10 Minute Portrait

I don’t know about all newspapers, but we do a lot of portraits at The Oklahoman. I love it, as portraits are one of my favorite things to shoot. While on assignment for the paper the challenge is not only getting a good photo of the subject, but coming up with something visually striking in a matter of minutes. You really have to bring your “A” game each time.

Sometimes it’s easier than others, when everything just falls into place. That happened today in a portrait for our Executive Q&A we do each week.


It was a job downtown, so I walked. It took 5 minutes to walk there. Within 10 minutes of arrival I had this portrait and was breaking down. It rarely happens so quick. When I was being led back to the subject’s office, I saw this great arched doorway, which is unusual and I knew I wanted to try and use it. When the subject showed me her office, it was the usual white, boring box except for the brightly colored footstool. The subject was in in monotone colors, like the office, so I posed her on the footstool in the arch. The room behind was empty, so I set up kicker lights, one on each side, and turned out the room lights. I then used a 42” umbrella as the main light. I only carry two light stands when I’m on foot, so the light behind her to the right was placed on a file cabinet. It was further away than the other kicker light, so I set the flash head zoom to 105 to make it about equal to the one that was high on a stand set to 24 to the left. The umbrella was placed about 45 degrees to the front. I had her turn her body into it.


I used a “Nifty 50”, EF 50mm f1.8 STM lens with an adaptor on my Canon M5, which has an effective focal length of about 80mm. Used the Flashpoint R2 radio system to fire the three Zoom TTL Mini strobes.

When the paper moved downtown, I knew we would have lots of assignments close, so I rethought what I use and how I carry it so that I could walk to assignments. What I came up with is a two messenger bag system, one for cameras and one for lights and a small light stand bag.

I wear one bag across the chest to each side and carry the light stand bag, usually in my left hand, so that I can access the camera around my neck if I see a “street photo” on the way. The light stand bag has two compact 6 1/2’ stands and two white translucent 42” umbrellas. The strobe bag has three Flashpoint Zoom TTL Minis, a transmitter, snoot, two RoundFlash modifiers, batteries and just in case, a light meter. The camera bag has a second body and three lenses and batteries, notebook, pens, etc.

I choose the Flashpoint Zoom TTL Minis because they have built-in radio, TTL and High Speed synch and are small. (They are the Adorama branded version of the popular Godox system).


The Minis are totally modern units that are smaller and about as powerful as the old standard hot shoe flash of the film era, the Vivitar 283. They only use two AA batteries to keep the units small. I use them with AA lithium batteries which last forever and are lightweight too. Recycle on full power is 4-6 secs, but I rarely use full power for a normal set up and use TTL, which shuts the power down and makes recycle rates around 1-2 seconds normally. Shooting at iso 200 I can use an f-stop around 5.6 normally.

Small, lightweight, versatile. Just what I wanted downtown to walk to assignments with, but still have enough equipment to produce creative environmental portraits, the bread-and-butter of my job.

Keep shooting.


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