How I Got the Shot


Canon 5DS, 70-200 2.8L IS ii USM, 75mm, ISO 50, F6.3, 1/160

Canon 5DS, 70-200 2.8L IS ii USM, 75mm, ISO 50, F6.3, 1/160

Behind the scenes of Haely's photoshoot


Haely is Miss DC and getting ready to compete in the Miss America pageant.  She came to me to photograph her photo submission for the Miss America competition and wanted to do something that would stand out from the other competitors.  Since the photo is being used for a submission and isn't her official Miss America pageant photo we were able to be a little more creative.

Pageant shoots are a little different than portrait shoots as everything has to be flawless.  From the lighting to the retouching  there is a very specific purpose - to highlight the subject's confidence, character and of course their beauty.


image copyright reserved to its creator

image copyright reserved to its creator

Sometimes I ask clients to show me some images they're inspired by or really like. This is a useful tool to get the creative juices flowing for a shoot and helps me get an idea of what a client or subject is looking for in a final image. Haely showed me an image of Julianne Moore that she wanted to re-create for her submission picture, a very dramatic and sexy photo, shot black on black creating practically zero separation between her and the backdrop.

One of the easiest ways to reverse engineer the lighting used in someone else's photo is to look at the catch lights of the subjects eyes. You can usually see the type of light modifiers used in the photo, as well as where they were placed relative to the subject. Unfortunately, when I tried to find the catch lights in the image of Julianne Moore, the resolution was too low to make anything out so I looked at the light shaping along her face and dress and decided to create a clamshell lighting setup for Haely's portrait. Clamshell lighting involves a high-flying key light placed right over the subject with a soft fill below. Check out the diagram below to get a glimpse of where I placed my lights. 

I really wanted to avoid any shadows on Haely's face but chose to not flat-light it completely like in the original Julianne Moore shot - so I bounced light off of a white foam core panel to open up the shadows a bit on her face. I used a black seamless background which was muted (into perfect black) by the light fall off (inverse square law, read about it :). The light subject/dark background combination makes Haely's portrait literally jump off the deep black background!

Before getting the "crowning" shot above, we tested the lighting with some other looks. They were all great - it was hard to choose just one.


Haely's inspiration photo made for a knock-out image.  Clamshell lighting is a really flattering way to light a subject - just watch for any shadows on the face that you might not want and be sure to keep a good power ratio between your key and fill lights.

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments below!


2 Profoto D1 Air 500s
Profoto 3.0 RFi Octa
Profoto 3x1 Strip Light
Impact Folding Wheel Lightstands
Canon 5DS
Canon 70-200 2.8L II USM
Tether Tools
Bowens Jetstream 250

How I Got the shot - SCW Interiors

Canon 5DS, 24-70F2.8 II at 28mm,  ISO 400, F3.5, 1/ 60

Canon 5DS, 24-70F2.8 II at 28mm,  ISO 400, F3.5, 1/ 60

This time around, I traveled off-site to capture a series of environmental portraits for SCW Interiors inside their showroom, so I knew I would have to get creative with my compositions and lighting in a small shooting space. 

I love it when I have a chance to work directly with the client on a photoshoot for their business because I have a chance to help them build their brand in real time. It's important to keep all aspects of a company's brand in mind when producing images for their marketing materials and website, so my ability to shoot tethered lets us brainstorm, shoot, review and finalize the results as a team right on location. 

Upon arrival, we discussed a few different looks and setups that we could work through within their design studio and started shooting. It was important to include elements of their profession in each of the images we captured so it was great to stage each shot with elements that applied to the scene. For instance, if they were going to review architecture layouts in a photo we had to be sure to only include tools that they would actually use when doing so. This might sound obvious but it's the attention to detail that can distinguish a believable environmental portrait from a bad one. 

