A Low Key Lighting Setup using a Black Shower Curtain
Usually when I take headshots for corporate use, I shoot against a white background or use their commercial premises as a backdrop for business headshots.
Recently, a client requested a headshot for his ‘about’ page on his website. This job had to be completed ASAP as his website was going live in a couple of days! He wanted a black and white image, so I thought a black background would probably be the best option, to create that Low key effect. Especially when a web page is white.
I didn’t have a black background. I improvised with a black shower curtain. I already had a curtain rail. The purchase cost all of €6.99 and it worked a treat!
With this type of shot I used one speedlight with a shoot through white umbrella. The sync speed on the flash was set to 250s and TTL. Aperture was at f10 and the shutter speed at 60. To the right of my subject was a huge north facing window. The flash stand was positioned to the left of the subject about two feet away at a 45 degrees angle. My client sat two feet from the background. I didn’t have the room for him to sit further back.
What I loved about shooting against a black background in this particular setup was that I had very little post editing to do for the final image. The background is not completely black, and you can see the obvious pleats. See image below.
When I finished the basic edits in ACR, I brought the image into Photoshop where I applied a mask to isolate the subject. For this image, I used Select – Color Range rather than using the Quick Selection tool and then the Refine Mask tool. The Color Range is a color-based selection tool which was ideal in this case, as my subject was much lighter than the background making selection relatively easy. A few clicks on the background and I had a near perfect mask, except where the two eyes were. I applied the mask and filled in areas that were needed in black with the brush tool.
I applied an Adjustment Levels and moved the mask area onto this layer. Move the black slider to the right to about 19 I also moved the white slider to the left to 240. This meant I had a perfect black background. See below examples of my two daughters, using the same setup as described above. However, I used a different mask technique as my two girls were dressed in black. I will discuss this technique in a future blog post.