Taking the pith helmet photograph

Fat man in a hat
Gentleman Explorer


Yesterday I had a spare half hour, with not much to do. Perfect opportunity to practice off-camera lighting. So, I put the camera on a tripod, popped the flash behind a lighting modifier, grabbed hold of a reflector, and snapped away. I posted the resulting image on Twitter and thought no more about it.

Shortly afterwards, one of my Twitter pals, @leftmidfielder, asked me how I’d set up the shot. I’ve never really done a set-up shot before, so thought it would be fun to explain how I went about making the image. Here goes.

The camera used was a Canon 5D with 85mm f1.8 lens. I set the ISO to 100, the aperture to f8, and the shutter speed to 1/160 second. This was just an initial guess, that would cut out any ambient light in the room. I had no idea if these settings would be right, but it’s not a bad place to start.

I set the flash to 1/4 power, zoomed the head wide, and put it on a lightstand behind a white shoot through umbrella. Lightstand went to camera left, and as high up as the ceiling would allow.

Image shows the camera on a tripod, and the umbrella used as a lighting modifier
Set up shot

A few test shots told me the light wasn’t quite right, it was all a little dark. I decided to up the ISO to 200 rather than increase the flash power, to help save battery life and keep recycle times short. This looked right to me and the on the histogram.

Now all as you need is a fat man standing in front of a white wall, wearing a silly hat, to hold a reflector. Like this:

A photograph of yours truly, wearing a daft hat, holding a reflector
Fat man wearing a hat, holding a reflector

The reflector is essential in this shot, especially with a shadow causing hat like this. The reflector will lift the shadows under the face.

The flash trigger is a Yongnuo TN-E3-RT. It’s a copy of the Canon ST-E3-RT, but at a much cheaper price. I’m also holding a Hahnel combo remote trigger that allows me to take pictures whilst I’m on the other side of the lens.

As for post processing, there is actually none. The image is straight out of camera. I suspect that Lightroom adds a little sharpening by default, but I’ve not moved any sliders. In my limited experience, I’ve found that when the lighting is right, the need for post processing is diminished.

Hopefully this will help somebody somewhere in some small way. If you found this useful, inspiring, amusing, irritating, or dreadful then I’d love to hear from you.