Celebrity portraiture in 19 seconds | Profoto

Celebrity portraiture in 19 seconds

26 February, 2016

Written by: Jens-Linus Lundgren-Widén

Celebrity portraiture & fashion photographer Ki Price got 19 seconds to shoot a portrait of Star Wars actor John Boyega. Naturally he chose the Profoto B2 as his companion. We asked him about the experience.


One could say that Ki Price’s way into commercial photography was through cinema. Early on he realized the secret behind masterpieces by the likes of Stanley KubrickDavid Lynch, and Hal Hartley – controlling the lighting. Being a self-taught photographer he started to apply that to his photography.

“I like creating an image rather than just taking it”, Ki Price says. “About 8 years ago I really started to get into lighting with flash and realized when I where sent onto assignments I could change a horrible flowery room into a really dramatic portrait.”


This time the brief was to get an interview photo for a German publication. But Ki wanted more than just that.

“I was very excited about this one, having been to the cinemas all my life and playing Star Wars as a kid. I knew in my mind it had to be better than this and I was going to shoot his portrait as well”, he explains.

For the setup Ki wanted something more intimate, but time was not on his side. He was restricted to one room, with John Boyega’s whole crew present.

“It was at a press junket in a hotel in London. Journalists are queuing all morning for their 20 minute slot. I had 19 seconds with John in the hotel room where he was being interviewed. It was a dimmed room and I knew I could mix the ambient with flash and a grid to create exactly what I wanted, without lighting up the whole room.”

Ki put the Profoto OCF Softbox 2’ Octa with the optional diffuser to make the light softer and the OCF Softgrid 50° 2′ Octa for contrast. In order to save time, Ki had already mounted his OCF Light Shaping Tools. He shot with Profoto B2 Off-Camera Flash, using one head. He photographed with his Canon and the new 24-70mm 2.8. It allowed him to work fast. There was no time for lighting stands so he had to hold the B2 in his left hand, creating a nice side light. The zoom was preset, as he didn’t have a hand free to zoom.

“I had 19 seconds. I shot manual.”



Shooting celebrity portraits like this can sometimes be tricky. Usually, the publicists want a retouch or want to picture approve images, but when Boyega’s publicist asked to see the image he liked it straight away. That’s not always the case. Actor Lily Collins for example, Ki wanted to shoot clothed in the shower and he got a big no from her makeup artist.

“I try not to give control to them and work on a basis of trust. The image is, from my perceptive, not theirs.”

Ki likes to work with harsh contrast and sometimes uses effects such as smoke or fog to separate the background from the subject and give some depth. A signature look and feel you can see in the images of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and politician George Osborne, in which he is lighting the subjects from below.


“Defining your own style is so important. You want clients to book you because you’re different or they would just use a stock image service”, Ki Price explains. “I think people tend to know my images and my style”.

Having a flexible lighting system is also important Ki says:

“As an editorial photographer I never know what the location I’m sent to is going to be like. I know there are light setups that will always work for me no matter how bad or good the location is.”


Even though photographing a Star Wars main character was somewhat a childhood dream coming true, Ki Price’s favorite shoot was the one with musician, poet and artist Patti Smith.

“She is the hardest and coolest person I’ve ever shoot. She was standing there with her hair all over her face saying: ‘Why are you using flash when you have all this amazing light?’, ‘Why are you taking so many photos?’, and ‘What lens are you using?’

“I was like give me a break, you been photographed Robert Mapplethorpe for years. She turned gave me my photo, winked, said ‘I like your necklaces’, and walked back onto her tour bus. The few moments or hours you get to exchange these insights are what make this job priceless.”

Visit Ki Price webpage for more images.

Read more about the Off-Camera Flash System.



Written by: Jens-Linus Lundgren-Widén