Practical lighting with Thomas Ingersoll - learning how to be a director | Profoto (US)

Practical lighting with Thomas Ingersoll - learning how to be a director

06 April, 2018

Written by: Thomas Ingersoll

This week I want to talk about the importance of being a director on set.

Being a director is a topic that is commonly overlooked by a lot of growing photographers. Lighting, gear, subjects, etc. mean nothing without direction. It’s the heart of the shoot, the coach of a sports team. Unless you are a documentary photographer I recommend learning what role you really have as a photographer. It is not your job to capture what is there, you are hired to create, and this means getting involved and having a voice. Even when completing visions for agencies or companies, it is your responsibility to take their vision and turn it into reality. Take the narrative and translate it to your subject, and to your team.

The Narrative

Recently I was asked to shoot 6 commercial portraits for Gila River Casino. After meeting with the creative team they stressed how important direction for each of these characters would be. This new ad campaign would not only be stills but a TV commercial as well. They reiterated to me the importance of bringing life to the characters in a still image. I needed to take the characters TV personality and summarize it in a single image. The narrative of the ad was "you do you". So no matter your age, personality, or perception people have about you, just be yourself. EX: The elderly woman who was a fashion diva, the cowboy who orders cocktails, etc.

It was time to take this challenge head on. I asked the creative director to give me a character briefing. I wanted to get to know each character so I could properly direct them. After studying each character I was ready to start pre lighting. I had several Ideas in my head, but ultimately I wanted these characters to jump out at the viewer. I was conscious though not to have the lighting take away from the character. The lighting needed to help sell the character's narrative. It was now time to pre-light.


Here is the pre-lighting run through I did with Matt. We ran through some different light ratios and positions till we got a result we liked.




After a few discussions with the CD (creative director) we made some changes to the lighting. For the key we switched the Profoto silver umbrella for a white Profoto softlight reflector, we also centered the light overhead. This reduced the shadows on the subjects face.

The 6 lights were:

Key light - softlight reflector,

Fill light - 6'x6’ scrim,

Rim light - (2) strip softboxes,

Hair light - 3’ octa softbox,

Background light - 7” zoom reflector.

Profoto equipment was used for the lighting equipment.

We were now ready to shoot.


This is the most crucial aspect of what we do as photographers. This shoot was all about direction. I had to take the characters narrative that was written by the ad agency and translate that to the model. Since the models had already done the TV filming they know their character and the narrative, but it is now my job to help direct them into poses that summarize their narrative into a single shot.

It is imperative for me to introduce myself to each model and brief them on what we will be doing together. I find this to be very important, it helps establish and build trust with the model. I want to have a connection with each model so we can comfortably reach our goal. I want them to know I am a person and not just a camera. By doing this I can usually get them to open up more on camera. Nothing more awkward than a guy with a camera not saying anything to you, or just shouting at directions at you. Be a human to them, establish a connection!

After I introduce myself I will go over the narrative with them. I like to pose and mimic what I want from them. I will get goofy, awkward, energetic, etc.. I want to show them so there is nothing lost in translation. This also helps them connect to me and helps me show them where to start from. I will tell them to take it from there and let them run with it. I want to make sure I guide them but not micro manage the posing, this can be a delicate balance.





I make sure I keep a connection with the model throughout the duration of the shoot. I make sure to provide them with confidence and give them positive reinforcement. Tethering and having a digital tech is also a crucial aspect for my process. I have a digital tech running the computer which I am tethered to. This is where I have the creative team analyzing the images that are coming in. They can make comments on what they like and don't like. They then will recite that info to me. From there we can start narrowing down on specific poses and expressions we like to get the exact shot we need.




I pride myself on establishing connections and building relationships with people. I have to build a good relationship with the creative director so I know what he wants. I then must have a good relationship with my crew so we can work seamlessly on the shoot. And I have to know how to connect with my subject. I have to articulate everything to them in a clear way. My job is to keep everyone happy. I strive to make the shoot a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Thank you to Matt, Maria, Stephen, Daniel, Jordan, OH, Blok, Slik, Savage, Profoto, Tether Tools, Think Tank, and Phase.

Final Images







Equipment Rundown

I shot this on a PhaseOne XF body with IQ 180 back, and a 150mm AF 3.5 Schneider lens. I decided to go with the Phase system to get the most out of my images.

Shooting on the Phase system can be cumbersome so I relied on my Slik 724CFL with PBH-525-DS head. Shooting on the ball head and keeping the head slightly loose with the fine tune adjustment helped me move with the subjects.

All the lights were Profoto D1’ s and D2’s and Profoto modifiers. I rely on Profoto since I can have lighting fast recycle time with the D2's, adjust the power from the air remote, and ease of use with modifiers. Since the shoot was over the course of 2 separate days I pre lit everything in the studio and marked light positions and power.

On shoots like this it is imperative to tether. Tethering helps with things like accurately checking the images, and keeping the creative director in the loop during the shoot so we can make adjustments. This is also why having a digital tech makes a world of difference. I recommend Tether Tools.

Thanks to my friends at Savage I was able to get all the background colors I need. The backgrounds are all real.

I use Impact for all my grip equipment, light stands, sandbags, etc.. They make sturdy and affordable C-stand and carrying cases that come with me on every shoot.

Think Tank was used to store and transport all my gear. They make the best gear bags in the industry, hands down.

I could not have done this shoot without my whole team and Blok Studio.

Behind The Scenes




This blog post was reproduced with permission from Thomas Ingersoll. To see even more images and behind the scenes from this shoot, visit Thomas Ingersoll's website here

Written by: Thomas Ingersoll

Products used in this story

Profoto D2

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Zoom Reflector

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Softlight Reflector White

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Umbrella Deep Silver

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RFi Softbox Strip

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RFi Softbox Octa

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