Lighting Masterclass, 28th July. Part 1

latex_7_lI had the “bright” idea of doing a creative fashion shoot with an inexperienced model who would be a struggle to work with – after all, that’s what most amateur photographers have to deal with, and then I thought it might be good to throw it open to a few other people because I believe in sharing when I can. But I had to cancel, the model was a waste of space, I had serious doubts about whether she would even turn up, and I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of people driving long distances for something that might not even happen.So, I had a re-think, and then booked 2 very different pro models. One is a fair skinned “English Rose” and the other is a black model who has incredible, striking looks.

My job is to photograph them in a way that nobody else has managed to do, and I can do that.Running parallel with this is the fact that I was feeling guilty about not continuing the lighting workshops that’s I’ve run under the Lencarta banner for the last few years. There’s an ongoing demand for them, but I feel that they have run their course, a new format is needed and what I’m planning to do here may turn into a new Lencarta training course in the future, once I’ve had a practice and ironed out any bugs.Under the old format, I got people to set up the lighting and take the photos themselves, and it worked really well – but there was no time for me to take any shots myself, and I got pretty frustrated sometimes when I just couldn’t get through to people that they needed to be 6” lower or an inch to the left. Then there’s the fact that I was telling people what would and wouldn’t work and why, but not actually proving it by doing it myself.

And a lot of people seem to be running courses and seminars who seem to be long on talk and short on action; lost sheep masquerading as sheepdogs, I thought it was high time that I showed that my approaches to lighting actually work, rather than just talking about it.

Anyway, we ended up with 16 people plus models, it was all a bit chaotic but I think it worked…
Lighting is about creating the right kind of light, not about creating enough of it – in other words, it’s about quality, not quantity.
It’s actually about creating shadows, not light; the right shadows in the right places, to define the shape and show the qualities of the subject, it’s as simple as that.
Beginners to studio lighting tend to try to avoid shadows, believing that shadowless lighting is good. Very occasionally, it can be good, but for most subjects, most of the time, it’s just boring, fattening and unflattering.
Models always turn up with suitcases full of clothes, most of them seem to spend all their earnings on clothes… My approach is to ask the model to wear whatever  she likes, it’s then my job to look at her and work out how best to photograph and light her.
This model is Illyana Pattison, she’s a real character with very striking looks. One of the people brought along a latex dress, very very tight. He thought it would be difficult to light…
Well, shiny dresses are actually quite easy, because they reflect light so well. The real problem is the opposite of what most people think, it’s lighting dull black clothing, which soaks up the light and just looks flat. Dresses are always a bit of a problem anyway, simply because we don’t look at dresses in the first place, we look at the person inside them, as they move – which means that a static shot of someone wearing a dress can often show them looking elegant, but rarely sexy. This dress may not be elegant, but it’s very sexy – the light brown bits are in fact Illy’s skin, seen through the clear panels, and it is so figure-hugging that she could just about walk in it.
The trick with shiny dresses is to create diffused specular highlights and to arrange lighting so that the edges are defined too. I used a 48″ Octa softbox at the front and off to one side, with two of the Profold strip softboxes, complete with honeycomb grids, behind her and to each side, creating rim lighting. That’s the basic setup.
As this was my own shoot I demonstrated my approach, or at least the approach I wanted to use on this shoot – obviously, when a shoot is for a client, I need to produce work to their own brief.
My approach here was to use simple, hard lighting to emphasise the quality and features of the models. Basically I mepush contrast to the point where the darkest bits are nearly black and the lightest bits are nearly white, but not quite. It’s always the choice of the pose and composition first, then the camera position, then 1 light to get the effect I want, then I think about whether a fill light is needed, whether effect lights are needed etc., and add them one at a time, building the setup brick by brick. Lighting is arguably the most important ingredient, but it always comes last, because the lighting requirements depend on the pose and the camera height. Here’s a pic that someone took of me, explaining something, or shouting at him, or something like that – as you can see, hard lighting flatters the model, but doesn’t flatter me!
For me, camera height is usually (not always) the same as the subject’s eyes, or lower – looking down on a subject makes them look insignificant.
The striplights defined her edges quite nicely, the large softbox created some quite nice reflections on the dress, that left her hair and face still to light… hair first – backcombed afro hair can’t really be lit in a subtle way,latex setup so I blasted it with light from a separate light , fitted with a honeycomb. That left her face, and you can see a fresnel spot, which is a very precise lighting tool, lighting just her face.
As methods go, it works, but there can be problems.
Firstly, with a dress like this, a static pose just doesn’t work – we need to model dancing on the spot, moving her body around but without actually moving out of position. Illy was able to do this, and I just took loads of shots (using the SuperFast flash heads, which recycle instantly) and then just threw away the ones where she was slightly out of position, or where the angle of her body didn’t suit the position of the octabox, or which didn’t work for some other reason. That’s an approach that I’ve always used, back in the day when I was shooting on medium format tranny film, I would have two assistants constantly loading film backs, on the basis that film is cheap compared to the other costs, and now that most of us shoot on digital it’s a no-brainer.
This was by far the most complex lighting arrangement of the day, other shots used less lighting, and some involved just one light.
The technical stuff
I usually shoot at around 200 ISO, to get the image quality, although most modern digital cameras are fine at higher ISO settings too.
The lens used on my Nikon D700 was the f/1.8 F50 prime, it’s a good lens that autofocuses instantly, so there’s no point in using a slower zoom lens.
These shots were taken at around f/11, there was quite enough to think about without worrying about not having enough depth of field.

I’m planning to add to this blog each week until I’ve covered all the various shots taken on the day, so if you would like to see the other articles, please subscribe to our blog.