When I was younger, I had to go to the photo studio to have a head and shoulder photograph taken for passport or whatever. Usually three lights were used, they were the main, fill and background lights.
In the early nineties, after I knew photography, I decided to shoot my own self portrait, head and shoulder photograph. I wanted a soft lighting that will cast no hard shadow, no reflection on the glasses and no shadow on the background. With the knowledge that I had, I figured out how to achieve this. I had in hands two umbrellas which I had ordered from an umbrella maker. The material was a very light yellow satin cloth provided by me. I only chose the frame that had a nice parabolic shape from the maker. The reflective side was on the inner side of the umbrella.
In the set-up for the shooting, I made use of only one umbrella held high on a stand, angled downward and slightly to the right of the camera. No reflector. One of the walls in the living room was used as background. The stool where I sat was about one metre away from the wall. The camera was set on the tripod with 135mm lens. It was cheap, bright, sharp and have a good contrast. Light source was from a flashgun bounced off the inside of the umbrella. The strength of the light was measured at the point where my face was assumed. I had someone stood in place for me so that I can set the focusing and framing. At other times when I was alone, I propped up an empty frame around the location of my face, which I later removed before triggering.
I shot a number of frames and from it chose the one that I like best. A luxury that you don’t get with the studio shot.
The chosen frame was then printed 4-up on a 3R paper.
Back then I had a personal web page from my ISP. I had put up my photograph together with the explanation. One of the comments that I remembered till now was from someone who probably knew photography saying, “Nice Technique.”
I used this technique for a couple of years as my makeshift mobile studio taking head and shoulder photographs for an organisation as a service to its members.
Update 9 Jan 2011:
I had inserted two photographs of the setup. Slightly tight because the space is tight. The photo of the light source shows a camera mount flash and not that of a flashgun that had the camera mount on it. I still have the flashgun but this flash unit is quite strong too. I can still get F4 and F5.6 at ASA 100. Furthermore, it sits nicely on the wireless receiver. Ah, the luxury of today, no more cable to concern with. Absolute freedom. To trigger any slave unit, the light sensor triggering unit is still good though. Less of a hassle because it doesn’t consume batteries, very green, only that it needs to be on the striking distance of the main light to be effective. For wireless triggering of slave unit, the transmitter and receiver set claims a distance of 100 metres. A 100 metres headstart that is, for someone to grab the slave set and run away. Anyway, it is still useful though, just bear in mind the safety of the unit and to take appropriate measure.