A spotlit portrait at dusk with mist…

Jeff Paige spotlit portrait of a musician

My previous post explained the planning and set build for a portrait session with Atlanta musician Jeff Paige. This one deep dives into the rest of the details.


Without question after the planning is finished, every photograph, ultimately, is all about the light. The tools available allow us to sculpt exactly the look and feel we want to create. The original concepts for this project included dusk, back light, maybe headlights, a spotlight, mist, smoke or fog captured with a long lens. These are beginnings. The ideas are not fully realized. They are the framework on which the work evolves into its final form.


The spotlight idea is to make Jeff’s face one of the brighter areas in the photograph to draw the view’s eye. A twenty-two inch beauty dish with a 40º grid placed above, to his left and about three feet away is the source of illumination that some call the main light. It’s the one that gets read with the Sekonic incident flashmeter. That reading is the exposure set on the camera. All of the rest of the instruments serve the source.

Strip banks

Jeff has dark skin. His wardrobe is a dark leather jacket and black pants. I want long highlights on either side to separate him from the background. One of my favorite tools for creating these highlights is the Dynalite RBTR-1271. A Light Tools fabric grid keeps the light from spilling onto the background or hitting the lens. These banks are positioned slightly behind Jeff to rim him with light. Jeff has turned his head out of the spotlight. The strip bank on his right paints his profile.

2856-0113 Jeff Paige in Profile by Kevin Ames
Laughing, Jeff turned away from the light. I pressed the shutter to make this profile portrait.



Smoke, mist and fog effects on demand are created with a Rosco Vapour fog machine sitting on the floor next to the red backlight.

Fog control

The fog will wrap around a subject completely obscuring it in very short order. A fan at low power blowing across Jeff’s face keeps him from envelopment. An assistant adds fog as it starts to dissipate.

BTS-Jeff Paige Music Portrait Diagram by Kevin Ames
A red gel behind Jeff colors the fog.


Coloring smoke

For this portrait, I removed the red backlight. The electronic flash duration is so short that swirling wisps are frozen patterns that eddy into billowing colors and shapes framing Jeff as he performs. Rosco warming gel added to the strip banks produces light close to the color given off by a candle. The warmth of the fog on the left leads the eye to the orange bass and into the cool mist on Jeff’s right. This is the realization of the idea of headlights and mist.

Jeff walks along a road on a misty night. The only light is from headlights on the fog.
Jeff walks along a road on a misty night. The only light is from headlights on the fog.

There is never too much planning when it comes to making a compelling portrait. Period.



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