Clifton Li: Shooting an Editorial Portrait

Hac9141 V3 Flat Clifton Edited Cropped

Recently I had the fantastic opportunity to photograph Canadian writer and mathematician David Orrell for a US-based magazine. With a doctorate from the University of Oxford, his work often focuses on the limits of mathematical models and on complex predictions like weather, economy, and genetics. David has published several books translated into over ten languages, including Apollo’s Arrow: The Science of Prediction and the Future of Everything.

I photographed David in his Toronto condo home on a beautiful sunny day. I was walking around the apartment considering where the portrait should take place and I knew I had to take advantage of the natural light outside. As I reached the balcony, I was blown away by the breathtaking view of the downtown Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower and all. My automatic instinct was that I needed to have this as the background since I especially wanted to showcase David’s proud Canadian roots in an American publication.

For on-location portrait assignments, I often use the Profoto B1 kit, which includes two off-camera, battery-powered, AirTTL flash heads. This portable kit features wireless charging and triggering which offers so much freedom when shooting on-location, where you may not know if there’s an available electrical source. The different flash speeds ranges from 1/1,000 second (normal mode) to 1/19,000 (freeze mode), providing a variety of modes and therefore making a wide number of subjects possible to shoot on location.

For light modification, I carried the Photoflex 45” umbrella and diffusion cover, which has always been a great product for me to use for on-location projects because it’s incredibly lightweight and easy to carry. For this assignment, I used the flash to create a good balance with the sunlight. I used Photoflex’s umbrella and diffusion cover with the flash to act as my key light for the subject, while the sun was my rim light. Simply by adding the diffusion cover onto the umbrella, it easily converted the accessory into a typical soft box, providing an excellent soft overall light. And finally, I also had a large Photoflex oval reflector to fill some light in on the left.

I posed David in a way that seemed natural, relaxed, and demonstrated a sense of Canadian pride. The final result was fantastic and both David and I are very happy with the image.

Based in Toronto, award-winning photographer Clifton Li creates innovative and cutting-edge imagery to satisfy the imagination of commercial and editorial clients. Through experience, he has come to specialize and excel in high-speed and product photography. Clifton has won the Applied Arts and Capic Rodeo awards three years running, in addition to awards from the Hasselblad Masters, Px3 Competition, and IPA - International Photography Awards. See more of his work at his website.

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