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Even Light for Full-Length Portraits

A little different from the last handful of episodes, Nathan Elson’s How I Got the Shot, Episode 7, moves into a darker-toned portrait set marked by its emphasis on moody overhead lighting.

Elson’s Set

One of my favorite parts of Elson’s videos is the wide-angle view that he shares of his entire set. In this case, we get to see exactly where Elson places his lights.

Wide angle of set

For this set, Elson uses an overhead deep umbrella as key, complemented by a second umbrella that he uses as a hair light to create separation for Liiz’s hair against the dark backdrop.

A new trick for Elson, he also shares a side view of his set so that we can see exactly how he works his overhead umbrella. Setting the umbrella with a slight angle just in front of Liiz allows Elson to get his light to travel the full length of Liiz. The movement away from strictly overhead avoids fall-off and helps to create the full-length image that Liiz wanted of her legs.

Wide angle of set from side.

The Hair Light

Once Elson moves on to a BTS of his editing process, we get to see how important the hair light is to create a separation between Liiz’s dark hair and the dark backdrop. They are small details with a big impact, especially once the image is translated into black and white.

Elson’s Dodge and Burn

Last, we get to watch how Elson brightens Liiz’s legs to draw attention to her length in Capture One and then how he uses his dodge and burn technique in Photoshop to contour the shape of Liiz’s legs to really draw a viewer’s attention.

Creating emphasis with editing.

These are simple, almost unobtrusive changes that really help Elson deliver the kind of images that Liiz was looking for.

All images provided by Nathan Elson.

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user 65983's picture


Nathan Elson's picture

Hey Jeff!

I often use a kicker (hair or rim) to provide some separation when doing something like a headshot. Just helps give the image a little more depth, but I tend to use them very subtly.

user 65983's picture


Nathan Elson's picture

Ahhh ya I use umbrellas for almost everything, and sometimes in this way depending on the look I'm going for.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Oh, look! Cheesecake! Where have I seen that before? Oh, yeah, everywhere.

Robert Nurse's picture

I'm 60+ and, though a scantly clad beautiful woman isn't a terrible thing, I'm wondering if there aren't other deserving subjects that could take advantage of this, obviously, superb lighting. Just saying.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Having high ceiling probably helps to decrease falloff and use bigger light source as well...

Nathan Elson's picture

High ceilings are a definite bonus.

Mike Ditz's picture

Nice studio...

Nathan Elson's picture

Thank ya