Being able to shoot tethered with TetherTools and review compositions in real time on my laptop goes a long way in helping the client get an idea of what the final images will look like. Since we were working with an interior designer, I knew that the client would be able to provide a lot of input into the composition and staging of each of our portraits. It was great to show them the first few frames of each setup on a screen larger than my camera back so she could see the photos in a context closer to their final presentation, and we would start tweaking things as a group until we landed on a great final image. 

Having a client that is able to add to these discussions always makes for a great shoot and I have to say, the RAW files that come straight out of the Canon 5DS are unbelievable. I never once hesitated to share the untouched images with the client as they came out of the camera because I knew that focus would be nailed and the color rendition produced by this camera is nearly unprecedented. 

Halfway through the shoot, our client mentioned that she used to be a chef so if we had time it would be great to put together a photo in their studio's model kitchen. 

Upon seeing the space, I realized that the frame would have multiple light sources and a number of reflective surfaces so we had to place our light carefully. I set up my Profoto B1 Air 500 in a small Profoto Octa 3 on my camera left, and worked out a pose that distinguished our subject within the busy background of the stainless steel elements of the kitchen. The Profoto B1 Air 500s are so great to work with on location because their power and portability means we can create ample light in almost any setting. 

When we got to shooting I decided to open up the aperture to F3.5 in an effort to separate our subject from the busy background and bumped up my ISO to bleed in some of the ambient natural light that was spilling into the scene from surrounding windows and doors. The wider aperture helps to create a more shallow depth of field and bumping up the ISO lets me utilize the available light as fill light. Bringing the ambient into an environmental portrait can help make the final photo look more natural and you would be surprised how far a single key light can go when you properly utilize other sources of light available in the frame.

Aside from keeping tabs on the technical aspects of a portrait, we as photographers must always focus a majority of our attention towards our subjects, making sure that they are comfortable in front of the camera and in a pose that not only makes them feel confident, but also looks great on camera. This was our final scene for the day and it's important to concentrate on keeping the subject engaged, especially when they have been in front of the camera for an hour. I like to do this by keeping the energy high and coaching my subjects towards the images they want. 

It was great to combine the past and future elements of my clients career into one photo, and letting her review the results as we worked meant she already loved the images before we were out the door. 

Canon 5DS
Canon 24-70 F2.8L II USM
Profoto B1 Air 500
Profoto 3.0 RFi Octa


Canon 5Ds + EF 24-70 F/2.8L , ISO 320, Aperture F/2.8, Shutter Speed 1/160,  Focal length 70mm

Nowadays it's called food porn.  You know - those gorgeous images that make you want to sink your teeth into a decadent dessert, juicy hamburger or even...yes...vegetables!  So what is it about food photography that makes our mouths water?  It's in the light, styling of the food and of course the photographer!

Let's talk about how I got the shot above.  This was for a recent shoot at Cork - a wine bar and market in DC. (And these are seriously the best fries in town - lemon zest and good!)  For food shoots, I love using available light from a big window.  It is nice and diffused.  It also helped that it was a partly cloudy day so I didn't have to deal with any direct sun through the windows.  So many places are dark inside - wood paneling etc., so it really helps when there is a great window to utilize for light.

As you can see from the behind the scenes shot below, the image was shot from above.  I was shooting tethered with jerk stoppers and cables from TetherTools so I could make sure I was getting the look the restaurant wanted.  I used the Canon 5Ds and the EF 24-70 f2.8L II . Camera was set to ISO 320, F2.8, 1/160. Focal length was 70mm.  I still can't believe how impressive the 5Ds is with its sharpness, clarity and dynamic range.  Shots straight out of the camera are basically print ready - this is by far the most impressive Canon camera I have worked with.  

The most important things to remember when shooting food are the little details - smudges on the plates or glasses, crumbs on the table, etc.  Those things will really show up in the photo and you don't want anything to distract from the main subject.  Don't be afraid to move something on the plate if it just isn't working in the image. 

A few more shots for all the foodies out there...