The brief for this shoot was quite simple: “We would like you to give a demonstration of how to shoot something creative using only basic lighting. It needs to have impact and be memorable. Finally, you only have 45 minutes on stage in front of a live audience to do the whole thing from start to finish”.
A fairly loose brief allowing me full creative freedom but to a very small timescale.
Now I love a challenge like the next guy so it was time to get the creative thinking cap on. I wanted to give a demonstration that most amateur/enthusiast photographers who owned a couple of lights could test out at home or in their studios, without it being too technical and having to use multiple light set ups that people might not have access to.
My final idea was simple, but very effective. A beauty shoot set up using just two lights to light both the model and the backdrop. To make it more accessible for most, I wanted to use similar kit to what comes with most two head lighting kits. This meant no beauty dish.
Now to make this memorable with some impact, I had to get my team together to discuss my idea. I knew I wanted to start this shoot off as head and shoulders but would eventually be cropping in close and filling the frame with a zoom lens on the final shot. I wanted simple styling with a coloured/patterned head scarf and super vibrant coloured make up to show texture and detail on the models skin; make up powders would be ideal for this effect. For this, I employed the ever creative Alex Greenhill (Stylist) and Margarida Marinho (Make-up artist). We discussed my idea, shared some mood boards and we’re all charged and ready to go. But, not without our talented model of course. For this, I relied on the experience and talents of Amber Tutton to help me make this one a success.
I wanted my light to wrap around my models face. I like a little bit of shadow in my images to help add some depth but I didn’t want it to be too flat lit, the Bowens Lumiair 60cm x 80cm softbox is ideal for this. Regarding depth of field, I wanted to keep my image fairly sharp at the front with a little fall off as it went back through the models face, so a 50mm-140mm zoom lens (70mm-200mm DSLR Equivalent) at F/8 was ideal. This lens also helps flatten the perspective of my shot a little. Remember, the closer you get the shallower the depth of field becomes, and quite quickly, even at the same aperture.
So, we are on stage with our model looking amazing and ready to go with our audience waiting and 45 minutes on the clock.
The Set Up
First off, to build this shot up gradually I wanted to show what we could do with one light. Many great shots are created using just one simple light, a style of shooting I personally love.
With my model ready, I have my first light in place (main light), a Bowens Gemini 500 pro head with a with both diffusion panels fitted. This was located on a C Stand (to act as a mini boom arm) and positioned directly in front of the model, raised up until the bottom edge of the softbox came just above the models head, then tilted down roughly at 45 degrees. The important part here is to not go too high with this. If you do you’ll lose the catchlights in the models eyes and it can also make the eyes quite dark just above the top eyelids - so try and keep a catch light in the pupils to help prevent this.
As a rough guide in this kind of set up, for getting the distance from the light to the model correct, here’s a little tip that might help get you started. The distance from the light to my model was gauged by getting the model to stretch out her arms in front of her, then moving the softbox forward until she could just touch it with her hands. This is a good starting point, you can then fine tune things with small adjustments to get the light exactly how you want it.
Our background was mid-grey, so it was important to have my model and light close enough for some residual light from my main softbox to spill onto the background to stop it being completely black. This will differ depending on how much space you have to shoot in, the colour of your background and also the size of your softbox.
After our first shot was complete I then moved into my final light set up technique which in its basic form is known as ‘Clamshell Lighting’.
Generally speaking, one light above the the model pointing down at 45 degress and one below pointing up at roughly 45 degrees. You can also use this set up with the lights positioned at the sides of the model and take into account that they do not have to be in line with each other. I would suggest trying them offset from each other just to see what happens.
I started with my main light above the model but for my second shot added a reflector as my lower light source, which in effect is bouncing the light from my main softbox back up into my models face. This lifted the shadows that were present from only using 1 light which is very directional. A key tip to remember here is ‘the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection’. Also take into account different coloured reflectors will have an impact on the quality and colour of your reflected light.
From here, I moved my second light (fill light) into position to replace the reflector. Some people like to set the output of both lights to be the same f stop, i.e. f/8 reading on a light meter; but sometimes I like to change that up a bit and actually increase the output of my second light to be roughly 1/10th of a stop brighter than my main. Try it! You might just like it - just don’t go overboard.
If you wanted a completely shadowless image here and an even light all around the models face, you could simply place some some reflectors or white foam core (as a bounce card) on both the left and right side of the model. This would then give you a complete wrap around light removing all those shadow areas on the sides of the models face/head; personally I like this shot without them.
To add further variety to a shot like this you could put a nice coloured background in place and use a third light to help separate the model from it. It's worth playing around for effect.
As you can see from the images I’ve gradually zoomed in closer to my model to fill my frame, with my final shot being super close to show all the lovely powdered texture of the make up on the models skin. I actually cropped this final image even more for maximum impact.
Over the days demos we had 2 different colours of make up for variety.
Overall, this is a very simple lighting set up to try out. If you don’t yet own a Bowens beauty dish but have a couple of soft boxes, then you can give this one a go. It's a set up I certainly use commercially for my work. Have fun with it and experiment, if I can do this in 45 minutes I’m sure you can do a lot more in a full day. Remember, this set of images wouldn’t look like they do without my creative team - something to keep in mind.
The photography in this post, unless otherwise specified, is copyright of the author and may not be used without written permission. Please respect photographer's rights.
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