I’ve wanted to make a gritty self portrait for a while now. My inspiration came from reading up a little on the professional photographer Joel Grimes. The technique he made popular involves a light on either side of and slightly behind the subject for a hard rim light and a soft light to fill in the front of the subject’s face. I only have two strobes, a Canon 580EX II and a Yongnuo YN 560 II, so I had to make a slight modification.
Gritty Portrait Lighting Setup
I setup a black backdrop in my dining room with a chair facing away from the camera. I placed the YN 560 II over my left shoulder (camera right) and flagged it to prevent light from spilling onto the background. I knew I would need my other flash for the front fill light, so I place a 5-in-1 reflector camera left (my right side while sitting). The reflector never ended up looking like a rim light, but it at least prevented the left side of the frame from falling into shadow.
For the fill light, I placed my 580 EX II in a Westcott Apollo Orb on a boom stand just above my tripod-mounted camera. I shot this image with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. I triggered the whole setup with an off camera flash cord and a wireless remote. I shot while tethered to Adobe Lightroom 4 with my laptop facing me so I could move my head and change my facial expression without having to get up each time.
Here is a rough shot of the setup:
Post Production and Final Image
After the shot, I exaggerated the gritty lighting look by boosting the Clarity slider in Lightroom. I also spent a little bit of time retouching my face to prevent it from looking too hard. I also boosted the color and light in my eyes slightly.
Here is my final gritty self portrait.
I’d like to try this shot again with a third light and while outdoors with more than a black background. I think a gritty portrait like this would work really well for athletes like baseball and football players.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever tried a lighting setup like this before? If so, please share your results below.