Deconstruct This Photo 5.0 – How To Photograph A Prince in 5 Minutes or Less

Thanks to the couple hundred of you who took a stab at breaking down the image I nabbed of Prince Manvendra [note that this thumbnail here is a crop, not the final…go to the original post to see that one]. A couple of you nailed it to varying degrees. Here’s my breakdown of the image:

First, one thing I think you’d find interesting with this image is that I had less than 5 minutes including setup, lighting test, everything, to capture this image. The prince was in a hurry, so I probably only pulled the trigger 20 times.

Second, this shoot came out of nowhere. My friends at the Ace Hotel NYC connected me with the Prince via a text message during my last stay there, said he was in the building and thought we should know one another. They suggested I photograph the Prince – and the Prince was into it. Of course, perfect, I thought – love to photograph him. Then, the other shoe dropped. I remembered that most of my gear was in transit to the hotel from Seattle. I had my basic D3s kit and a handful of lenses, a Broncolor Scoro pack with 2 heads, a ringflash, but no appropriate light modifiers. Just a para dish that I normally use for throwing a lot of light a really far distance. NOT something I’d want to use in a portrait. No softboxes, no diffusers, no flags. Hosed, but going for it anyway.

Bare bulbs + no time = scramble mode. Within minutes I had selected a location in the hotel, a wall of speakers in the Liberty Hall room in the basement of the Ace. This was great for two reasons: 1) I thought would a great juxtaposition of the calm, and quietness of His Royal Highness with the pop culture – a way he’s certainly never been photographed before; and 2) a perfect metaphor for the Prince’s controversial, outspoken and progressive views as the world’s only openly gay Royalty and advocacy for gay rights and HIV/AIDS prevention. If I could capture all that in a still, I’d done my job.

Here we go. I was welcomed into the Prince’s room, where we became acquainted for 1 minute or so. I shot a couple images using natural window light as a backup in case we had problems with manufactured light (professional insurance ;), then led him to the location in the basement. He loved the wall of speakers. Within 60 seconds we were up and shooting. So here’s the breakdown.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8
Lighting: Broncolor Scoro Pack, 1 Broncolor ring flash, 1 Broncolor Pulso head, bare bulb

Remember? This is all the gear I had with me. Limits force…ahem…creativity. Generally, The D3/s/x is my workhorse and perfectly suited for this. And the 24 -70, while not a classic portrait lens, gave me what I needed and allowed me to shoot a little wider to nab some of the cool environment, a must for this shot.

The camera was set to F/8, 1/100th of a second at ISO 800.

As soon as I decided to shoot wide, rather than a traditional portrait lens, I knew I needed to keep the background in reasonable focus. So I knew I needed about F8 or greater to get the depth from the Prince to the speaker wall. ISO 800 looks great on the D3 and there is no compromise on file cleanliness at the number, so that was my preferred upper limit. Throw in the strobes, and it quickly kicked me a 100th of a sec shutter which would be fine. I knew with the lighting I had, these settings would give drastic falloff into the dark room. Exactly what I’d wanted. My original guess at the aperture I’d want was F11, but I ended up at F8 when I threw the strobes in the mix. Remember, I had about 30 seconds to figure all this out, so I wasn’t splitting hairs.

Lighting Set/Setup
Broncolor Scoro. 1 Broncolor Ring Flash, 1 Bron Pulso head with a dish.

With only a ringflash and a para dish, I had no soft light options. But I actually liked the look I was getting — it all went pretty well with my theme. Since the room was basically pitch black, and I had just a minute or two, I knew one important thing: Keep it simple. With that in mind, I knew two other things too…one light was going on the Prince, the other was going to light the speakers. Those were my two features. I chose the softer of the two options — the ringflash — would be best for the Prince, but I didn’t want that ringflash look, so I backed pretty far off my subject. 3/4 camera left gave me a catch light in the eyes, reasonable light on the subject, and a little of the light bleeding onto the speakers at frame left. I then took the para dish and fired it from frame right at the speakers. This helped separate the subject off the background a bit (would have loved a softbox to have given me light on the speakers and a rim light on The Prince’s right side, but that ship had sailed). A couple chimping shots, tweaking lights up and down for balance, and had to make that move I discussed above from F11 to F8, but then I was off to the races. I’m at about 4 minutes here. Which left one minute for the actual image. Twenty frames later. Done.

