Mixed lighting with coloured gels

During a recent test shoot for some new models, I arranged for a good friend Rob to bring his Harley Davidson motorcycle to the studio to use as a prop. Although my studio is quite big, with a shuttered front, I totally failed to appreciate just how large these bikes are, so quickly realised I had very little space to work around.

Mixed lighting - natural colour

I’d had an idea in my head how I was going to light the girls on the bIke, but lack of space meant the first option of using large softboxes were out. As the girls were in hair and make-up, I walked around the bike, figuring out how I wanted to shoot it, and still make the girls look great.

The bike was black and chrome, so had very little colour in it, with lots of dangers of reflections of me showing up. I decided that to add some colour, I would use barn doors and colour gels on reflectors¬†and close to the floor. This also gave the added attraction of throwing some coloured shadows on the background. If you mix gels with standard coloured lights, then shadows in the background take on the colour of the gel. It’s a technique that was popular in the 1990s but I haven’t seen it used much recently, but I like the technique so thought it would be perfect for this shoot.

For the main light I used a medium silver beauty dish. I decided that, to get the maximum impact from the shots, a harder light would work better than my initial idea of softboxes (or my first replacement idea of brollies because of the lack of space). The harder light from the beauty dish would give the images a tougher, edgier look and using the bare bulbs of the coloured lamps would add specular highlights to the chrome and give the bike more a sparkle.

Mixed light - with Lightroom colour adjustments

After playing around for ten minutes my final lighting set-up used three Lencarta Elite Pro 300s, one low down to camera right with reflector, a red gel and barn doors to control any spill and the same on the left but closer to, and just behind, the bike and with a blue gel.

Finally my key light was an Elite Pro 300 with the beauty dish to camera left and behind me. Because I wanted a harder light and enough light to cover the model, this light was placed further back than I’d usually go. The closer a light is to the subject, the softer, or more diffused it is; further away is harder, or produces more contrast in the image. In this instance the light was around 3-4m from the model at a height of 2.5m. Placing the light at 45 degrees to the subject and high allowed me to produce shadows on the face – particularly under the chin, and on the background, to add extra punch and interest. This is the basis of Paramount lighting, a technique first used by the old Hollywood studio system photographers to produce their ‘matinee idol’ studio shots.

I’d already thought about how the final images would look – because the bike was a 1950’s style (although a modern custom build) I wanted to use a vintage sun-faded look I’ve been experimenting with in Adobe Lightroom. I also wanted to convert some to black and white and keep some with a more modern glamour, natural colour look. When doing model tests, I like to give the girls as much diversity for their books as possible without constantly changing the lights, and this lighting allowed me to work all three looks pretty easily I think.

Hard lighting with black and white conversion

The final images were shot with the Olympus E-5 and 12-60mm f/2.8 lens set at 50mm (100mm in 35mm equiv). The exposure was f/7.1 – f/8 1/125 sec @ISO 100.

Models: Isabella and Laura from Mission Models

Make-up: Belladama