How I Shot a Celebrity Portrait in the Middle of a Hotel Lobby

How I Shot a Celebrity Portrait in the Middle of a Hotel Lobby

Do you ever get the opportunity that you just can't let slip away? In this quick behind the scenes breakdown, see how I shot a portrait of inspirational speaker and renowned musical prodigy, Sparsh Shah.  

The Back Story

When my mother, who does work with artists, called me up late Saturday night, and mentioned that the famous inspirational speaker was in town for only that night and needed his portrait taken, it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. For those of you who don't know who Sparsh Shah is, he is a 15-year-old, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also more commonly known as Brittle Bone Disease. When he was born, he had nearly forty fractures, and has broken more than 130 bones over the years. But despite all of his struggle, he still has an unbreakable spirit. He is a firm believer in changing the word impossible to "I'm possible". After hearing his story, I was honored to capture his portrait. In the pictures, I took of him that night, I set out to capture a glimmer of hope in his eyes and capture a portrait where his personality shines through, rather than his disability.  

The Equipment

Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8

Avenger Turtle Base C-Stand Grip Arm Kit 

Ethan Alex Custom Painted Gray Backdrop 42"x60"

Jaw Grip 

Godox AD200 TTL Pocket Flash Kit 

Elinchrom 37'' Octabox 

Godox XProC TTL Wireless Flash Trigger

The Setup

As you can see in the behind the scenes image, we were given limited space and time to shoot the image, so I had to keep my setup simple and small. I also had under an hour to get it right, so I had to think quick on my feet. This was a new kind of experience for me. 

The Camera Settings 

To expose the scene, I wanted to completely cut out all the ambient light from the room, so that the only light source in the image would be from the strobe. The settings were: 

1/250, f/5.6, ISO 400

The Lighting 

The first thought that went through my mind when assessing the ambient light in the scene was that the lighting in the room was gross florescent lights that casted uneven shadows on my subject. I immediately knew, I had to overpower the ambient light, and let the flash do the rest of the work. Once my ambient exposure was dialed in, I turned my attention to the position and power of my strobe. The power of the strobe was set to 1/4 power.

I first noticed that six feet behind me was a white wall, so my initial thought was to bounce it off the ceiling or wall but the shadows were too strong for my taste. After numerous failed attempts though, I resorted back to my go to setup that I would do in the studio: butterfly lighting. Butterfly lighting is created by placing your light directly above the subject’s eye level and pointed down at a 45-degree angle. In this specific case, since I was shooting tight on the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 so I was able to place the light right above the lens and got it as close to the subject as possible to create soft and even light on his face.


After photographing Sparsh, I walked away with a number of valuable lessons. The biggest thing I learned is that you have to make the most of what you have to make great pictures. A great picture can be taken anywhere, you just need to have the knowledge of what you want the final image to look like. Additionally, I learned that you must be quick on your feet and know the equipment that you have so you can show up to a scene and know exactly what to do from the beginning. 

If you want to learn more about Sparsh and his incredible artistic endeavors, be sure to check out his YouTube channel for inspiring content every week. 

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Previous comments
yanpekar's picture

Hello John. Thank you for reposting one of my images as an example. I am absolutely fine with my photos being reposted and being criticised. However, reposting may require asking for a permission from a person on the photo, which is a much more polite and respectful way of doing it. Thank you for understanding. Have a great day.

Hi Yan, I understand where you are coming from.

As you can see from the post, I posted the web address to the page with the photo, which is on your profile page on this site. I am quite supprised that it posted the photo as well as the web address, so please except my apologies.

yanpekar's picture

Hello John. Thank you very much for your reply, appreciate it. No worries at all, everything is fine:) I totally understand. Thank you for taking the time to look at my profile. Hope you have a lovely and a sunny day!

Michael Kormos's picture

There’s an old saying. It goes something like this... If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Fstoppers is a free newsblog. Its authors invest their time and effort to share their experiences (such as the one in this article). If you don’t find it valuable, fine. But please keep your pessimism to yourself.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

I definitely hear and accept criticism, but I don't if its not backed up with helpful information on how to improve, or why a person disagrees.