Post Production Treatment:

Initial work was done in Aperture, then kicked to Photoshop.

Mostly curves and some white balance in Aperture – got the image a notch above neutral. Could have gone further in Aperture, but knew we had to go to Photoshop (you’ll know why in a second), so did more work over there. Then into Photoshop for color, some contrast and punch and a good bit of custom vignetting on the floor and corners to hone the light a little – making up for what I could not achieve in camera given my constraints.

That’s all, folks. 5 minutes from hitting the room to a captured frame, including plugging in the lights and moving furniture. Would have loved to have gone wild with 30 minutes for this shot and all the right tools, and made a more perfect image, but we do what we can with what we’ve got. I like what the image says and how it says it. Ultimately, that’s our job.

Shoutouts go to Natta, Robert, JuanCarlos-H, ChrisCWPhoto, Sameer, Jamie Gordon, Seagram, Steven and Wesley, but I think JuanCarlos-H and Natta probably did the best overall descriptions. Send an email to norton@chasejarvis and we’ll send you a signed book or something fun.

Here’s the image one more time…

53 Responses to Deconstruct This Photo 5.0 – How To Photograph A Prince in 5 Minutes or Less

  1. Bluestill August 9, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    That was actually a fun one to deconstruct. I never saw the bare bulb coming lol.

  2. David Dvir August 9, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Sweet! Thanks for the breakdown :).

  3. Terrell C Woods August 9, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    This lesson and all the other tips that you share are very much appreciated. Thanks a bunch for putting it out there. For me, a real novice it’s hard to believe this photograph could have been better. That’s why you are the pro and artist.

  4. Paff August 9, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Sorry, I can’t read your blog posts with that font. :(

    • Chase August 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

      thanks for the feedback Paff – we’re working on a font choice that will translate better across all browsers.


    • Chase August 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      thanks for the feedback Paff – we’re testing a font choice that will translate better across all browsers.

  5. Abhi August 9, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Chase, could you please post a quick lighting diagram for this as well?


  6. Nicholas August 9, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Very insightful, thank you for sharing Chase!

    In another note, can I share my humble 2 cents. I really do feel the point size for your body type is a tad too small as the readability / legibility is pretty low – compared to your blog before the change. I felt like I had to really look hard at the copy to read and keep track. I believe the line length is also part of the contributing factor, it is pretty tough for a thin and small point font like this to regain readability/legibility. I do not mean to offend, and I hope I did not. I really do enjoy reading your write-ups which are always interesting, which is why I feel this choice of font isn’t very suitable for a text intensive blog like yours.


    • Chase August 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

      working on it – thanks! for the insight.

  7. Brent Schmidt August 9, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Could you post the SOOC image?

  8. Brian David Casey August 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Way to roll with it! Turned out great. Interesting how the chair made all the difference in the world in this portrait. It’s not everyday you photograph a prince and find a chair that just happens to work in the spur of the moment.

  9. Ryan August 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Thanks, but what’s with the speaker image on his stomach(on the red part)? Am I imagining things?

    • jeremy August 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

      Agree, I think is a composite of the background shot separately maybe?

      • shazz August 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

        it’s one of the speakers behind seen through the scarf

  10. Jordan Stead August 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Really rad portrait, Chase. I use bare strobes all the time – love the look, and it definitely works here. Once again, really nice frame.

  11. catalin georgescu August 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Sir Chase,

    The size of the font is killing my eyes. :D
    All in all, nice sample of working on your toes.

    Been following you for a while and will keep doing so. You’re an inspiration. And the things you do via creativeLive are outstanding.

    Good day to you, and best of luck.


  12. Austin August 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    What’s the Direction? Purpose for the speakers, etc?

    • Austin August 9, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

      oops, just read it…. looks like I had that one right!

  13. retlaw7 August 9, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Chase, great break down. I think a breakdown similar to this
    would realy go a long way for you!

    Thanks again,

  14. tzomo August 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    love the simplicity of one point lighting , personaly I like the softer continuous lighting more than the flash photos, but this fees almost like it.

  15. hd August 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm #


    You gotta clarify for me, and I don’t really mean you HAVE to, but in fact COULD you, tell me what this rule means, which you stated above…

    “As soon as I decided to shoot wide, rather than a traditional portrait lens, I knew I needed to keep the background in reasonable focus.”

    To me, this sounds completely arbitrary. Had you shot at, say f4, the speakers would still read pretty well, especially given the focal length of 24mm….

