“I want to be a boxer!” said model Vanessa Guillemette as we were preparing a test shoot in my studio last week. She pulled out some pink Everlast boxing gloves and the fight was on…

The Setting

Most photographs begin with the environment. I thought about how to represent a gym-like feel. The scene would evoke a smokey, window lit place with lots of shadows. I hung an old canvas drop cloth from a friend who painted commercial buildings. A piece of cardboard with cutout shapes in front of a Dynalite SH2000 studio head cast the shadows. I adjusted the position of the cutout to fill the drop cloth with the pattern.

Canvas drop clothe with shadows
Painter’s drop cloth with a pattern of shadows cast by shining a Dynalite SH2000 head through cutout shapes in a piece of cardboard.

Uh oh! The drop cloth on the floor shows…

Distracting drop cloth floor
The drop cloth on the floor is really distracting from the look of a gym.

Since a smokey look was in my head, I hid that part of the floor with fog from a Rosco Vapour machine. The Vapour can put out a huge amount of smoke in very short order. While my studio isn’t small, it didn’t take long for the set to look like San Francisco when the mist rolls in. The highlights and shadows start to merge. Say “goodbye” to any drama from the patterns on the background… Fortunately it has a volume control to limit the amount of fog it produces.

Lots of fog, very little drama.
Too much fog is a contrast killer.

The Lighting Plan

Boxing is an on-camera-flash kind of sport. The small size of a speed light makes its light harsh. I chose a Dynalite SR3200 Ring Flash instead of a speedlight. The distinctive dot of light almost centered in the boxer’s pupils would help draw attention to her face (and away from those oh-so-cute pink gloves.) The gym I imagined had a lot of windows that would backlight the boxer. A pair of Dynalite 12″ by 71″ strip banks one on either side of Vanessa make that happen.


The exposure set on the camera, 1/125th of a second @ f/5.6 ISO: 100, was read from the ring flash with a Sekonic L-758DR light meter set to measure incident light. Incident meters measure the light striking the subject. The power on the two strip banks and the light striking the background are relative to that exposure. The background highlights are one stop brighter measured with the reflective setting on the 758. This punched the drama of the background shadow / highlight pattern without pulling away from Vanessa’s face. The diagram shows the setup of the lights and the cutout.

"The Boxer" lighting diagram
The positions of the drop cloth, lights, fog machine, subject and camera with ring flash.

The Boxer final

Here’s the hero shot. The only work in Photoshop was to remove a few blemishes on Vanessa’s shoulders and a tiny bit of smoothing skin on her face. The reason there was so little post is working every detail on the set. That and a great make up artist (MUA) Jypsy Nichols.

The Boxer final photograph
“The Boxer”

Vanessa is represented by Posche Models in New York City, Alexa Models in Tampa / Orlando and Talent Direct in South Florida.2192-PSW LV lightingKevin is a commercial photographer from Atlanta. He works for fashion, architectural, manufacturing and corporate clients. When he’s not shooting, he contributes to Photoshop User magazine & writes for Photofocus.com.