Using Light to Define The Viewer's Perception

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Michael A. Sewell
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This shoot was arranged to benefit Rebecca, our model, and also Keli, the rather unassuming and very talented makeup artist.

Rebecca was looking to do something a little different to broaden the appeal of her portfolio, whilst Keli had a specific idea she wanted to try.

As with any subject I shoot, the first thing I do is look. I'm looking to see what I want to emphasise or hide, what I want the observer to be drawn to, and what sort of impact the image should have. It doesn't matter whether it's a car, a piece of cheese or a model, the process is the same. Sometimes I have quite a detailed brief, and it's fairly straightforward to understand what the client wants, and sometimes not :)

Here, I had free reign, so I could decide what the important elements are in the composition, and I could design the lighting to manipulate the initial perception of the image.
The rather dramatic headdress was obviously going to be an important factor, along with Rebecca's face. I decided to use a technique that was based on the Chiaroscuro portrait lighting technique, with some slight amends. I didn't want such a harsh drop off of the light to Rebecca's far side of her face, as that would also cause a loss of detail to the headdress from this particular angle.

Okay, lets get to the lighting. The key light is an Elinchrom BRX500Ri to my immediate (frame) left, firing through a large honeycombed softbox (40x53 inches) with an output of 5.0. The box was orientated vertically to give good coverage from foot to head initially.

I had an Elinchrom ELB400 frame right, and slightly further back than Rebecca. It was firing through a 30x140cm honeycombed stripbox at an output of 4.0. This was set so as the light would skim across the feathers of the headdress, emphasising the texture and shape of the feathers. Due to the paper thin nature of the feathers, it only took a couple of inches of movement in the wrong direction for the light to fail to skim correctly, and all texture was lost.
I was relying on the emphasis of the texture and shape of the headdress to initially catch the eye of the observer, with the converging fan design drawing their eye to Rebecca's face. The key light was raised a little after the initial test images, so as the focus of the light could be seen on Rebecca's face, and there was a discernable drop off towards her feet. This again helped draw the observer's eye to her face.

Right, the background light. The background is a black paper roll, and I used an ELB400 with an EL adaptor to make use of a high intensity 65° reflector and grid at an output of 5.0. The head and reflector is frame left, and just aimed at the backdrop behind Rebecca.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 mkII 1/125th sec ISO200 12-40mm f2.8 @ 38mm & f10

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Another from the same sequence with the same lighting and settings as above

Olympus OM-D E-M1 mkII 1/125th sec ISO200 12-40mm f2.8 @35mm & f10

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This particular image needed tighter control of the light for Rebecca's face. If I used the same large softbox, it would easily have filled the feathers, killing any shadows amongst the ribs of the feathers that creates and defines the texture and shape. I switched the key light to a 40cm gridded beauty dish, still fitted to the Elinchrom BRX500, and moved it much closer and to my (frame) right. The pool of light from the beauty dish was restricted to Rebecca's face and also onto the beaded headband. The output was reduced to 3.0.

I still used the ELB400 frame right to skim across the feathers, again paying close attention to the angle so as to maximise the detail and texture. Output was slightly lower at 3.5 as it was nearer and a little higher, angled slightly downward.

The background light has been swapped from the high intensity reflector to another honeycombed 30x140cm stripbox, and the ELB400 was firing at 5.0. I had to take a couple of test shots till I was happy the fall off happened just behind Rebecca, so the background frame right went to absolute black.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 mkII 1/125th sec ISO200 12-40mm f2.8 @40mm & f8

The lighting technique shown here isn't particularly difficult, although choosing the right modifier and lighting control can make a huge difference to the realisation of your concept.
 
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TheMenWhoDrawSheeps

Mu-43 Top Veteran
Joined
Jun 15, 2016
Messages
552
Just love your Portraits! Thank you for great work, it is always a pleasure trying to dexonstruct the Setup, before reading the Text.
I would also gladly see unprocessed files - i have a wild guess on how the floor should have looked like before pp.)
 
Joined
Sep 1, 2015
Messages
1,245
Location
Bootle, Cumbria, UK
Real Name
Michael A. Sewell
Just love your Portraits! Thank you for great work, it is always a pleasure trying to dexonstruct the Setup, before reading the Text.
I would also gladly see unprocessed files - i have a wild guess on how the floor should have looked like before pp.)
Let's see if we can de-bunk your theory.

This is the raw file, so you can't get any more un-processed than that.
Downloading from DiskStation
 

Plumballs

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2014
Messages
457
Location
Whitchurch, Hampshire
Real Name
Phil
Hi Michael,
Love this shoot and if you don't mind I have a question regarding working with Models.
I have been looking on a site that has models for hire (Purpleport) and thought about hiring some for portrait sessions. What has been stopping me to date is probably a silly question I have, but who supplies the outfits and props. is it down to me to look at the models size and with an idea of what I want go out and acquire the outfits, or is it more of a collaboration and using what she has in her wardrobe and props I have lying around?
As I say probably a silly question but at present its stopping me dipping my toe in the water.
Best regards
Phil
 
Joined
Sep 1, 2015
Messages
1,245
Location
Bootle, Cumbria, UK
Real Name
Michael A. Sewell
Hi Phil.

It depends very much on the reason for the collaboration. If you are hiring a model for a client shoot, the client invariably has a "look" in mind, and may well supply the wardrobe/props etc.
If it's more a portfolio building exercise, you will find most of the models have a varied wardrobe to draw on. If you look through the model's portfolio on Purple Port, many of them tend to list the kind of looks they can bring to a shoot, including outfits etc.
Test the water by answering some of the casting calls local to you, especially the calls requesting TFP shoots, so there's no cost to you, other than time, and you both get the images. You may well find you get further enquiries once your model has endorsed you on Purple Port and added some of those images.

If you are wanting to shoot something very specific, you may need to help source and pay for props or outfits, but that's likely to be further down the line.
 
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