An After School Portrait

1188489848 02

Now that the kids are back in school again, what better way to get great indoor portraits of your young student than with the Photoflex First Studio Portrait Kit.

With this affordable, easy-to-use lighting kit and a little know-how, you’ll be able to come away with some truly captivating images. This lesson illustrates some basic lighting techniques you can use to capture images of loved ones that you’ll treasure for years to come.

Topics Covered:

  • Coming Up with a Portrait Theme
  • Preparing Ahead of Time
  • The Main Light
  • The Rim/Fill Light
  • The Hair/Background Light
  • The Stand-In
  • Show Time
  • Comparisons

Coming Up with a Portrait Theme

For this lesson, I wanted to create a makeshift home studio for an after school portrait. The subject was my 4-year old son, Aidan, who’s currently very interested in anything having to do with dinosaurs.

In light of this little man’s quest for prehistoric knowledge, I decided to create a somewhat scholarly portrait of him, sitting in a grown-up chair, perusing the pages of his favorite dinosaur book. In framing up the shot, I decided to have the living room bookshelf in the background to lend an academic mood to the scene.

Preparing Ahead of Time

Anyone who’s ever done a child portrait before knows that it’s usually best to get all of your camera and lighting gear set up beforehand in order to take advantage of that small window of opportunity called “a child’s patience.” And that’s exactly what I did here.

The Main Light

After positioning the chair where I wanted it, I set up my main light (First Studio light, Umbrella and LiteStand), positioned it to the right of the chair, plugged it into the wall, and turned it on.

The Rim/Fill Light

Next, I added a rim/fill light on the opposite side of the chair, almost 180-degrees from the main light. I knew that I’d be making minor positioning adjustments to these lights once Aidan was in the chair, but for the time being, this was the general placement I wanted for the portrait.

The Hair/Background Light

For a final touch, I decided to use another FirstStar head as a hair light/background light. The bookshelf really came in handy here, as it was a perfect surface for this third light head. To keep the light head stable, I mounted it to a Photoflex LS-2200 Background Stand. Once the light was angled where I wanted it, I plugged it in and turned it on.

With all of the lights on now, my general lighting setup was complete. I had a soft main light to the right of the chair, a soft rim/fill light opposite from the main light, and a hard hair/background light positioned on the bookshelf.

In the setup shots below, can you see the hard light effects of the hair/background light on the chair and floor?

The Stand-In

Right after I got the lights all set up, our cat, Gulliver, strolled in from the other room to see what was going on and promptly jumped up on the chair. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to get some “stand-in” test shots before Aidan got home from school.

I grabbed the camera, zoomed in tight, and took a few shots while Gulliver pondered the sound of the camera shutter. Here’s my favorite of the bunch.

Show Time

Once Aidan got home from school, I had him put on a nice shirt and asked him to go grab his favorite dinosaur book. When he came back and sat down in the chair, this book kept him fairly well occupied as I took the following series of shots.

Before using the First Studio lights, I first took a quick point-and-shoot snapshot with the built-in flash activated for comparison purposes. With the camera set to Auto, I took my first shot.

As you can see from the result, the lighting was less than desirable! It’s a great example of how the lighting in a photograph makes all the difference!

Next, I swapped out the compact camera for a DSLR (pop-up flash deactivated) to try and capture a more natural looking result, starting with just the main First Studio light. With the White Balance set to Tungsten and the aperture and shutter speed manually set, I turned on the main light and took a shot.

With just this one light, the improvement over the previous shot was tremendous. The light from the umbrella threw a soft, diffused light onto Aidan that was both directional and natural looking.

The left side of Aidan and his book, however, were fairly deep in shadow. So to brighten up these areas, I added the rim/fill light. I turned it on and moved it a little further forward to better fill in the shadows.

The nice thing about continuous lights like these is that you can see the effects of the lights as you move them, which can save considerable time when you’re building a shot. Once this light was in place, I took another shot.

Now the light was much more even and this second light also helped to illuminate the background somewhat.

For the final step, I turned on the overhead hair light and angled it so that it would illuminate both Aidan’s hair and part of the floor behind him.

Once everything was in place, I took a series of shots to try and capture Aidan “in the moment”.

As you can see from the results, the shots now had a real sense of dimension to them. The hair light really helped to separate Aidan from the background and added a more dynamic element to the scene.

This image ended up being my favorite of the bunch, as Aidan really looked engrossed in the illustrations of the dinosaurs.

Upon reviewing the image further, however, I saw that my composition of the shot wasn’t exactly as I wanted it. Specifically, at the bottom of the image, Aidan’s feet get cut off, which makes for an awkward visual tension.

In such a case, cropping an image to be perfectly square can be the perfect solution, and that’s exactly what I did here. Notice how this cropped version does not have the awkward visual tension of the original?


To give you a sense of how far I’d come with the lighting, compare the first shot with the built-in flash against this most recent one. Now which one would you rather have mounted in a picture frame?

After the shoot, it only took me a few minutes to pack up the lighting gear and set it against the wall. As you can see, you don’t have to have a lot of lighting gear to create compelling indoor portraits!

Keep in mind that the lighting configuration illustrated here is just one of many you can create with this easy-to-use lighting kit. Remember to experiment with your lighting setups and portrait themes, and above all, have fun!

Written and photographed by Ben Clay

Basic Lighting,

Indoor Portraits,


Leave Your Comment