Lights, fans and a seriously fit spin class instructor

The creative part of a portrait photographer’s job is to look beyond the obvious shot and create something that makes people look twice because it is so striking. In this shot, some creative lighting makes all the difference. Oh, and a whole load of fanning.

This was a commercial shoot for Fitlife, our local (boutique) gym. My wife Sarah and I attend a spin class at the gym, and we’d noticed that our instructor, Iona, looked calm and serene. This was completely at odds with the energy, power and movement of her legs propelling the pedals on her stationary bike as she led by example at the front of each class.

This gave me an idea for the next shoot we did for Fitlife. I planned to capture the contrast of Iona’s serenity with a sense of speed and motion, like a swan gliding over the surface of a lake while its legs paddle furiously below the surface.

Lighting the shot

Along with a camera and lens, this shoot required three things:
* A main light, for Iona’s face
* A back light, to separate her dark hair from the dark background
* Some very energetic fanning from my assistant!

The main light is a Profoto portable flash unit, firing into a white umbrella. This is positioned to the left of the shot (as we’re looking at it) at about a 45-degree angle to Iona, slightly above her head height and angled down. This high angle put a pleasing a catchlight*** in the top left of her iris.

To add interest and colour as well as separation from the background, I added a blue gel to the back light (which was simply a second Profoto portable flash on a stand behind Iona, facing back towards her).

Lastly, I asked my assistant to grab a large reflector and start fanning like crazy to push her hair up and away from her face. Then, with her feet and hands in position, I asked her to look straight into the lens, and fired off a series of frames. Her hair was flying out behind her in a constantly changing shape, and I liked how it looked in this frame the best.

Location Diagram

***Catchlight: the white reflection of the light source in a subject’s eyes. If you imagine the eye as a clock face, the optimum position for the catchlight is in the 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock position. Changing the height and angle of your light source affects where the catchlight appears. The size and proximity of the light source affects how big the catchlight is.

Camera Settings

  • Focal length: 50mm
  • Aperture: f/3.3
  • Shutter speed: 1/180 sec
  • ISO: 400