Shoot Breakdowns

Your Best Shot Is a Mistake!?!

Shoot Breakdown

Sometimes your best shot presents itself as a mistake, and if you are not paying attention you will fix the mistake and wind up with a less creative, less exciting, less interesting photograph. I want to show you an example from a recent shoot where this happened to me and I used a MagMod MagBounce to create my key light for this fashion portrait.

The process of making great photographs of people requires a lot of multitasking. You have to pay attention to your gear, your lighting, proper exposure, depth of field, composition and there is that issue of engaging, directing, and oftentimes entertaining your subject. If you’re lucky, you’ll have enough bandwidth left over to be creative.

Ironically, as much as we humans think we are great at multitasking, science has proven that we really aren’t.

So with that said, I want to show you why it is important to slow down and pay attention, even to your mistakes.

My intent here was to shoot a simple headshot to show you a new lighting hack that I worked out. I scheduled this shoot with Monae very last minute, and was kind enough to agree, but didn’t have time do anything special with her hair. She asked if she could do kind of an urban look with the knit cap. I agreed and set up my lights with the intent of doing a shot that looked something like this:

fashion portrait

I know – basic portrait – pretty girl – simple lighting – nothing special.

I had Monae sitting about four feet in front of a white wall and I placed a Godox AD200 Pocket Flash on a stand behind her to light the wall and another AD200 as my main or key light above her and on camera left. The key light had the modifier hack that I’ll discuss later. I turned on my key light set to 1/64 power and took a meter reading – f/5.6. Then I turned on the background strobe and without metering just took a test shot. It just happened that the background strobe was set to full power and the resulting test shot was what you see here:

a fashion portrait

From a technical standpoint, this is what we are taught is a mistake; but from a creative standpoint, I think it looks really cool. You know I am partial the backlight concept.

So at this point my SOS kicked in. I realized that while the lighting hack that I intended to do the video about was cool, this was cooler with the outfit, hair, and color combination and I had to explore it. BTW… SOS is Shiny Object Syndrome. It’s a real thing. Google it.

I realized pretty quickly that I wanted a bit more contrast than the overblown background was going to allow, so I dialed the background light back to 1/4 power and still at f/5.6 got this look which has a real crisp commercial feel, but still also a fashion feel – yes – a fashion portrait.

Take advantage of a mistake

As I always do, I then proceeded to work the shot with some simple variations on camera angles and a few variations on hands:

Pose variations

All of these are done with this really simple two light setup using the Godox AD200s. You could accomplish this same look with speedlights or studio strobes. The secret is the close proximity to the white background and the fact that the background is four stops brighter than my subject so it creates a lot of spill or flair which helps give the shot its glowing dreamy look.

The MAGMOD Modifier Hack

I used a MagMod MagBounce as my modifier for the key light in this shot. I will be sharing a video in the next few weeks about the MagMod gear and all the cool things you can do with it. This MagBounce is designed to give you a soft light with a very wide spread by bouncing the light off the silicone dome. But you know me; I don’t like rules and I love to experiment with light, so I decided to use it as a flash diffuser with the flash shining through the MagBounce.

Yup – I placed the AD200 about 2 feet above Monae and aimed it straight at her. Then I placed the MagBounce on the strobe – backwards – with the open part of the dome aimed towards the ceiling.

You can see in this portrait version that I showed you, I get a nice small catchlight and subtle light falloff on the camera right side of Monae’s face for a nice soft shaping of her face.


Pose is a four letter word and you know I recommend avoiding four letter words. Generally, when I shoot portraits or headshots, my goal is to keep my subject relaxed and not looking stiff. So usually I do the work. I will change my camera angles shooting high, low, left, or right depending on which is their good side and at most I will have my subject do very subtle turns or tilts.

In this particular case since I decided to follow my SOS and go for more of a fashion portrait I did incorporate some arms and hands to make things more dramatic. When working with hands, be really careful not to make claws with the hands. Elegance is important. If you struggle to help your models achieve elegant hands in your photos, check out my article on the subject here.

Post Production

The final images required very little post production beyond the usual color, contrast and sharpening and of course removing of blemishes. I say this just as reminder of the importance of great hair and makeup.


You have heard me say WORK YOUR SHOT many times. The idea being that it is foolish to assume that your first setup is the best setup. The moral here is that in addition to the need to work your shot, you should always be aware and looking for opportunities to create something beyond your original idea, beyond the rules, and beyond your comfort level.

You don’t have to be the most creative person in the world to be a great photographer – but you do have to keep your eyes open. Always look for opportunities, and be brave enough to explore them when they present themselves.

That’s all I did here, and in this case I am pretty happy with the result.

I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman

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Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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