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Article: Light it Like Jeff: Shooting The Perfect Self Portrait | Ep 21

Light it Like Jeff: Shooting The Perfect Self Portrait | Ep 21

If you’re limited on gear or traveling minimally, but need to diversify your imagery, then this one’s for you. Watch and learn while photographer Jeff Carpenter (@readylightmedia) shows us how to create three different portraits using one light, one modifier, and one V-Flat. It won’t be a hard concept to grasp and you’ll leave better equipped after watching Jeff run through three lighting setups.

"The three looks we’re gonna get today are a gray background, a black background, and a near-white background. Notice I didn’t say ‘pure white,’ I said ‘near-white’...that’s because we only have one light. It’s hard to get pure white with just one light, but we’re gonna get it pretty darn close in camera” and then get it to pure white in post, Jeff explained.

How To Get a Neutral Gray Background With a White V-Flat And One Light

In order to achieve a neutral gray background, the first thing to do is move the light and the model (Jeff himself) farther away from the V-Flat background. After all, lighting is often just a game of simple physics. Moving the light farther away from the V-Flat means less light on the background, which means it won’t look as bright white. See? Easy-peasy.

What does a white background with less light become? A gray background. Done.

If you bring the light closer to the background, what does it do to the background?

It’s not a trick question. You’ve got this.

Yes, exactly. The closer the light is to the background, the brighter the background. See? You’re already on your way to lighting like a pro. Give yourself a pat on the back.

So, to get the look of a gray backdrop, Jeff set up his white V-Flat as the background and then placed himself about ten feet away from it with a 3-foot Octa an additional three feet away from him.

image of jeff v flat
This lighting setup makes for a nice exposure on Jeff with a good amount of fall-off to achieve a neutral gray backdrop by the time the light hits the V-Flat.

For this image, Jeff crafted butterfly lighting by placing the octa above and directly in front of where he sat on the stool. Butterfly lighting (also called Paramount lighting) is a flattering light pattern often used for portraiture that creates a butterfly-shaped shadow under the nose.

Since Jeff was the model in his own shoot and not behind the camera where he could directly press the shutter, he tethered his camera to a nearby laptop and used the keyboard to trigger the shutter. The live view on the laptop made it easy to see if he was focused and correctly placed in the frame, making for easy self portraits. (If you don’t tether, Jeff will run through two other options to trigger your camera.)

image of jeff grey background
Jeff, with a white V-Flat background turned into a neutral gray backdrop with one light.

How to Get a “Nearly-White” Background with a White V-Flat and One Light

For his next shot, Jeff explained that it would “be impossible with just a single light source” to get the background pure white “without overexposing [himself].”

For this shot, he kept the V-Flat in the same spot but moved himself a lot closer to the backdrop and the light farther away. Then he bumped up the power of the light to get the correct exposure on himself. Because Jeff was sitting so close to the background, the light would hit him and then travel just a few inches before hitting the background to create an “almost white background.” The side flap of the V-Flat also created a bit of fill on Jeff’s left side.

image of jeff white
Photographer Jeff Carpenter explains how to shoot a portrait on a white background with one light.

This time, to trigger the camera, Jeff used a feature often used for stop motion animation or time lapse photography. Using the time lapse feature on his Panasonic DC-S1 allowed him to set the total number of shots he wanted to take as well as an interval (the amount of time between shots). Jeff chose ten total shots with a three second interval. 

The downside to triggering the shutter in this way is that the first shot is wasted as you’re running into position. You also can’t see how the image looks before you take the shot. “It’s kind of a little bit more of a guessing game for this one, but it works just as well if you can’t tether,”  Jeff said.

white vflat jeff
Same background but a completely different look achieved with just one light and an octabox.

How to Shoot a Portrait on a Black Background With a V-Flat and One Light

We’re gonna move to the dark side for the third and final portrait. With a V-Flat, it’s as easy as flipping it around to the black side. To add to the moody scene, Jeff donned a darker coat and brought the light closer to the set, but feathered it away from the backdrop for a dramatic split lighting effect.

image black side of v flat
Jeff, explaining the lighting setup for a dramatic, split light portrait with a black background.

This time, Jeff demonstrated the third way to trigger your camera by using a remote trigger such as a phone connected to the camera via wifi.

“With modern cameras,” Jeff said, “This is…a little bit easier to do.” Showing us his phone, Jeff explained, “just like when I was tethering, I can see the frame in here, which is really cool. So I can actually see whether I’m in frame, whether I’m out of frame, whether my camera’s getting focused. And then I can go ahead and trigger it straight from here as well.”

black side of v flat
Black background portrait with split lighting achieved with one black V-Flat, one light, and one three-foot octa.

Three Ways to Shoot a Self Portrait With One V-Flat and One Light

self portrait images
Three self portraits with three different looks using just one V-Flat as the background, one light, and one octa.

So there you have it. Three ways to shoot a self portrait with three different looks using just one V-Flat and one light, plus three different ways of triggering. Jeff, thanks for teaching us how to light like a pro.

Gear and Settings

Camera: Panasonic DC-S1

Lens: 135mm F/1.8 DG HSM | Art 017

ISO: 100

Aperture: F/2.8

Shutter: 1/250th

Focal Length: 135mm

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Photographer: Jeff Carpenter,

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