How Photographer Tommy Reynolds Photographed This Portrait

This is the first episode in photographer Tommy Reynolds new YouTube series entitled "A Portrait of..." featuring his wonderful and warm friend, Holly-Ann Dennis.

When Reynolds first met Holly, he knew he wanted to do a photo shoot with her, but felt like he needed more than just a series of images to tell her story.

Holly has been deaf since birth and Reynolds just fell in love with her approach to life. He felt like he just needed to share her story and her view on the world and hopefully inspire others as she has done him. When Reynolds usually posts a photo, he often likes to give you their name, age, tell you about their past. However in this case, he wanted you to hear it directly from Holly herself rather than from him.

For a change, doing this project takes the focus off Reynolds. As a freelancer, it's so easy to be stuck inside one’s own head: How am I going to market myself? Did we get enough footage of me photographing the subject or how am I going to feel creatively fulfilled? This was so much more than that. To be able to use our cameras to tell a true human story that can resonate with people regardless of age, skin color or race is a phenomenal opportunity. Even more so to have the opportunity to provide a platform for someone to be heard who is unfortunately in a segment of society that is often pushed aside is outstanding. A true round of applause for Reynolds and Holly-Ann in that respect!  

When Reynolds filmed his first short documentary with photographer James Dunn, that wasn't a project to make himself look good or promote his own business, It was doing a good deed and feeling like it was something he had to do... and he has never felt more creatively fulfilled. That's why he decided to start this series (or mini versions of his "James Documentary").
You can see the documentary below:


Equipment List

- 5D Mark III
- Sigma 35 f/1.4 ART
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art

- Canon 100mm Macro
- Hasselblad 500c/m
- Hasselblad 150mm w/16mm extension tube
Kodak T-max 400 Film
- Mid Grey Gravity Background
- 55cm Beauty Dish
- 150cm easy open softbox

- Sony FS5
- Canon 5D Mark IV
- Samyung 135mm f/2
- Canon 24-105mm f/4
- PIXAPRO 150cm easy open soft box
- PIXAPRO 200B LED Mark III Continuous Light
- Rode NTG2
- TASCAM DR60D Mark II Recorder


Lighting Setup

With most of his lighting setups, Reynolds does not like to do anything overly complicated. He will rarely use more than 3 lights during most shoots and this was no exception. One thing which is consistent with most of his lighting setups is the use of a fill light, specifically from his PIXAPRO RIKO400 ring flash which is attached to his camera.

The reason Reynolds loves using this flash is it’s like his "get out of jail" light. Not only does it create a unique feel to the images but it also saves him having to set up another stand, another light, and another modifier just to have a fill light. He’ll admit that it’s a bit clunky, but the beautiful, painterly fill one gets with this flash makes the weight all the worthwhile. He also uses a Sekonic flash meter (L308) to dial in his exposure but with the ring flash, he judges the ratio by eye as he likes to move around during the shoot. Generally though, he aims for around 2/3 stops under his key light for this. He prefers a more subtle fill, rim or hair light which will generally be the same or a 1 stop under my key.

Main strobe was the PIXAPRO CITI600 PRO as his key light. It’s an extremely reliable unit and with its improved modeling light, he is able to gauge where his light is going to fall even in the bright ambient conditions they were working in on the shoot day.

His 2 main go-to modifiers were the PIXAPRO 150cm easy open soft box and the PIXAPRO 55cm beauty dish. All the images of Holly in her yellow jumper were shot with the 150cm soft box and the vintage outfit was shot with the 55cm beauty dish. The 150cm is a great all round size for most jobs Reynolds does and is a very flattering light. If Ihe is doing more "run and gun" setups then he’ll opt for a smaller soft box and PIKA 200 strobe.

When he used the 55cm beauty dish as a key, he opted for one of his favorite setups which is using the grid and the diffusion cover combined. He loves combining these because it creates beautiful light quality half way between a very focused light with the grid with a very wide spread light with diffusion cover. This also creates a natural vignette effect and is also a great if you have a smaller studio setup.

For the last setup, Reynolds used his Hasselblad 500c/m 120 film camera. He loves this camera because of the natural imperfections that come with shooting with this and any type of film. For him, film is the perfect format to photograph portraits with because nobody is perfect and neither is film. Perfection is boring. The film used was Kodak TriX400 film for it’s great balance of sharpness and grain.

The lighting used was the 55cm beauty dish at 45 degrees as key. The fill was the usual RIKO400 ring flash, which was very tricky to attach actually. He had never used this fill light with my film camera and he can’t imagine many people are doing this either. This made it all the more desirable. He think it’s always great to look at what other photographers are doing and do something no one else is doing. The rim light was a PIXAPRO PIKA 200 with a magmod grid behind Holly camera left.


Nothing is sugarcoated. This is real. That hug at the end, for me is what photography is all about. Connecting with real people and if I can do that with my camera... then I'll look back on a very creatively fulfilling and happy career.

