Corporate Portrait – Using ND Filter to Control Ambient Light

Jan is a very successful business leader in Dubai. He requested some strong portraits for use in magazine articles and PR as he is often featured.

Our ‘studio’ was a wonderfully designed modern office on the 33rd floor with amazing views of Dubai. However, the office had huge windows that allowed daylight to stream in. Since I wanted to shoot at f2.8 and blur the background, I used a 3 stop ND filter. An ND filter simply helps remove unwanted ambient light and offers greater creative control over your strobes. With ND filters, in order to balance fill/ambient creative lighting choice, you may need more powerful strobes.

A 3 stop ND filter helps to reduce strong ambient light ing
A ND filter reduces ambient light and offers greater creative control over your strobes

For lighting this shot, I used a real mix. The main light is a Profoto B3 pack + Pro 7b head with 1×3 stripbox on a boom stand placed above Jan that will bounce soft light off the water and also give a nice reflective element in the shot. The fill light is a Profoto 600r head with a tight grid used just for Jan’s face. The 3rd light is a Canon 580 EX II with a grid placed behind Jan to separate him from the grey wall.

The Canon 580 EX II behind Jan separates him fron the grey wall background
Small lights are great to add a splash of creative light to an image, especially in tight spaces

When shooting with an ND filter, I prefer to use a light meter (eg Sekonic) as it’s more accurate, helps with the ‘math’ and reduces lighting guess work viewing camera LCD’s.

Here, in camera I am shooting 125th, f2.8, iso 100, WB daylight – BUT as I have a 3 stop ND filter on my lens, when I meter the light hitting my subjects face, I am looking for f8. Why? as the 3 stops of light removed by the ND filter must be replaced by the strobes to offer a correct metered exposure (f2.8 + 3 stops of light = f8).

A strong but personable portrait

As you can see in the test shot below, If I had shot with similar camera settings but without the 3 stop ND filter, the background windows are so blown out and the overall image looks too flat. For another lighting set up on this shoot you can see Corporate Portrait – Mixing Ambient Light With Strobes

This is how the shot looked normally at 100th, f2.8. iso 100
This is how the shot looked normally at 100th, f2.8. iso 100

Gear used: Hasselbald H4d 40 + 80mm f2.8 HC lens, B+W 3 stop ND filter, Profoto B3 battery + Pro 7b head with zoom reflector + 5 degree grid, ComPact 600r head with Profoto 1×3 stripbox, Canon 580 EX II with grid and pocket wizard Flex TT.

To view more of my images, please visit my web esam hassanyeh

2 thoughts on “Corporate Portrait – Using ND Filter to Control Ambient Light

  1. Esam,

    Could you have achieved the same results by increasing your shutter speed (using high-speed sync)? I discovered your website while researching ND filters for portraiture.

    Great portrait of Jan, he looks confident.



    1. Hi Brendan, Thanks for your comment. Sorry late reply I have been moving countries! Yes, you can also use HSS but that requires Pocket Wizards or other dedicated triggers set for this…or you can shoot a camera system (EG Hasselblad as I do) with higher sync speeds. I often mix different strobe lights…so using ND filters is easier and quicker when doing this for me.


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