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Winter Beauty Headshot
Overpower The Sun With Flash

Winter Beauty Headshot


Camera: Olympus OM-D, EM-1 Mirrorless
Lens: Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 40-150mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens for Olympus and Panasonic Micro 4/3 Cameras
Focal Length: 95mm, 190mm effective
Aperture: Setting: f/20
Shutter Speed: 1/10th handheld
ISO: 100
White Balance: 6000K
Camera Mode: Manual
Lighting: Hensel Integra Pro 500 w/Chimera medium softbox


Just before the Mississippi Delta photography workshop, model Rebecca and I decided to shoot outdoors, even though it was a bit chilly and windy. We found a good spot on the deck where there was also an outdoor plug for my Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 light. This was important as the sunlight itself was too harsh, and I wanted the sunlight to strike her from behind, thus I needed a strong studio flash unit to overpower the sun with flash.

The Story Behind The Photo

The Background

Just before the Mississippi Delta photography workshop, at my friend Jimmy Hobson’s house near Clarksdale, model Rebecca and I decided we’d do a little outdoor shooting as we felt we had done enough shots inside Jimmy’s house already. My only hesitation was that it was a little chilly and windy outside and I’m not a fan of cold weather.

Behind Scenes Winter Beauty

In this behind the scenes photo you can see how the nose oil technique caused flattering lens flare.

As Rebecca got ready, I went outside and scouted the location. My original idea was to ensure I’d be able to capture the lake in the background, and my first thought was to overpower the sun with flash and that requires to take into consideration the Sunny 16 Rule that states, on a normal, sunny day, if you set your shutter speed to the equivalent of your ISO (film speed in the old days), then your aperture, or f/stop, will be f/16.  It was the day after a Blue Northern had passed, thus a hazy and partly cloudy day with the clouds moving fast where there were periods of direct sunlight.

Luckily we found a good spot on the deck where there was also an outdoor plug as I only had my Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 light with me and not any battery powered portable lights. This was important as the sunlight itself was too harsh, and I also wanted the light to strike her from behind, thus I needed a strong studio flash unit, in this case a monolight, to overpower the sun with flash.

When I noticed how the sunlight was illuminating the fur around Rebecca’s hooded vest, I no longer worried about the background and instead focused on a beauty headshot capture. On a few shots, I used the “nose oil photography technique,” as you can see it’s effect more on the behind the scenes shot posted here.

It was a bit dark sky, thanks again to the Blue Norther, so I used a shutter speed of 1/10th, handheld. Mirrorless cameras allow you to use slower shutter speeds handheld since there are no mirror vibrations and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has an image stabilized sensor that also reduces camera shake. The slower shutter speed also helped give the fur a little bit of the wind movement, though some of the movement of the fur is frozen during the duration of the flash.

Again, I’m not a big fan of cold weather, especially when there is a wind chill factor involved, so we worked quickly, probably less than 20 minutes before we called it a wrap and moved back inside.

The Challenges

The first challenge was to take into account the Sunny 16 rule, which states that on a normal, sunny day, if you set your shutter speed to the equivalent of your ISO (film speed in the old days), then your aperture, or f/stop, will be f/16.

Here are a few things that can alter the Sunny 16 rule:

  1. Time of day. Early in the morning, or late in the afternoon, the light is less intense, so set your camera lens aperture appropriately for the reduced ambient or natural light. And if the outdoors is coming through a window, low-E or double pane windows will reduce this value too.
  1. If clouds are present, or on an overcast day, open the aperture up at least one f/stop value, normally f/11, during the brightest part of the day.
  1. When shooting into a dark background, such as rocks, foliage, building walls, etc., you can open up an full aperture if you need to reduce your depth of field, though your background will be overexposed, but to the viewer, they won’t know that, you’ll only know the background is lighter than what you originally saw.  This is an old photo trick when you can’t get enough power out of your flash unit to match the f/16 aperture value. In other words, when you don’t shoot into the brightest part of the scene, or into the sky.
  1. When working outdoors with snow, beach, or water, increase the aperture value either one-half or a full f/stop to compensate for the amplified light from these natural reflectors.

So in a nutshell, if you remember that during the brightest part of the day, if your camera is set at ISO 100, your shutter speed at 1/100th, that your aperture value will be at least f/16. That means you’ll need a flash output value, to at least balance your image, of a minimum of f/16. In the case of this image, because of dark Blue Norther skies, even though the sun was piercing through at times, I purposely set the shutter speed to 1/10th to try and capture some movement of the hood fur with the wind, though some of that movement is frozen when the flash fires.

Winter Beauty Head Shot

Here is another beauty headshot from the same photo shoot with Rebecca.

The second challenge, especially during winter is the wind. While it helped to turn Rebecca’s face into the wind a bit, besides feeling the wind chill factor, we didn’t have sand bags or an assistant to hold the light stand, so I placed some of the wrought iron chairs against the base of the light stand to secure it.

The third challenge is with any headshot, beauty headshot or not, is that a model can tense up knowing you’re shooting so tight. In the case of Rebecca, I didn’t tell her I was taking a headshot until after it was captured an by using my Olympus zoom lens with the 35mm equivalent of 80-300mm focal length, I captured the shot at 190mm, thus giving me a nice distance between the model and I. This is what I call a “comfort distance” which is real important when working with models.

Another way to avoid facial tension is don’t bring up the word “headshot,” during the shoot—that word can scare people so I told Rebecca originally I was shooting a 3/4 (mid-thigh up), plus bust-up shot as well as other images.

The final challenge was the cold. While it wasn’t exactly 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it was cold and the wind chill factor made it feel even colder. While Rebecca loves the cold more than I do, I become worthless if my feet get cold, so even though I was wearing warm boots, I worked fast and one method of working fast is that BEFORE Rebecca came outside, I had done my exposure checks and only tweaked them after she was in position. In fact, a photographer should always check their equipment before the model goes on set.

In the end, we overcame our challenges rather easily and Rebecca provided some great looks for me to capture a great beauty headshot. It also helps Rebecca and I have worked together before, the more you work with a subject, the easier it is to capture great photos, especially headshots, or a beauty headshot shot in this case.

The Safety

There were no real safety concerns during the creation of this beauty headshot photo other than to properly secure the light stand to ensure it wouldn’t fall. Obviously we worked fast to avoid any potential of frostbite and I informed Rebecca of the tripping hazards by the extension cord.

During all of our photo shoots we take every safety precaution including running electrical cables under the light stand legs so stands will slide if someone trips over an electrical cord. If you do not place your monolight’s power cord under the stand legs, and someone trips over the cord, chances are your light will fall completely over vs. sliding across the floor.


Shutter Speed

Focal Length


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