If you want to check out the video featuring the breakdown of all the gear used, check out part the BTS of this video here /span>

Model - Holly-Ann Dennis

Cinematographer - Michael Mowbray

Assistant - Graham Bewley

Assistant - Dan Baugh

Director & Editor - Tommy Reynolds

All images used with permission of Tommy Reynolds.

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Rob Davis's picture

This might be one of your worst headlines yet Fstoppers. “This deaf girl???” Come on!

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yeah the title is just like super clickbaity sounding.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

I've requested the title be changed Rob

aurèle brémond's picture

Title is really bad and the results are stunning. The video pretty inspiring and good too.
Let's say the title doesn't do justice to the article.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

I've requested the title be changed :) I'm glad you enjoyed the video

Mike Kelley's picture

Great video and story that I can relate to (basically deaf about 3k hz here) but the gratuitous hero shots of equipment, photographer, and over the top music sort of took away from her story imo

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Sorry to hear you weren't happy with the final result Mike

Mike Kelley's picture

I thought the pictures were great. I know unsolicited critique is the worst thing on planet earth, so I apologize. My thought is that - I felt confused - was the video about you, or Holly? Or the photo shoot itself?

Joe Martinez's picture

Beautiful portraits and a great story, but please edit the headline on this one.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

I've requested the title be changed Joe

Rob G's picture

No less than three times... lighting diagrams: "For personal use only. Contact for commercial use".

Jeff McCollough's picture

So technically they aren't being used correctly?

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Fstoppers didn't pay me

Rob G's picture

Fstoppers is using the diagrams commercially, then.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Tommy does awesome work and I love this series that he's doing. He has my respect.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Thank you Jeff

michaeljin's picture

Great photos. HORRIBLE headline. Seriously... WTH?

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Hey Michael, Im glad you liked the photos, really appreciate it. I've just asked the title be changed :)

Ian Ray's picture

I get annoyed to see if someone who is deaf but they are not really deaf but hard of hearing. Those two word are not the same. She talk really well and hear well and most deaf people can't do this. I am deaf myself and I lipread, talk not very well but passable and do sign language.

Dan Crowther's picture

Yup, she's not very Deaf (capital D denotes culturally Deaf). Definitely much more HOH which brings a different set of challenges than someone who is D/deaf.

Jeff McCollough's picture


Tommy Reynolds's picture

She is deaf Ian

Jeff McCollough's picture

Ian if you're deaf (or Deaf I guess according to Dad but I have never heard of that in my life) then you'll know that there are different levels of hearing impairments and some people can technically be deaf and yet speak (many times they lost their hearing after they learned how to speak) etc etc.

yanpekar's picture

Great video telling a story which would touch many people' soul. What is confusing is that the article is mostly about Reynolds. Which takes attention away from the story, from the subject. I resonated with the story watching the video, but reading the article left me feeling that is is more a publicity photo shoot promoting the photographer rather than a story about the lady. The background could be better chosen, - the one with many holes is too distracting and does not have any connection with the subject.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Hey Yan, thank you your comment I'm glad you enjoyed the video. I worked really hard on this one. The article itself is mainly about the process of capturing these images as its a site focused mainly on photography of course. I get asked all the time about the technical process of my work so here it is :) The video is what I care most about sharing in this article but people always want to know the technical details eh.

yanpekar's picture

I understand. Thank you for finding the time to reply. Just shared the perception I had. Speaking of technical side, the choice of background could be improved, as multiple windows / holes with too many overexposed spaces are too distracting and take attention away from the subject. It also feels that the background / environment has no connection to the subject.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Fair enough Yan, I personally really liked the location. Its breathtaking when you're there for real trust me. I don't mind the overexposed windows in some of the shots, they don't bother me to be honest :)

yanpekar's picture

Thank you for your reply. The thing is that you keep saying "I, me". If I may suggest, the final results look much better when a location is matching personality of your subject, and has connection to it. That means thinking of how your subject will see the location, how THEY would like it, rather than "I like it". Sorry if I tell you basic things, but it does help when a photographer thinks of how other people would see their images.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Photography and any art form is subjective I'm sure you'll agree. I appreciate you don't like it and thats totally fine. However, this was my personal project, so the photos were for me, not for Holly. She weren't a paying client.

Dorin Calugarean's picture

Whats wrong with you guys? What's with that headline?

Tommy Reynolds's picture

I've requested the change Dorin, thank you

Jeremy Center's picture

Is this an ad for pixapro? I feel like I got suckered into something.

Tommy Reynolds's picture

Hey Jeremy, the BTS video specifically breaks down all the technical details and equipment used inc camera, lenses and lighting. Maybe you missed the video at the top of the page which is the main feature of this article with Holly's interview :) Check it out if you haven't already seen it, Im very proud of it

Tommy Vidal's picture

I have selective hearing loss and I sympathize.