Comedy Writer Portraits

I wanted to take a portrait of my brother-in-law who is a comedy writer. The set up is copied unashamedly from the great Joe McNally. I saw him use this technique at a recent Gulf Photo talk in Singapore.

Firstly I took a test shot with my sister-in-law (we were all having dinner together that evening) which looked pretty good. I had to turn the power of the flash down a little as in the first few shots she was really blown out. But I think the balance is quite good here.

The set up is pretty simple. The laptop is turned off and there is a sheet of white A4 paper on the screen. An SB700 Nikon flash (connected to a Pocket Wizard) rests on the keyboard and fires directly into the A4 paper. The light then bounces back onto the subject. It’s very simple and surprisingly effective.

Next I did the shots with my brother-in-law Tom Williams. He’s a freelance writer who tends to work late into the night, hence the night time feel to the photo. I wanted to shoot him in his garden as I can imagine him hammering away on the keyboard into the wee small hours losing track of time in his lovely recently redesigned garden.

I wasn’t sure that this set up really worked as his very long legs were too prominent. So I tried to use his legs to make the photo look more ‘comic’ to fit his occupation…

The closer crop and the legs tucked up make this look a little better but I’m still not happy with the pose. Also, you can see the flash gun which isn’t great!

So I moved the camera closer and turned Tom round in his chair to get this result, which I really like. But I wish I had asked him to put his hands on the keyboard.

Finally we did a couple of photos with Tom’s two sisters pretending to be shocked by his very rude comedy writing. I think these last two photos work really well and I’m pleased with the results.


- Nikon D800 on a tripod with Nikon 105mm 2.8 lens

- SB700 being fired with Pocket Wizard. Flash power was dropped down by -1 to -2 EV

- Aperture Priority Mode - which I don’t often use so this was a good test for me. (I usually shoot Manual)

- ISO 250

- f4

- Shutter speeds varied from 1/40s to 1/3s, hence there is some movement in the parts of the photo not lit by the flash