side of the saxophone with the keys!
We placed the subject 10–15′ from the background to leave space for the fog that we’ll add behind him later. Frame your subject for the shoot. For lighting, we’ll begin with a 5′ Octabank with a Novatron V600-D at 1/8 power to light the bottom of the sax and provide detail to the shadows. For this shoot, we used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70–200mm lens, f/8 at 1/125, 120mm.
For the main light, we used a large Westcott 36×48″ softbox (up high) on a Novatron V600-D at 1/4 power coming down at a 45° angle. We feathered the light past the subject and in close so it will fall off fast and not wash out any color from the lights behind him, yet still provide nice highlights on the saxophone.
Next, we placed a Westcott 12×36″ strip bank on the floor to the side with a 40° fabric grid on it. We used a blue gel over the flash tube set at 1/2 power (300 watts) to add some color to the shadows to make the scene look more real.
To add more color and light to the top of the hair and shoulders to separate the subject from the background, we placed a Westcott 45″ Soft Silver Umbrella about 8′ behind and up high with a blue gel placed over the flash tube at 600 watts, or full power. When setting up a shot that’s similar to this, make sure the light is far enough behind the subject so there’s enough depth to light the fog.
To add some contrast and create more of a concert effect, we placed a 45″ Soft Silver Umbrella about 7′ behind and to the side at full power with a pink gel over the flash tube, opposite the blue umbrella.
Next, we added a Norman TL2000 Tri-Lite spotlight with blue gel inside at 1,500 watts, placed 10′ high and behind and aimed straight down to add to the concert look.
An assistant aimed the fog machine up and down to spread the fog around so the full background would have fog. Remember to keep enough space between your backlights and the subject for the fog, without letting the fog get in front of your subject.
If you want a more in-depth look at the requirements of photography under stage lights, consider this course on Concert Photography from KelbyOne. Here is a quick tip from PlanetPhotoshop for correcting your concert images.