How I Shot These Fun and Dynamic Portraits of a Comedian

How I Shot These Fun and Dynamic Portraits of a Comedian

Have you ever wondered what went into photographing a comedian? In this article, I take you behind the scenes of a recent client shoot I did using a fun aesthetic and mood to match my subjects' larger-than-life personality. 

When it comes to doing shoots, my favorite kind of subjects to photograph are comedians and actors. I just love the high energy and life they bring to the set. For this shoot, I wanted to focus on the model's expressions, so I sculpted the light and overall mood around that. In all of the shots, the lighting is clean and directional with a hint of drama, and the background is a bright and playful red to contrast with his primarily blue outfit. Now that the backstory is out of the way, the next thing to discuss in this breakdown is the equipment that I used.  

The Equipment 

Camera: Canon 5D Mark III

Lenses: Sigma 35mm f/1.4,  Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8L

Lighting: Aputure LS-20Aputure 120dGodox AD200 TTL Pocket Flash Kit 

Modifiers: Imact 27" Beauty DishAputure 35-inch Light Dome

Grip: Avenger Turtle Base C-Stand Grip Arm Kit  x3, Gravity Backdrops  x2, 5-in-1 ReflectorJaw Grip 

The Camera Setup

For this shoot, my choice of camera and lens were the Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 35mm f/1.4, because the goal of the shoot was to make the character look larger than life to match his big personality. By using this lens, it allowed me to get in close to the model and not have to worry about focusing issues. I was able to nail focus at any distance without hesitation. 

The Settings 

To start breaking down the settings I used, I always start off with my ISO setting. Since I was going for a commercial style portrait, I kept my ISO locked off at 100 to ensure the cleanest possible image. Next, I adjusted my aperture. In my headshots, my personal preference is to not shoot anything below f/8, to maintain the most realism and detail in the subject's face. One of my biggest pet peeves about portraits is where the subject's eyes are in focus and their nose is not. I find this to be quite distracting. With my opinion on the subject stated, I set my aperture to f/8 and left it there the entire shoot. Lastly, since I was shooting everything on a tripod, it helped avoid camera shake, and it allowed me to let in a sufficient of ambient light into my scene by lowering my shutter speed. I brought down my shutter speed to 1/125th of a second. 

The Lighting Setup 

To accomplish the final aesthetic, I constructed a lighting setup that had a balance between light and shadow. I aimed to maintain the clean, commercial style shot, but with a dramatic edge to it. With this in mind, the way I achieved this look, was by combining strobes and continuous light. To build out this setup, I brought out four lights: a key light, hair light, background light, and fill light. Let's break down each light and what they did in the scene. 

The Key Light 

The first light I positioned in the scene was my key light. My main light was coming from a Godox AD200 TTL Pocket Flash and was set to its highest power. The light was positioned 45 degrees to the camera's left. The reason I placed the light at this angle was to accentuate the model's "good side" and bring out his jawline. The light was then modified by an Impact 27" Beauty Dish. Using the beauty dish gave me a perfect punch of light, but also produced soft and even falloff when I put a diffusion sock over the front of it. 

The Fill Light

To compensate for the camera settings, I brought in the softest fill light I could think of to give the scene a hint of life. To get a soft and even fill light, I took my Aputure 120d with its counterpart, the Aputure 35-inch Light Dome and aimed it straight at the ceiling. Since my ceilings are only eight feet tall, I was able to get a nice and even amount of light reflecting back into the scene. By placing the light at 45 degrees camera right, I was able to get clean light on the shadow side of his face, but also got a hint of light on the background and hair. To bring back  some drama, I put a five-foot black flag to the subject's right to further control the spill coming from the fill light. The effect of the flag was very subtle, but in the end, it added another level of depth in the final images.  

The Background Light 

Across all the photos, I wanted to maintain the feeling that the model was preforming on stage. In order to bring this effect to life, I introduced a background light into the scene. In this case, I used a Aputure LS-20 with its barn door attachments. I then used the barn doors to focus the light on only one area of the background, which I chose to be in the middle.  

The Hair Light 

After all of the other lights were dialed in, I still felt like the final images were missing something. I realized the subject was blending into the background. So, the last thing I did was bring in a hair light. I placed the Godox AD200 directly behind the model. Since the light was firing directly toward the camera, I knew I wanted to avoid any lens flares, so I put a 10-degree grid on the light to focus it just on the subject's head and shoulders and not anything else. Additionally, I think it's also important to point out that when I put the background light in the scene, the legs of the light stand snuck into frame, so instead of having to worry about the light stand being seen in the shot whenever he would move, I just removed it later in Photoshop. 

The Final Images 

Camera Settings: 1/125 s, f/8, ISO 100

Camera Settings: 1/125 s, f/8, ISO 100

Camera Settings: 1/125 s, f/8, ISO 100

Camera Settings: 1/125 s, f/8, ISO 100


The next time you're photographing a comedian or actor, build your set around their personality. As you can see, the possibilities for this are endless!

Do you have any photos you have taken of comedians?  Leave them in the comments below. 

Team Credits - Photographer, Retouch: Eli Dreyfuss | Model: Zach Grossman 

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Piotr Maksymowicz's picture

This dude have gigantic head or you did something to him in postprod? :>

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Was brought out through liquifying in photoshop :) Did this to give him a little more character.

Piotr Maksymowicz's picture

yea looks funny :)

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Good! :D

Blake Griffin's picture

Rivers Langley (@Riverslangley), Co-Host of The Goods from the Woods Podcast (@TheGoodsPod). He is currently on tour of the North East US and is totally worth going to check out!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Cool portrait! Wlll be checking him out!

Andrew Eaton's picture

I shoot Comedians every year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a competition. They are normally very hung over and only have slept for a few hours... and I have to make it look like they have just won... for me connection is very important, I like the sitter to imagen they are on stage fending over a heckler. works well :-) added to them being hung over I only have 15 mins setup and 25 mins to shoot 10 comedians... its a good buz though

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Really cool work! :D

michaeljin's picture

Nice photos. On a side note, I never quite understood the whole "have a backdrop, but shoot off the edge of it" aesthetic. Just a personal thing, I suppose.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks Michael. In Regards to your comment about the background, yeah, I guess its a personal preference. I always loved the raw kind of feeling it gives off.

John Ramirez's picture

I think his fly is down... ;) Love the post production work!!! Gritty. Love it.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

It's all part of the character ;) LOL you have a good eye! Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the edit was quite intensive. Like i mentioned in the article, I wanted drama, yet commercial. So i brought in a lot of texture in the edit.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Am I the only one that finds this guy too sharp for a comedian? When the word comedian comes to my mind all i think about are guys with the looks of Louis CK, Bill Burr, Chappelle...
Still, nice portraits there and thanks for the light tips!