Last week I had the opportunity to photography people who attend Journey Church as part of a project to celebrate our five years here in Bozeman, MT. The goal was to make close-up portraits of people (read: anyone who would show up at the designated time) against a white backdrop. The portraits of the models, who were asked to make funny, happy, or silly faces, were to be slightly overexposed.
Since the portraits were only going to be from the neck up, I didn't have to worry about having a full-length seamless white backdrop. I didn't have access to a white wall at The Commons where I photographed, and I don't have any type of solid white sheet or other white backdrop material. Instead, I taped together three or four sections from a roll of white craft paper. The roll of craft paper was probably about 1.5' wide and each section I cut was several feet long. The result was a white backdrop that was about 5' wide and long enough to cover a wide range of heights. Now...on to the lighting...
I don't have a studio, so all of my lighting must be ready for "on location." For this reason, I choose to travel light. My main light was an Alien Bee 800 located in front of the model and raised up about 8-10'. Since somewhat harsh lighting was called for in the style of portraits we wanted to create, I simply used the small reflector that comes with the Alien Bee rather than a softbox or some other modifier. The light was angled down over the model's head.
Since I used overlapping sheets of paper and the background needed to be very bright, I brought along two flash heads to aim at the white backdrop. I didn't use modifiers on the two flash heads and I pointed them directly at the background. The flash heads and Alien Bee strober were triggered by the Pocket Wizard attached to my camera. You can see my lighting set up in this diagram:
I stood under and just barely to the left side of the Alien Bee's light stand (although this was difficult to show in the diagram). I brought along a step stool for me to stand on to photograph tall people and for the younger kids to stand on. Overall, I think the job was a success!
* Canon 5D with 85mm f/1.8 lens
* Camera settings f/11 @ 1/125
* Alien Bee 800 setting: lowest power
* Flash Settings: both at 1/16 power
I hope this has been helpful. I plan to do more "how-to's" in the future. If you're a photographer, or even just a parent taking photographs of your kids, how have you had to improvise with a background or lighting to create a portrait you have in your mind?