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Shoot like a pro in 5 steps: Tommy Reynolds on dramatic studio portraits

Tommy used four different light sources for this image, and took test shots to ensure that their placement and power gave the effect he wanted (Image credit: Tommy Reynolds)
Meet the pro: Tommy Reynolds

tommy renolds

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

Tommy is a wedding, portrait and travel photographer based in Kent, UK. He’s also created commercial work for Sony Music, Olympus and Pixapro. As a vlogger and cinematic video producer, he shares content on his growing YouTube channel and gives live photo talks. 


Every month in Digital Photographer magazine, we shadow a pro photographer and glean their tips, tricks and techniques on a different genre of image-making.

After watching Tommy’s moving talk at last year’s (virtual) Photography Show, we knew that he was the perfect person to shadow behind the scenes of a shoot. Luckily for us, he already had a very personal project in the pipeline, and was more than willing for us to join in on the day.

The idea of the shoot sounded a little unorthodox at first, but unravelled as a beautiful idea: Tommy’s close friend Hazel was due to get married, but unfortunately the wedding didn’t go ahead.

Hazel still wanted to wear her vintage style wedding dress, and as Tommy was originally booked for the wedding day, she asked him to photograph her on an empowering shoot. Here's how he captured such a dramatic image...

Shooting this dramatic look in 5 steps

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

1. Light sources

Tommy uses a PIXAPRO 55cm beauty dish as the main key light. He also sets up a bare bulb with a CTO gel behind Hazel, and experiments with the power of each.

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

2. Fill light

A RIKO400 400Ws Ring Flash was mounted to the front of Tommy’s camera to provide fill lighting. This slightly reduced the contrast of the scene and created a softer look.

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

3. Light modifiers

Confident studio users often modify the light for professional results. Tommy also added an optical snoot with a horizontal gobo and a color temperature orange (CTO) gel.

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

4. Lens choice

Tommy used a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens for this portrait, a wider focal length which enabled him to include the studio surroundings, props and Hazel’s full dress in the frame.

(Image credit: Future/Lauren Scott)

5. Camera settings

In a controlled studio environment, aim to set the camera to its lowest ISO. Tommy used Manual exposure mode, ISO 50 and Live View to compose. 

(Image credit: Tommy Reynolds)

How is the light shaped? You don’t need to spend loads of money on powerful strobes. Instead, invest in different modifiers for different looks,” says Tommy.

Aside from having a solid understanding of lighting, directing models is an important element of any studio session. Working with people comes more naturally to some pros than others, and although Tommy already knew Hazel, he still had to give her enough posing feedback. 

When you’re not working with professional models or subjects that feel comfortable in front of the camera, giving guidance can help them to feel more at ease.

“I tell the model to fidget,” Tommy says. “It’s my favourite phrase to use, especially if you’re not the most confident. Fidgeting allows them to make little movements between photos that feels right without you having to give them specific direction. Works like a charm.”

Read more: 

Amazing talks from The Virtual Photography Show 2020
Try this magical lens filter for shooting portraits
10 portrait photographers to follow in 2020

Lauren is the editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 

An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over seven years, she has served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine

PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine

In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.