Nadav Kander lights the most important man in the Middle East

December 18, 2012 — 9 Comments

nadav kander photo lighting for time magazine on guess the lighting

ted sabarese lighting diagram of nadav kander's morsi shot

copyright, Nadav Kander.

Nadav Kander is one of the most successful advertising and editorial photographers today. What makes his portraiture unique is that he doesn’t have a single photo lighting “look,” but many, actually. He’s consistently trying different setups, pushing himself to remain fresh and relevant. This shot for a recent Time Magazine cover illustrates this point. It’s a standard, tight headshot of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, but the lighting and subtle retouching make it anything but ordinary. Fitting for the “most important man in the Middle East,” right? Nadav achieved this look with 4 lights.

Camera: Medium format, digital, with 100mm lens set on a tripod 6 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f8, ISO 50.

Lighting: The key lighting for this image is perfectly symmetrical. Nadav uses two, small softboxes (with the outer baffle removed to increase specularity) at f13 (+1 1/2 stops). They are placed 3 feet to either side of Morsi’s head and slightly behind it. This placement creates the sharp highlights on his cheeks but also manages to fill the front of his face. It also keeps away any reflection from his glasses. Two white umbrellas at f5.6 (-1 stop) are aimed at the seamless from both the right and left sides to create a flat background. The shadow behind Morsi’s head is added in post.

Comments: A big fan of Hank Williams Sr. (definitely not Jr.), Morsi played a medley of his songs on his oud between shots. His crooning and wailing were pretty spot on, too, with more than one crew member suggesting he tryout for next season’s the Voice.

  • konrness

    Why is there no shadow on his face from the bow of his glasses?

    • I think it’s because the softboxes are so close to his head that the light is wrapping around the arms of his classes. Also because they’re slightly behind his head, aimed toward camera.

      • doktor

        probably correct although minor retouching could be involved too

  • Fotis

    Hey Ted, thanks for your analysis.

    I’m a bit sceptical regarding the removal of the outer baffle though.

    Noticing Subject’s eyes for the reflections of the softbox facets, it seems like an even and smooth white surface to me. Moreover, one can clearly see a very smooth reflection of the softbox directly off the lens of Subject’s spectacles (left side one as we view it), which again an even and quite smooth reflection covering ~1/3 of the spectacle lens surface.

    It seems to me that both softboxes have the outer baffle in place and that they are not recessed.

    Kind Regards,


    Athens – Greece

    • hi fotis.

      thanks for taking the time to write your analysis. you might very well be correct. i’m sticking to my guns, though. i feel like those catch lights in his eyes would be there even with the baffles removed. and i’m not sure the light on the sides of his head would be quite as punchy with more diffused light.

      Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

  • Guillaume Megevand

    Thanks a lot Ted. We want more of Nadav Kander. He’s the best!!!

    • you’re welcome, guillaume. i’ll see what i can do 🙂 nadav is pretty freakin’ amazing.

  • Good post Ted.. agree with the guess except for the Focal length.. I would have thought 150mm or 210mm

    • quite possible, anto. i thought there was a decent amount of depth of field, though.