Tim Snow: Portraits of a Chiropractor

Mixing your artificial light source with ambient light is a great way to draw the eye to your subject.

One of my favorite challenges as a photographer is showing up to a location I have never seen, assessing the situation, and making some great photographs in a short period of time.

Renée Dallaire is a Pointe-Claire, Quebec, based chiropractor who was in need of some new photographs for her website. She had initially contacted me asking to make some portraits and to photograph her newly-renovated reception area and consultation rooms. After speaking with her and discussing her needs, I suggested we also have some people pose as clients to give another dimension to the shoot.

Having walked through the office and checked out the lighting, I noticed that the space was lit with good old fluorescent overheads, definitely not flattering. I decided to use my 5-foot Photoflex OctoDome (they call it a "Medium"… They have a "Large" which is a hefty 7-feet!). One of the things I love about this OctoDome is that it has a very narrow profile, meaning I can use it in relatively small places with ease.

Using a large light source in the office, I can give the light a very soft feel. 

We started out photographing Renée with her “clients”. The first set-up was in one of the consultation rooms. I was able to bring the light right into the room with me and use it as my main source of illumination. I asked Renée to speak with our patient as if she was giving an actual consultation, and I just waited for the right moment. I composed the photograph with Renée facing the camera and our patient turned towards her, using the patient to draw the eye into the frame towards Renée.

Using a large light source as a supplement to a natural light source gives the photograph a very authentic feel.

Renée and her team are strong believers in the benefits of chiropractic adjustments on children as well as adults, so we made sure we had a child with us to demonstrate her methods. This is the type of situation where you may be tempted to use the natural light coming from the window, but the quality here was absolutely horrible. We were in the shaded area of the building, so no amount of white-balance correction would have convincingly eliminated the blue cast.

I positioned the 5-foot OctoDome in front of the window and feathered it slightly away from my subjects to have the absolute softest part of the light illuminate them.

I wanted to create three different portraits for Renée, two of them environmental and a more typical studio-style headshot.

The first environmental portrait (see the first photograph at the top of the post) was made to show Renée’s reception area. I positioned my light to the left and slightly above my subject to give a bit of definition and shading to her. I metered the ambient light and set my flash to 1 stop above ambient to slightly darken the office space behind her and really pull her off the background.

Adding a second light source is a great way to create a bit more depth to your photograph. 

We also wanted a portrait of Renée at her desk. I wanted to use a bit of natural light from the window as a hair light, but unfortunately Renée’s desk blocked the window. I quickly noticed that she had frosted windows separating her office from the reception area, so I decided to add a second flash in the hallway to really separate Renée from the background. I used a standard reflector on the light, as I wanted it to be harder than the OctoDome, and it was shooting through the frosted glass, which added a nice touch of softness.

I had debated setting up a white or gray seamless for the posed portrait but noticed a wall with textured red wall paper and knew immediately that I wanted to try using that first. I started with one light at first, the same 5-foot OctoDome, but found the results far too contrasty (see below).

I quickly set up a reflector to fill in the shadows, in this case a Photoflex 39″ x 72″ LitePanel. The kit includes a diffusion screen as well as a reversible white/silver panel. I chose to use the white side to not over-fill the shaded side of her face.

On the left is the OctoDome on its own. Even though it’s a large light source, it still created some pretty strong shadows. The photograph on the right is the result of adding the reflector to the scene.

We spent three hours together creating the final series of photographs and are both very pleased with the results. A bit of effort, thought and the right equipment can give great results!

To see more of Tim Snow's work, visit his Pro Showcase page.

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