    REALLY appreciate you taking the time to do this whole exercise.

    thanks mr left coast! (from a fan in New York)

  16. Andrew August 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    So why is there a tweeter on his scarf? Several people mentioned this in the comments to the original post, but I don’t see it addressed here. It looks like a cloning or layering mistake.

    • Ben August 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

      Andrew — The “scarf” is kinda see-through. You’re seeing through to the speaker wall behind, buddy.

  17. Mau Orozco August 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Great shot and story behind it. I do have to say tho that the amount of gear you did have available would hardly be considered limited. I know that if the shoot had been planned this amount of gear might be small but in a pinch 3 lights, camera and lenses sounds like a good kit for something unplanned.

    Would love to see some images with natural light too. I bet those look awesome as well.

  18. Daniel Snare August 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    Love the shot! I think sometimes very tight windows of time push us to do something different that we might not have done normally in a larger window of time. As always epic work and very inspirational

  19. fas August 10, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    Your equipment is worth more than the princess!

  20. Ryan Faulkner August 10, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Any chance we can see the safety shot in window light?

  21. Polo Verdejo August 10, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Wow!!! Can´t imagine all the pressure. My head is still spinning from reading your post and trying to imagine the speed your were working at!

  22. Natta Summerky August 11, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    this is extremely exciting to hear I nailed the description :)

  23. Derwin Sierra August 12, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    AWESOME JOB MY Friend!!!! Thats what I said! hahahaha!!!! KUDOS to all of you!!!!

  24. Matt Fricovsky August 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    All I know is that it was shot at the Ace hotel NYC, downstairs. :P

  25. Andy Beck August 12, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    What a great portrait! The use of the speakers in the background is brilliant. Normally people try to blur the background but having a unique background like the speakers in sharp focus makes you look twice. Well done!

  26. dmitry gushchin August 15, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    You really needed a fill on the right side for this portrait. if you had another light, which you could have bounced off something white or gray on the right side, you would have not got such ugly nose shadows + you would get a little more detail on the right side of the chair. otherwise well done, i have the 5 minute situations all the time and hard light is usually the way to go to be super fast for setting up. still don’t get why you went for iso 800, why??? would would have just the same image but better detail and quality if you shot at iso 100 with more flash power, which you definitely had in your light pack anyways.

    • Chase August 15, 2011 at 8:03 am #

      because i like the color better at 800 than 100. there – I said it. absolute truth. and the detail on D3s is almost indistinguishable at those settings.

      and…ahem…didn’t have a bounce to fill with, bro :)

      • dmitry gushchin August 15, 2011 at 9:20 am #

        got cha! still cant believe in indistinguishable detail, but then again, i is not a nikon geek. may be only a a subconscious one. and dude, do carry a bounce with you at all times ;) you can do all kind of set ups with just one light and a bounce, but hey, thats what they teach you at school. so be cool.

  27. Becks August 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    A little bit I didn’t get the shoutout. My description was as much (if not more) accurate than the ones you mentioned. Oh well, it was a fun exercise!

  28. Kominki Warszawa August 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    WANNAKNOW: Bravo! I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is a sad, sad case, and still we haven’t found this poor little angel. Who cares about the drug dealers, the scum bags, or whatever else that goes on in Satsuma if it doesn’t pertain to this case. Haleigh needs to be found one way or other. I agree with you 100%. I wish we did know some more facts about the evidence that LE has. It might actually jog somebody’s memory and bring in the right lead for LE or Cobra to put an end to this case and bring that beautiful Haleighbug home safe and sound. That certainly would warm everybody’s heart. We’re praying for you Haleigh!

  29. Steve Brown September 5, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    Sounds like a lot of my shoots! I do a lot of actors and musicians and it’s always super limited for time. I think one of the marks of a pro is getting the job done when there ISN’T time, or resources, or co operative subjects, or a great location, or whatever. That’s why clients will pay the big bucks for someone who’s been doing it a while and can roll with the punches and come up with the goods.

  30. Michael Poganiatz September 5, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    It’s so cool and generous of you to share all that information with us. And you do it in an entertaining way, too! Love it!
    Thank you very much, Michael

    • Michael Poganiatz September 5, 2012 at 4:33 am #

      BTW: Reminds me of the times I only owned two little speedlites. Totally limiting but a lot of fun, creatively challenging and still great pictures!

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