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. 

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Eli Dreyfuss is a professional portrait photographer based in sunny Miami, Florida. He focuses on making ordinary people look like movie stars in his small home studio. Shortly after graduating high school he quickly established himself in the art world and became an internationally awarded & published artist.

Log in or register to post comments
Previous comments

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.

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

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.

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

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.