Adele photographed at PC Richard & Son Theater for New York, New York, February 2011. (Chris Owyoung /

I had the distinct pleasure of photographing Adele on the eve of the US release of her second album 21, which if you haven’t already, you should run out and buy right now. Adele is gorgeous, warm, down-to-earth and unstoppably funny – just about everything a photographer could want in a subject. This shot is my hands down favorite from the session because even though it’s a manufactured moment, it’s 100% Adele,  poised and beautiful.

Here’s the video from Adele’s acoustic rendition of “Rolling in the Deep” from her live performance after our shoot. You can even see me working during a few shots of the crowd.

Lighting Diagram

Adele photographed at PC Richard & Son Theater for New York, New York, February 2011. (Chris Owyoung /

Key Light

Dynalite SH2000 head driven by a Dynalite Roadmax MP1000 power pack and fired into Dynalite SR-80 18″ Beauty Dish with 30 degree grid.

I’m a Dynalite user. Their pack and head systems are light-weight, powerful, roughly half the cost of Profoto and they’re built to take a beating. Just a few weeks ago, one of my Dynalite heads fell 12 feet while it was turned on. To my amazement, the head kept on working, modeling light and all.

The SR-80 beauty dish with grid is a great modifier for creating drama. The light is contrasty without being harsh and with the grids attached, you’ve got the ability to focus the light exactly where it’s wanted – all with a beautiful fall off around the edges.

For this shot, the center of the dish was aimed downward at Adele’s head, roughly 8 feet off the ground. I was careful to have her stand far enough away from the backdrop that the light from the beauty dish would not splash onto the seamless.

Hair Light

Mole Richardson fresnel hotlights.

Two hotlights were positioned symmetrically behind Adele and used as hair lights. The fresnel to camera left was pointed slightly more towards camera to add more warmth to that side. The fresnel to camera right was aimed towards the back of Adele’s head to prevent too much warmth from interfering with the cooler light coming from the rim light.

Since the hotlights did not have adjustable power, I had to set my shutter speed slow enough to make sure that they registered in the exposure but did not blow out Adele’s hair or bleed onto her face.

Rim Light

Dynalite 2050 head into Wescott 12″ x 50″ Stripbank.

It’s difficult to see, but the strip light is one of the most important parts of this setup. It was positioned so that it skimmed the side of the face and body, roughly opposite the light coming from the beauty dish.  This ensured that the right side of Adele’s face and body would have some definition and detail instead of falling into complete shadow.


Large black fabric flag.

The stip bank was blocked with a large flag to keep any stray light from causing flare on the right side of the frame.

Camera & Lens

Nikon D3 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S.

Next to being confident and professional, having absolute trust in your equipment is key. When you’ve got 10 minutes to get a killer portrait of a multi-Grammy award winning artist in a dark storage room, you have to be sure your equipment can respond at the speed of thought. And no, you don’t want to have to shine a flashlight in a pretty girl’s face to make sure you can lock focus – yes I’ve seen people do this.

When shooting wider shots like this, it’s important to shoot at the right focal length with the right lens. A common mistake in bad environmental portraiture is for the photographer to stay at normal portrait distance 2-6 feet and simply zoom out to capture more of the scene. While 6 feet is a comfortable working distance to interact with a subject, staying at 6 feet and zooming out can have the major drawback of distorting the subject and bending lines that should be straight.

For this shot I needed to be more than 10 feet away from Adele to get the desired framing with a focal length was neutral enough to keep the light stands straight.


Avenger C-stands with a roll of white paper. If you don’t know what those are used for, get help, now.


Leave ’em in the comments section.

  1. Thanks, I really like this kind of posts!

  2. Eddie Garcia

    Wow Chris! Awesome stuff. I’m a big fan of Adele’s…she is a great artist. I think you really captured her well. Thanks so much for including the geeky details. It’s great to see the “Behind the Scenes” that went into your shoot.

    • Thanks Eddie. Adele is amazing. You should definitely buy her new album, it’s tops.

  3. Nice job Chris!

  4. I love Adele…and your pics of her rock!
    Great job as sual, sir!

  5. emmzey

    fantastic shots. =] Adele is amazing!

  6. Thanks for the inspiration! I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience.

  7. Dude this was a great post. I feel like I just learned a lot. Please do more post like this.

  8. RT @chrisowyoung Portraits of Adele, February 2011 | New York Music Photographer Chris Owyoung – T..

  9. fantastic put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You should continue your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!best Regards Steffi