Samurai Photo Shoot Part 1: A Walk-Through

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: December 10, 2010

Category: General

Ok so rather than do a complete walk through of both the photo shoot and editing in one long post I though it best to split it. So, for this post I’ll concentrate on the lighting set ups and then in a few days I’ll cover some of the editing techniques I used to create the composite images.

Before we move on though I think it’s important to mention that the subject of this photo shoot, Mike Jay is the real deal; a genuine Samurai and not someone playing the part. The clothing & weaponry Mike brought along to the shoot was all the genuine article so I know I speak for both Neal and myself when I say that we both felt honoured to be doing this shoot.

Warming Up/Getting in ‘The Zone’:
As is always the case in every shoot I do there’s a time at the start, usually a window of about 15 minutes where both I and the model (subject) need to get warmed up and in the zone. It’s at this time that I stick to the most basic of lighting set ups such as a single Nikon SB800 and reflective umbrella, and like I said the point here is just to get warmed up. Occasionally I may find that some of the shots from this warm up period become ‘keepers’ but for the majority of the time this isn’t the case.

The Shoot: 1st Set Up:
After a short period of time both Mike and myself had got into the right frame of mind so from here we moved onto a 3 light set up using the White Walls of the studio as the backdrop:

Two Profoto 500’s into strip boxes to the rear and either side of Mike were us to add some rim lighting and to the front all that was used was a Profoto 500 and Beauty Dish with Honeycomb Grid fitted. Normally this would be on a boom above and to the front but this time was on a light stand above and to front directly in line with the camera shooting position.

It was always the intention that shots from the first set up would be used to created a composite image so the lights and mike were positioned in such a way that the backdrop turned to a shade of grey which later on would make the compositing process that much easier and quicker.

Below you can see the out of camera image and the stock image that was then used during the editing stage to create the final composite:

Next week I’ll cover the editing that shows how I placed the out of camera image and background together plus touch on some of the techniques used to get the final overall look.

The Shoot: 2nd Set Up:
Moving on our next set up was the White seamless including the reflective flooring:

The purpose here was to make some clean simple shots to show some of the stances/poses so once the set had been put together it was just a case of running through some moves:

Editing this series of images consisted of cleaning up the white background and flooring and then just a couple of simple techniques to bring out detail. Again, I’ll cover these in the follow on post in a few days time.

The Shoot: 3rd Set Up:
The 3rd set up saw us using the grey seamless; reason being that again I had a few ideas for composite images to come out of it.

The lighting was very similar to the very first set up with two rim lights and then a single light above and to the front of Mike; occasionally switching to using just the one rim light:

I wanted to get a mixture of both 3/4 and full length shots from this set up so had to pay a lot of attention to the shadows being cast on the flooring. Here’s one of the 3/4 length shots but at the moment I’m still in the process of editing a full length shot so as soon as one of those is complete I’ll be sure to post it here too along with any editing tips/techniques you may find useful.

And Finally:
Before calling it a day and we’d cleared the studio down, I positioned Mike between the two strip boxes; one to the front and one to the back, both in line with each other. To get the black background all that was needed was to set the camera to it’s maximum sync speed with the Profoto heads which was 1/160sec and then choose a suitable aperture to give us a completely dark shot. The lights were then brought in to light the subject i.e. Mike … simple 🙂

With the result being…

•    •    •

So there you have it, Part 1 of the Samurai Photo Shoot. In part 2 I’ll cover some of the editing techniques that I used to create a couple of the composites including how the backgrounds were added in, adding detail and touching a little on a dodging and burning technique to show how as an example we can take an image through the stages needed.

In the mean time if you have any questions or comments then please as always feel free to make use of the comments section below. Oh and incidentally, this is the first of two shoots with Mike; the second being out on location in a field in Aldershot complete with a horse in full battle armour & some smoke bombs to create mist…definitely a shoot I’m looking forward to.

Have a great weekend and I’ll catch up with you in a few days,
Enjoy 🙂

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  1. Rajesh J Taylor

    I must say I cannot wait for the composite image tutorial. I really need to start using these techniques!

    • Glyn

      @Rajesh…Cheers for commenting mate. Hopefully the 2nd part covering the editing will be useful.

      Hope all is well with you,
      Speak soon,

  2. Keith Hammond

    That must have been a really good shoot, a room full of dedication, you and Neal dedicated to your photographic craft and Mike’s dedication to being a Samurai.
    In my mind i assosiate Samurai as old and traditional and for this reason i love the mono and the composite images as they fit really well with how i imagine a Samurai to be.
    Good informative lighting diagrams as usual Glyn.
    Did Mike tell you how long he had to train to become a Samurai ?

    • Glyn

      @Keith…Yeah it was a thoroughly enjoyable shoot that’s for sure. Mike is putting together a short ‘Bio’ about how he became a Samurai and I’ll be looking to post that on the blog along with one of the full length composites I’m working on.


  3. Chanel Fusco

    Absolutely fantastic Mr Dewis

    • Glyn

      @Chanel…Thanks for that 🙂

  4. Rick Wenner

    Excellent work here Glyn. As I said in the previous post, I am a huge fan of Japanese culture, so these samurai photos really catch my eye. The two striplight photo is very nice and dramatic. Looking forward to the composite post and definitely to the location shoot photos. Sounds very interesting.


    • Glyn

      @Rick…Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment mate. Glad you like the results so far and yeah I’m really looking forward to the ‘location’ shoot; definitely have to video that one 🙂

  5. Tim Gonzalez

    As always, when I need a little inspiration I can look forward to finding it here. Thank you Glyn!


    • Glyn

      @Tim…That is real nice of you to say; thank you 🙂

  6. DaveT

    Great post Glyn, and very informative as usual. I had tried to reverse engineer the lighting set up from an earlier post. There I was thinking that the first shot was a snooted light on the background – wrong! And that’s why I find your posts so informative; they are really helping me to understand how to use lighting.

    Am I right in thinking that a ‘strip light’is a long narrow softbox?


    • Glyn

      @DaveT…Your comment means alot mate as by the sounds of it the composite is realistic enough to pass as a genuine single shot, so thanks for that.

      It’s really encouraging to hear that you find the blog useful and yeah you’re spot on with the strip light mate.

      ps> How’s the Mac??? 🙂

  7. daniela

    wow, glyn, again, there’s so much to learn here! i’m very much looking forward to seeing how you achieved the amazing look in setup #1, with the colors and shine.. can’t quite express my admiration in words – all i can say is wow!

    • Glyn

      @Daniela…Wow…thanks for such kind words…that is really nice of you 🙂
      The overall look on Mike’s face is from dodging and burning so I’ll put together a post to show a few techniques I use to get that look later this week.

      Thanks again,

  8. DaveT

    Your very welcome Glyn and thanks for confirming my thoughts about the strip lights.

    The Imac – well it’s early days and I am still finding my way around. Love the quick look feature by the way, its great and a real time saver.

    Thanks for the offer re the Imac – you’re a star.

    Cheers, Dave.

    • Glyn

      @DaveT…No worries mate; you’ve got my contact details so just shout 🙂


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