Michael Kormos's picture

Sure, but there's a difference between reasonable, constructive criticism, and just plain ol' being mean.

yanpekar's picture

Hello, Michael. It is not about pessimism. It is a shame that you saw pessimism in my comment (it is usually a sign of insecurity). When one makes their posts public, they should be ready for any sort of comments, including criticism (as you rightly noted, Fstoppers is a free newsblog). It helps us get better and grow. If you have principles, you may consider applying the principle you have suggested ("if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all".) to yourself. The author is right in saying that i should provide some points on how it could be improved. I will when I have time. Thank you for your attention.

Joe Van Wyk's picture

What is so special about this shot is that you, a gifted photographer, captured a moment in time with a very special person. You chronicled the event and shared your creativity with us. It's a full loop of "taking" the shot and then "giving back" the gift in the form of storytelling. Perhaps the most special thing about your capture is how blessed your precious subject is to receive such a gorgeous portrait. Well done, my friend. Never stop putting yourself out there. The world needs your life-spark.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Wow. This comment just made my day. I sincerely appreciate it! Thank you for seeing that!

Bryan Dockett's picture

Nice . That's a great looking backdrop too.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for the kind words. It's simple and get's the job done.

Mark Alameel's picture

I don't understand the criticism. No its not perfect, but its not an ideal location, he's wearing glasses, but the shot was made and its very good. I see a lesson about just going for it and not worrying about the internet trolls.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Hi Mark, thank you for taking the time to read it! I agree. Its actually something I forgot to mention-when I bounced it off the ceiling, the light reflected in the glasses. So when I set up for butterfly lighting, getting the right height took some work to get the reflections out. There will definitely always be the internet commenters, and I actually most of the time enjoy reading them if they are productive. Generally for me, technical little things don't bother me as much as connecting with the subject.

Andrew Feller's picture

Ignore the naysayers, this is a solid portrait. Artistic eye is subjective, in my opinion shadows add character and interest. In the end, if its a portrait you are proud to show the subject you did your job and then some.

I've done so many similar jobs in the same type of environments (lobbies are my favorite "studios"). The ONLY thing I wonder is why you opted for the backdrop with that sweet stone column or that white wall you mentioned? But thats only because I like the smallest footprint possible in these sort of situations.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Hater gonna hate :) My thoughts exactly. I'm a heavy shadow user and if done properly, can be very effective. Regarding your question about the backdrop, honestly I come with it it in most cases because I never really know what the environment is going to look like so this always gives me the ability to isolate the background and create my own "studio". I happen to luck out with the gray background and the gray shirt he was wearing.

Jeff McCollough's picture

I actually like this portrait.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Glad to hear! I've got tons more breakdowns coming your way! Stay tuned :)

Jeff McCollough's picture

Awesome. I actually want to go in a similar direction with painted backdrops and dramatic portraits.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Yep! Fun times! Feel free to check out my website where I do a lot of this kind of work.

Delixir Sorbano's picture

I really like this kind of post and wish there were more like it on this and other photography-related blogs. Sets up a story, goes through the execution, and explains the results. Real-world jobs like this are where I wish I could be a fly-on-the-wall. Great work!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thats so good to hear! If you guys like them, I will keep writing them! I have 2 more coming this week! I shoot every week, so I'm always happy to write these breakdowns from start to finish! Thanks again for the feedback.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yeah it's a lot better than the Fstoppers CNN style posts.

Allen Butler's picture

I also think that this portrait is much more interesting because of the slightly more dramatic lighting. Seems like people are encouraging you to use more "flat lighting." I don't agree. This is much more interesting. Frankly, there are only so many ways to light a portrait, right? You take your pick, and you roll with it! Shalom.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Right. For sure. If you take a look at my work, my lighting tends to lean more on the dramatic side with some shadows. Theres an infinite ways to light a portrait, and each depends on the mood you're trying to convey. For this, I wanted to show his strength but also dramatize it a little too. It would be nearly impossible in this situation to not get shadows because of the terrible ambient light and also the fact that it's a top down lighting setup.

This is such a nice portrait man. You have taken a simple hotel lobby and made an engaging and deep portrait. I loved reading about his story and I'll try to use this techine soon. Cheers

Joseph Gamble's picture

It's a one light portrait. Technically, this is pretty simple but the use of the 70-200 and the position make it really work given the circumstances and the back story. Sometimes this is all it takes. Don't let the trolls tell you that you needed six lights and four reflectors Eli. This is a great portrait done effectively with minimal gear. Nicely done.