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 

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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Previous comments
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.