Portraying a Musician by Kevin Ames
Lighting & Background Solutions for Photographers

Kevin Ames is an Atlanta-based commercial photographer that works for corporate clients including AT&T, Coca-Cola, Carter’s, Honda and Westin Hotels. His photographs have appeared in Time, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal. Kevin also writes photographic lighting tutorials. Below is a tutorial he recently shared with us about his experience lighting a portrait of a local musician.

Atlanta musician, Jeff Paige came to me with his challenge of rebranding his look for his online presence as well as for upcoming releases of his work. The process always begins with planning. I met with his team to discuss his look, style, accessories, wardrobe and a lot of other details including props, colors and effects. For the mood of the photos we thought “long lens, dusk, fog or mist, back light, maybe coming from headlights and a spot light of some sort.” These ideas set the framework on which the work evolved.


Without question every photograph 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, backlight-maybe headlights, a spotlight, mist, smoke or fog captured with a long lens.

Casting Shadows on the Background

The background anchors the photograph for me so it’s the first part of the set. I selected a painted muslin background from C&M Backdrops. This time I wanted some lines that curved a bit to project a sense of subtle motion onto the drop.

The curved lines on the backdrop were made by shining a location flash head at a three foot by eight foot Rosco Slit Drape (silver / iridescent / gold) suspended from a boom. The image above shows the results. While they the lines look like wrinkles in the drop, they are really only shadows.

Creating Dusk

Originally the shoot was to be outside at dusk. That meant the background should be cool. A Rosco #72 Azure Blue gel over the Dynalite location flash head turned it blue. Increasing the power to the head would make the color lighter. Lower power makes the result darker.

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. Ideally these banks are positioned slightly behind the subject.

Spot Light

This idea is to make Jeff’s face a brighter area 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.


Building the look required light coming through Jeff’s full hairstyle to separate his hair from the background and to draw attention to it too. Another Dynalite location head with a grid adapter holding a Rosco 25 orange-red gel cut to fit its opening is placed directly behind his head. The gel is held in my mini A-clamps from Home Depot or Ace Hardware. They make it easy to change the gel color or remove it entirely. The difference in the looks by simply removing the gels on the backlight and backdrop is dramatic.


The smoke, mist and fog effects were created with a Rosco Vapour fog machine sitting on the floor next to the red backlight. Professional fog machines are available for purchase or for rent. PC&E, a major motion picture rental house here in Atlanta, charges $60.00 a day for one. That charge includes a two and a half liter jug of Rosco Fog Fluid. Trust me. That’s a lot of fog.

Fog Control

The fog machine’s output 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 disappearing in the mist. An assistant adds fog as it starts to dissipate.

Coloring Smoke

Without gels the strip banks add white light to any smoke they illuminate. The electronic flash duration is so short that swirling wisps are frozen patterns that eddy into billowing shapes framing Jeff as he performs. Rosco 3407 gels 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.

The backlight with the orange red gel colors it crimson. Where the white light mixes with the red, the effect is pink. When the blue light on the slit drape is added the effect is purple. Put them all together and the result is M a g i c ! ! !

The final versions of Kevin Ames’ images are in use on Jeff Paige’s website.  You can see more of Kevin’s work at www.kevinamesphotography.com. He is a contributing writer for www.photofocus.com and Photoshop User magazine. Click here to read his Photofocus articles.




About Frank Lambrechts

Visual Content Manager: As a working photographer, Frank knows what aspects of lighting photographers need and want to control when it comes to their imagery. Frank is based in Belgium and brings a European styling to his work. Frank's posts will contain several artistic photos that showcase our products, along with the behind-the-scenes shots and explanations of how they were created.