Glyn Dewis - World War 2

Behind the Scenes: World War 2 Military Portrait

In Photography by Glyn12 Comments

Following on from my earlier post, I thought I’d give you a look Behind the Scenes to show what went into creating this portrait of my friend Ian Munro for my World War 2 / 1940’s Project…

1940 Military Portrait - Glyn Dewis

When it comes to military portraits taken back in the 40’s and also in the time of the Great War, there’s two characteristics that define them, 1) the subject was rarely looking into the camera, and 2) the portraits were low contrast, meaning the blacks weren’t deep black and the highlights weren’t overly bright which meant there was detail in the shadow areas.; this you can see in the portraits below…

1940 Military Portrait - Glyn Dewis

The far left portrait is of my Grandad, Frederick Charles Elson from World War 2; the other 2 portraits are circa WW1

Kit Used

Here’s a list of the kit I used for this photo shoot…

You’ll see from the Behind the Scenes pictures below that I was shooting tethered hence the TetherTools kit listed above. This is something I always do; the benefit primarily being that it allows you to see pictures much bigger on your computer screen as they are taken. Having this means it’s much easier to check sharpness but also allows you to notice anything you may not have done when only using the screen on the back of the camera even though you can zoom in. Another benefit I find is that it slows me down; this alone has played a huge part in the growth of my portfolio.

Lighting Set Up

Again looking at the military portraits from the 40’s and before, the lighting was of course classic i.e. Rembrandt, so this is the set up I went. You can see the set up for this being just one light (my Westcott Rapid Box Swith 48″ Octa) positioned camera left and to the front of Ian. You can also see that the Octa is angled down and the bottom is roughly level with Ian’s shoulders; this gives the triangular shape to the light on the shadow side of Ian’s face.

1940 Military Portrait - Glyn Dewis

In the Behind the Scenes pictures above you can see that my friend Anthony was also holding white reflectors towards Ian on the opposite side of Ian. This was because as mentioned earlier, I wanted the pictures to be low contrast and there to be detail in the shadow areas. Anthony is holding two of them simply because one wasn’t big enough to cover from Ian’s head to below his waistline.

Glyn Dewis - World War 2Talking of reflectors, the series of 4 pictures above shows how the the amount of light varies depending on how close the reflectors are positioned to the subject (white side towards Ian in this case). A was with no reflector followed by B where the reflectors were positioned just out of camera view; this gave too much light reflection for the look I was after. C and D show how the light reflected reduced as Anthony stepped away from Ian by roughly 1 small step for C and another step for D. For the look I was after I opted for Anthony to hold the reflectors as he did in C as it was clear there was a shadow but still lots of detail visible.

1940 Military Portrait - Glyn Dewis

The picture above shows again how the Westcott Octa was positioned to the side and front of Ian.


Just in case you’re interested, the settings I used in camera were:

ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/125 sec, and of course the light (ELB 1200) was metered to f/5.6 so as to give a ‘perfect’ exposure.

Note: When it comes to using a Lightmeter, the idea here is to get the lights metered (correct power output) to match the camera settings. However, it doesn’t mean this is where you have to stay. Your own taste may be to increase or maybe decrease the exposure, but the great thing is that the Lightmeter has meant you get to this point much quicker without taking test shot after test shot. For me this helps to keep everything calm and under control which is especially good when photographing for a client; especially when the first picture they see come through onto your computer screen is ‘perfectly’ exposed. Does that make sense?


Looking at the two portraits below, you can see how just a few small tweaks to the pose can make a big difference.

  1. With A I felt that Ian was turned towards the camera a little too much so I asked him to turn away slightly resulting in his chest being a little more side as in B.
  2. Ian’s right arm (hand holding the cap) was pulled back a little. In A it seemed to add to the width of Ian so bringing back showed the taper from Ian’s chest to waist.
  3. We all deliberated whether Ian’s left arm should be down by his side as in A or behind his back as in B. We all ended up agreeing that behind the back looked better (B) and as Ian said was much more in-keeping with how Military personnel would stand.

Glyn Dewis - World War 2

Final Retouched Portrait…

1940 Military Portrait - Glyn Dewis

So I think that’s all to tell for this particular portrait. I’m going to be hosting a YouTube LIVE Broadcast this coming Friday (23rd November) to go through some of the post production, but in the mean time if you have any questions / comments, please feel free to make use of the comments section below.

Catch you next time

>Check out a LARGE version of this portrait over in my portfolio: CLICK HERE


  1. As always Glyn, a very detailed account of how the shot was taken. Plenty of detail and examples above – look forward to seeing the processing side of the shoot.

    Glyn, I know at the time of photographing the handsome Mr Munro, that you also used a two light setup – would be interested in the BTS of that, and the outcome of that shoot.

  2. Great reading Glyn, realy enjoyed that. Can’t wait till friday to se how you do the post on this one.
    Thanks for sharing – hope one day to return the favors

  3. Many thanks Glyn for the clear and detailed explanation of all parts of the shooting process. Not thought about doubling up on reflectors before but of course once explained it is obvious. Ian did a great job modelling with his Movember tache. A great result to add to this series of portraits.

    1. Author

      Cheers Vernon and yeah Ian did great…a false moustache (as first planned) would never have looked as good.

  4. Really great Glyn…….

    Your thoughts on how you positioned Ian is helpful……..I will be thinking more about that part of the process when I do my next portrait.

    Truly appreciate all the help that you provide.


  5. Thanks Glyn – I’ve been around photography for over four decades but I still enjoy learning something new both digitally and film based. This Session and the other WWII shoots along with your examples in the ‘Thief’ book has got me digging out my old portrait negs from a few decades ago! Thanks for sharing not only the technique but the detailed walkthroughs as well.
    – Keep up the great work

    1. Author

      Thanks so much for the kind words Martin; so good to hear that what I share is useful in some way.

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