It’s all in the lighting: creating arresting portraits quickly and easily using the Profoto A1 and B1X | Profoto (CA)

It’s all in the lighting: creating arresting portraits quickly and easily using the Profoto A1 and B1X

07 December, 2017

Written by: Miguel Jacob

Back in mid-November of this year, I had the pleasure of being part of the Profoto A1 product launch and live shoot event at the Hotel Plaza Universel in Montréal. Over the past 12 years, I have witnessed a dramatic shift in the size, portability, and ease of use of Profoto’s flash units dating back to 2009 with the launch of the D1 monolight. While I still use the remarkably-fast Profoto Pro-10 pack for the majority of my commercial work, I am always interested in introducing new tools to my light shaping arsenal. This is one of the reasons why I was so excited to test out the newly released Profoto A1 and the B1X at this amazing launch event.

Profoto A1: the world's smallest studio light

In the world of photography, lighting is an essential component. As a matter of fact, without light, there is no such thing as photography. Light can change the character and mood of an image, sometimes quite dramatically. I always say that "lighting is emotion" and its power to evoke feelings in the viewer cannot be understated. By using the Profoto A1's unique "zoom function", allowing you to focus and flood the light, provides me with endless possibilities in terms of light shaping! To further soften the light, I have access to 3 modifiers than come with the Profoto A1 kit: 1) a wide lens; 2) a dome diffuser; and, 3) a bounce card.

I shot the two images above using a single A1 at the most flooded position yielding a directional light with a soft finish. I knew I was going to convert these images into black and white so using a bare A1 without any modifiers was the perfect choice as it resulted in an image with higher contrast. My assistant used a Manfrotto nanopole stand to boom the A1 overhead to help accentuate the direction and height of the shadows. The AirTTL function allowed for a perfect exposure without needing to use a light meter. This allowed me to save time and to spend more time connecting with my model Alex. It is as easy as pointing and shooting! While the size of the Fujifilm GFX 50S makes it feel like you are holding a DSLR in your hands, the incredible image quality, high dynamic range and exceptional skin tones and colour from this amazing camera are unparalleled even in the medium format world. This image was shot using the incredibly fast and sharp Fujinon GF 110mm f/2.0 R LM WR Lens. I really enjoyed using the vertical grip and the EVF tilt adapter allowing me to shoot from various angles and oeping up new perspectives. 

For this particular image, I knew that I wanted a softer look than the previous images so I simply added a dome diffuser to the A1 to help diffuse the light. Thanks to the magnetic mounts, I am able to make quick adjustments to the light quality of my image without unnecessary delays. This is of the outmost important especially when time with your subjects is limited, such as when shooting corporate portraits.

After the standing portraits, I decided to take some seated ones of Alex leaning on a table. I used a black tablecloth to maintain the focus on my subject and to add contrast to the image. While the A1 was still at the most flooded position with a dome diffuser, I asked my assistant to boom the light at a 45-degree angle. The lighting at this position, often referred to as Rembrandt lighting after the famous painter, creates a very flattering light especially when photographing people with prominent cheekbones.

For this image of Marilyn, I used a single A1 but this time at the most focused position with a dome diffuser. As you can see, the quality of light from the A1 is simply outstanding! It is a light that is directional with a soft smooth fall-off. The butterfly (or Paramount) lighting position, characterized by a small butterfly-like shadow under the Marilyn's nose, creates a very glamorous look.

I decided to further soften the light by using the Profoto Umbrella Deep Silver M at a 45-degree position for the portrait of both Marilyn and Alex. Rembrandt lighting, characterized by a triangle of light on the shadow side of the face, creates a dramatic yet timeless look. Due to their parabolic shape, the Profoto Deep umbrellas allow for more versatile light control. Using the Manfrotto nanopod stand and umbrella adapter, I had my assistant feather the light so that it didn't spill into the background resulting in an edgier look.

Profoto B1X: the best-selling battery-powered TTL flash

For the final shot of the evening, I envisioned a "celebrity/paparazzi-style" fashion shot my two amazing models, Marilyn and Alex. In order to capture this image, my assistant pushed me while I was sitting in a chair on a hotel luggage cart! For this shot, I used the super-fast Profoto B1X with an OCF Magnum as my main light, with two B1Xs behind the models serving as hair lights. The OCF Magnum is one of my favourite light shaping tools as it offers lots of punch and also a significant zoom range without taking up more space than a Profoto Zoom Reflector. We had 2 people from the audience attach Profoto A1s to their cameras to add some visual interest to the final image. I started with the Fujifilm GFX 50S but then switched to the supremely fast Fujifilm X-T2 with an 18-55 mm f/2.8 lens to capture the movement. Even on continuous shooting mode on the Fujifilm X-T2, the B1X easily kept up and allowed me to find the perfect shot!

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Photography: Miguel Jacob

Miguel Jacob Twitter: @miguel_jacob_

Miguel Jacob Instagram: @miguel_jacob_

Miguel Jacob Website:

Stylist: Jeremy Paul @jeremypaul

Hair & makeup: Tamsen Rae @tamsen.rae

Model #1: Alex Dorantes @alexdorantes360 at Montage Models @montagemodels

Model #2: Marilyn Ma @marilyn.model at Montage Models @montagemodels

First assistant/digital technician @martinreismtl

Second assistant @e_pic_ben


Written by: Miguel Jacob