How to Photograph 3 Headshot Looks with Just 1 Background

Perhaps you’re on a budget, or maybe you just hate switching out backgrounds. Either way, this tutorial from portrait and lifestyle photographer Jeff Carpenter has some great tips for getting different color backgrounds with a minimum of gear and fuss:

Having the versatility to get a number of different looks with just one studio setup is not only good for your wallet, but it can also save the day when a client isn’t quite sure what look they’re going for or changes their mind mid-stream. Not having to switch things out can also save a lot of time. Carpenter’s method is probably one of the simplest out there, yet, as you can, it yields great results.

In this setup, Carpenter uses a Paul C. Buff Digibee octabox key light and a Paul C. Buff Digibee 800 flash unit with a Magmod Bounce diffusion for the backlight. (A speedlight would work well here as the backlight.) Beyond that, all you need is a trigger system for your flash, a grid for your softbox, a few light stands, and a flat, gray background. Simple! Everything else is managed simply by moving the lights and the model.

For example, in the photo below Carpenter uses his backlight to wash out the background by placing it behind the model, just about at the small of her back.

one background three different looks

White Background Setup

using light to make white backdrop

White Background

To get a black background, Carpenter merely adds a grid to his softbox and removes the backlight. (The grid contains the light and prevents spill on the background.)

how to change background color with light

Black Background

For the final look, a gray background, Carpenter simply moves the model closer and the key light closer to the background to get some spill light on the background (with the grid removed).

three different looks with one backdrop

Gray Background Setup

how to light portraits

Gray Background

The end result? Three completely different looks with a minimum of hassle. In fact, Carpenter doesn’t even use a light meter; he merely dials in the settings he wants and adjusts the flash accordingly. So if you’re shooting on a budget, have a tiny studio space, or just like working in a minimalist environment, this style of portrait setup might be right for you.

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