Trying to create a shallow depth-of-field portrait in studio using strobes presents photographers with a set of problems. First and foremost, even at the lowest output, strobes are often too bright for the wide open apertures associated with this type of shot. You could use a neutral density filter to combat the extra light but that presents another set of challenges when it comes to focusing. You can’t really focus with the ND filter on, it’s like focusing through sunglasses, and when you are shooting at f/1.4 or f/1.8 any movement from the camera or subject will throw your focus off. The solution? Continuous LED lighting.
That is the direction we decided to gothis year for a portrait of David Ortiz intended for the cover of the Red Sox Yearbook, and the tools in this case were three Litepanels Astra 1×1 Bi Color LED panels , paired with the beautiful Nikon 85mm f/1.4G.
We created a triangle-shaped set up, with just a small opening to shoot through. This created nice light fall off and a cool looking catch light in the eye. I used the modeling light of a gridded Profoto B1 on the backdrop and adjusted the temperature of the LitePanels to match the B1. Lite output of the LitePanels was set to the lowest setting.
Here is a example of the setup:
I found out pretty quickly upon testing that shooting at f/1.4 was actually a bit too shallow-the subjects nose appeared very out of focus in comparison to the eyes, and I ended up sticking mostly to f/1.8 and f/2.0 for these shots. I also shot tethered to a MacBook Pro using Adobe Lightroom so that I could be sure that the images were in focus-it’s amazing how many of the shots were ever-so-slightly out of focus and you simply can’t tell this by looking at the back of the camera.
As far as the results, I couldn’t be happier. I highly suggest this approach for anyone looking for a solution that will allow the the ability to play with shallower depth-of-field portraits.