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How We Shot it – Environmental Portrait with Singer-Songwriter Sabrina

By fotosiamo on September 5th 2012

Sabrina Editorial by Joe Gunawan |

Sabrina Editorial by Joe Gunawan |

Background and Vision

This environmental portrait is part of an editorial assignment that I had for Sabrina Claudio, an up-and-coming young singer-songwriter from Florida. In an environmental portrait, the surrounding tells just as much of the visual story as the subject. The location we shot in provided a lot of great visual highlights and I wanted to make sure that I could include a lot of the great little details into the shot.

Sabrina sings with a lot of soul, so we tied in the vintage records as part of her musical influence.

The client also wanted the lighting to look natural, so the trick here is to add just enough ambient lighting to balance out the three Einstein monolight strobes that I used to light this image.

How It Was Shot

Camera: Panasonic GH2
Lens: Olympus 4/3 Zuiko 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 mkII Lens (28-108mm full-frame equivalent)
Focal Length: 18mm (36mm full-frame equivalent)
Shutter Speed: 1/160
Aperture: f/8.0
ISO: 200

Sabrina Editorial Lighting Setup by Joe Gunawan |
Sabrina Editorial Lighting Diagram by Joe Gunawan |

I used three Einstein Monolights and a little bit of ambient light from outside the window to light this scene. The ambient light coming in is from the shaded part of the backyard, so it is a very soft, subtle light . I added an Einstein with a 64” Paul Buff Extreme Silver Parabolic Light Modifier (PLM) 4-5 feet outside the window just outside the frame, camera left to further enhance the light that is coming in from outside. Inside, I wanted to light Sabrina and the room with a semi-soft light, so I used the 2nd Einstein with a 22” ePhoto beauty dish with a sock diffuser as the key light on camera right. Because the sock introduced too much spill unto the wall on the right side of the frame, I also used some Black Cinefoil to flag that light from the wall. Finally, the floor under the chair to her right side was too dark, so I used the 3rd Einstein with a 7” gridded reflector to add a little bit of fill light to that area.

The key with all the lighting here is subtlety.

How it Was Post-Processed

SLR-Lounge-01-Fotosiamo-Before by Joe Gunawan |

The image above is how it looked like straight out of the camera. I calibrated the scene with a ColorChecker Passport in order to get accurate colors. You can check out my previous article on how to use the ColorChecker Passport in your shooting workflow. It really helps in getting accurate colors quickly.

I used Lightroom to lighten the lamp above her head by using a local adjustment exposure brush. Then I brought the edited RAW to Photoshop. Great thing about this image is that her skin is very clear, so I did not have to do too much retouching on her. I did clean up various distractions in the scene, though. I will go through my
retouching workflow in more depth in another article, but this is the workflow what I typically do for my fashion and commercial work on

1. Clone Stamp and Content-Aware Fill: Cleans distracting elements out of background like the lamp post that was going through her head.
2. Liquify: Body shape adjustments. I did not have to use this for Sabrina.
3. Portraiture Plugin: Awesome skin retouching plugin that gets me about 85% there for retouching. Take a look at my previous post on Lidsay Adler’s retouching tips on how I use Portraiture with separate exported layers.
4. Frequency Separation: A powerful way to get some deep, refined retouching and light sculpting. The process separates all the texture information on one layer and the color information on another layer. When you work on one layer, it doesn’t contaminate into the other layer.
5. Adjustment Layer Corrections: A series of adjustment layers to further fine-tune color correction, hue shifts, contrast, exposure, etc.
6. Black & White Adjustment Layer on Overlay Blend at 5%-30% opacity: This is what I use to get the look that defines my images.
7. High-Pass Sharpening: My preferred way of sharpening, although Lightroom 4’s Clarity function works a lot like this.

Here is how my layers usually look like. I may have some other corrections outside the norm, like the ones under “Misc Fixes.” Also, I tend to have a lot more global adjustments, but for this image, I didn’t have to do a lot of color correcting, thanks to the ColorChecker Passport.

SLR-Lounge-11-Fotosiamo-Photoshop-Layers by Joe Gunawan |

Before and After Image

Here is the final image once again. If you click on it, you can see a higher resolution of the before and after my post processing. Stay tuned for my article on my Photoshop retouching workflow!

Sabrina Editorial by Joe Gunawan |

You can see more of my images at

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Joe is a fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ed Rhodes

    great post!

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  2. David Tong from iPhotocourse

    This is an epic post, great documentation from start to finish. Well executed and decision to go subtle :)

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  3. A1pixelsphoto

    So the hanging light behind the model was not on for the shoot, and you used PS to turn it “on”?

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    • Joe Gunawan

      Yes I did. After looking at the photo on the computer, I decided that it will look better if it’s on. Just a minor detail that I didn’t think of at the shoot, that’s all.

      – Joe Gunawan |

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  4. Jai Catalano

    The GH2 is a great camera. Looks good right out of the camera. 

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  5. HOW I SHOT IT – Environmental Portrait of singer Sabrina – Micro Four Thirds User Forum

    […] I lit this scene with 3 strobes and almost no ambient, check out my lighting guide article. — Joe How We Shot it – Environmental Portrait with Singer-Songwriter Sabrina tutorial Stay tuned to my retouching article on my post-processing workflow. __________________ Be […]

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  6. Tiago

    I agree with writersbloc, great out of camera light, the image looks amazing. I notice you used a GH2 – I own one myself, but primary for video use. For a shoot like this I would use a Nikon, for optics, tethered shooting, sensor size, and so on. Did you choose the GH2 over other cameras? If so, why? Do you use GH2 a lot for commercial photography? Thank you for sharing!

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    • Joe Gunawan

      Hi @842cdf9c088cb74f7ca55da46c9a6c8d:disqus ,
      I do shoot my fashion and commercial work on the GH2. When using strobe at base ISO, the GH2 can produce some really good images. I would also say the same with the Olympus OM-D. You can see my work at

      And the GH2 is wonderful for movies, too!

      As for why I shoot with it instead of Nikon and Canons, it’s primarily because I have a good number of glass for it, and that the size of it is really great. Now if a full-frame mirrorless comes out, on the other hand…

      Oh, and I’m saving up for a medium format camera, too. I know, quite a big difference in size and weight. But what image quality!

      – Joe Gunawan |

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  7. Anonymous

    Pretty solid right out of camera… hardly needs any post work. Great job and thank you for sharing.

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    • Joe Gunawan

      Yes! I was really happy with how the images from the whole shoot turned out straight out of camera. It’s all about knowing your lighting, right?

      – Joe Gunawan |

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  8. ? Editing technique I just saw…

    […] image? I'm confused as to what you are asking… Sorry! I thought I had put the link in there! How We Shot it – Environmental Portrait with Singer-Songwriter Sabrina tutorial Canon FanGirl Extraordinaire Reply With Quote     […]

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