Portrait Lighting Tutorial: Darnell Dockett for Sports Illustrated

Published: October 31, 2014

Darnell Dockett photographed in Tallahassee for Sports Illustrated
Darnell Dockett photographed in Tallahassee for Sports Illustrated

“Day for night” is a cinematic term for faking a nighttime shot during the day. When shooting college or pro athletes for magazines, you rarely have control over when you’ll be able to shoot them. A few year back, Sports Illustrated wanted a nighttime shot of Florida State defensive end Darnell Dockett in a cemetery for its Halloween issue, but the only time he was available was 3:00 pm in the afternoon. If you’ve ever been in Tallahassee, Florida, in early October, you know that nothing about harsh afternoon light looks like night. It all boils down to problem solving.

Lighting Diagram of Darnell Dockett photographed for Sports Illustrated

After hiring a local assistant, we put him to work finding the best-looking-meaning old and spooky-cemetery in town. We chose one section of the cemetery because it would be in full shade so I wouldn’t have to fight the sunlight. To give a “Thriller” feel to the shoot, we rented a generator and fog machine. Using a stand-in for Darnell until he arrived, we pre-lit the shot with three Profoto 7B strobes. The main light was from a Profoto Beauty Dish on the right. A second strobe head with a Profoto Zoom Reflector was just off the ground on the left side of the shot to light up the tombstone on the left and also put a small highlight on Darnell’s helmet.

Lighting Diagram of Darnell Dockett photographed for Sports Illustrated

A third light with a Profoto Zoom Reflector was placed on the ground behind the tombstones to backlight the fog. The bright blue sky was underexposed three stops to make it look like dusk, and the white balance was set to tungsten to give the photograph a nighttime feel.

Lighting Gear List:

(3) Profoto 7B Strobe Packs (B&H)
(3) Profoto ProHead Plus Flash Heads (B&H)
(1) Profoto Beauty Dish (B&H)
(2) Profoto Zoom Reflectors (B&H)
(1) Rosco Mini-V Fog Machine (B&H)

Come See Me Today at PhotoPlus Expo!

Portraits on Location: Capturing Personality and Place
Friday, Oct 31, 2014 – 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Speaker: Brian Smith

Great environmental portraits capture both personality and place. Miami celebrity portrait photographer Brian Smith has spent the past 30 years photographing noteworthy and notorious celebrities in the locations where they live, work and play. He’ll show how he photographs subjects on location so that the environment adds another dimension to the shoot, with examples of how he approaches location shoots whether it’s a large production with a famous subject or an individual he encounters on the street while traveling. Smith will also discuss location lighting and offer tips on selecting the best setting to add visual interest to your photographs.

HUGE THANKS to PDN for having me and to Sony for sponsoring this talk! You can also find me speaking twice a day at Sony Booth 519 on the PPE Expo floor. Please stop by and say hi!

Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and InfamousIn case you can’t make it to PhotoPlus Expo 2014, you can still get the behind-the-scenes celebrity portrait stories in “˜Secrets of Great Portrait Photography: Photographs of the Famous and Infamous‘ from New Riders Press. The book draws upon the lessons I’ve learned over the last three decades photographing portraits of the rich and famous. The book blends lavish celebrity portraits of a coffee table book with technical how-to insights with a side dish of behind-the-scenes celebrity stories.

Secrets of Great Portrait Photography takes you though all the stages of a portrait shoot from pre-production planning through posing your portrait through perfecting your shot in post-production. Loaded with details about three decades of portrait photography, each chapter of this 264 page book, is packed full of tips to successful portrait photography sharing all the details of lessons learned from each shoot.

Secrets of Great Portrait Photography is available from Amazon.


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