Family Christmas Portrait 2012

As the holidays are winding down, I wanted to slip this in. The past couple of posts were easy on the brain so I figured it was time to ramp things back up for a bit! Is anyone still reading this? Also, I haven’t done a lighting diagram in awhile and I have some friends out there who got flashes for Christmas so this might inspire you to put them to use.

My wife recently graduated with her cosmology license a few months ago and the State of Florida says that you have to have your mug shot with the license so they know whom to blame. I was sweet talked into setting up the equipment so I could take a recent head shot for her. After deciding if I was going to endure the wrath of God if I said, “Can we do this later?” I decided it was in my best interest to get this done and over with, so I replied with a simple, “Yes, Dear”. Below is the lighting diagram to show you how the later photos were taken. I’ll explain this as we go. As always, click on the photos for the full size image.

 spencer pullen photography angie 2012 lighting diagramKeeping the wife happy portrait. – Lighting Diagram – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

OK, let’s start from the back and work forward. This is also how I like to build my studio set-ups so I’m not trying to wrestle with a nine foot backdrop around some expensive lights. First, I assembled the background support system. Then I slid the pole through the loop that was in the background. I love this little jewel of a background stand, as it’s light and folds into a compact case. The background itself is a multi tasker as it’s natural and goes with just about any profession. I knew in my minds eye that I wanted to put a round gradient on the background. This is where our first light was placed. I put the diffuser over the flash head so the light would come out in a circular orb shape instead of going in a linear fashion. This also acts as a separation light and adds depth to the final photo. Next, I like to set my key or main light for the subject. This is also on a light stand with the flash going through a shoot through umbrella. An umbrella is great for this, as it will wrap light around your subject and produce nice soft light. For the last light I wanted to put a hair/separation light to camera right to just give it that last little touch. At this point the background and lights are set. All that is left is…the camera! I always use a tripod for shoot like this as it helps ensure that I get a tack sharp shot. I also fitted the camera with an electronic shutter release to aid in getting a sharp shot. The last piece of equipment that is my secret weapon for this is my 50mm f/1.4 lens. This is one of the sharpest lenses in my bag. It’s also a prime lens, which means that I physically have to move in and out to zoom. I set the camera to manual mode, ISO: 100, f/2.8 and 1/250 of a second. I like shooting portraits at f/2.8 as it give me enough depth of field from nose to ear. I’m also at the cameras sync speed at 1/250 of a second. All that was missing was the model. After a few test shots and tweaks, this is what I got…

 spencer pullen photography angie seriousYou didn’t say CHEESE! – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

All of the photos that I have taken of my wife over the years, I always tell her to smile. The above photo is her smiling. So, when the photography heavens open and allow me to get a shot she would rather not have been captured, this is where I get my paybacks…

 spencer pullen photography angie with tounge outWhat the State of Florida is looking for! – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All rights Reserved

This is why you always keep your thumb on the release. At anytime, it allows you to pop off a few and you just never know what you are going to get. I’m sure that the folks that she knows on Facebook would love to see this. As you can see from the above photos, the gradient glow behind her is from the flash that is between her and the background. Her face and torso is lit from the umbrella and lastly, the glow in her hair and light on the side of her arm is from the hair light/separation light. I probably took fifty as we were working and the best part is since the camera and flashes are all in manual mode, no matter where I put the camera or where she moved on the stool, all of the frames were lit and looked the same. One last tip, when you spin your subject towards you and turn their head, make sure your spot focus point is directly on their eye closest to the camera. If the eyes aren’t sharp, it’s over.

Since all the seriousness was over, I told her that since all of the equipment was set up and it was getting to be holiday time we could take some Christmas photos of our dog, Emme. I never saw anyone change into new clothes as fast as my wife did and was ready to pose with the dog. I know some of you who read these posts often do pet photography. I hope this will live up to your standards. First, lets look at the lighting diagram…

 spencer pullen photography emme golden retriever dog lighting diagramEmme’s Christmas Portrait 2012 – Lighting Diagram – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

This was an easy lighting change. I took the hair/separation light out and brought the light that was lighting the background around to the front and threw an umbrella on it. Working with animals is really a two person job, one person to take the photos and one to guide the nose with cookies! The same background was used, one of the differences was that I increased my depth of field from f/2.8 to f/5.6 since there was going to be two people in the photo and with the dog moving around, I wanted to have some room to play with. I could have went to f/8 or f/11, but I didn’t want to put make the background any more in focus than I had to. First off was just Emme to get a recent portrait of her…

 spencer pullen photography emme golden retriever dog laying downEmme’s Glamour Shot – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

As you can see, Emme is evenly lit and holding still for the moment. Then it was time for Angie to get in there with her.

 spencer pullen photography emme golden retriever dog angie posingAngie and Emme…acting sweet. – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

Before I knew it, there was a wardrobe change. All of the sudden a Christmas hat and antlers appeared and I was supposed to take another one. There is a commercial for another camera company and they show a little boy and his dog dressed up in different costumes. I said to myself, “I would never do that to my dog.” Well, at least it wasn’t me. If you would like to call the ASPCA, I can give you my wife’s work address! Here is the next shot with the supporting props…

 spencer pullen photography emme golden retriever dog antlersMrs. Clause and her “helper”. – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

Before I knew it, there was a whole bag full of Christmas props for the dog. I’m thinking this was the real reason why my wife needed her photo taken! It only gets worse from here folks…

 spencer pullen photography emme golden retriever dog angel haloEmme, Our Little Angel (You Are Dead Human!) – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

Then we had a great idea to try and do some close ups. At this point the cookie bag is almost empty and she was getting tired of all the craziness. The good thing is that I have been photographing her since she was a little pup so she is used to all of the flashes going off.

 spencer pullen photography emme golden retriever dog santa hat head shotI’m ready for my nap! – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

 spencer pullen photography emme golden retriever dog santa hatThere’s one last cookie? – Spencer Pullen © 2012 – All Rights Reserved

So there you have it, another successful and happy client, fur and all. You just never know where a photo shoot is going to end up. You might start out photographing MRS. CEO and end up taking the dog’s photo with a bag full of props. I hope there is still some egg nog left after this one!

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Sweet photos. It was good to see how you set your lights and the purpose of each. Your wife must be proud of her pictures.

  2. The portraits looks great! Don’t you love capturing those funny ones! Al wanted to try to do a photo shoot with his cat and I got a funny one! You couldn’t plan it! Thanks for explaining the lighting too!

  3. Great shots.

  4. Happy Holidays!

  5. Beautiful Angie, Patient Emme ~ Thanks for sharing & thanks for the how to.

    Happy Holidays to the entire Pullen Family!

  6. I love them all. Great photos.

  7. I know it’s way past Christmas, but I wanted to tell you I loved the pictures.


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