It’s been a while since I did any classic beauty style shots in he studio, and I’ve learnt a lot since the last one. Mainly I’ve been influenced by Joel Grimes in recent months for this sort of look – joelgrimes.com Go check out Joel’s work – he’s been working as a photographer for over 25 years and has honed his craft to a fine level of detail, and that’s what his style is all about – the lighting, shooting distances and angles are very finely tuned. That doesn’t mean he gets a tape measure out, in fact one of the hallmarks of Joel’s approach to his work is that nothing matters except the result – he’s not interested in meter readings, modelling lights, histograms, ratios or any of that stuff – if it looks good on the back of the camera – it’s right. Having studied his work both via his website, YouTube, and a couple of his videos on KelbyOne – http://kelbyone.com/members/joelgrimes/ I booked into my friend John Gannon’s studio http://www.studio-de-lumiere.co.uk/ with model Jessica-Jane Taylor and Make-Up and Hair stylist Emily Rose Connor to put what I had learned to use 🙂
As usual for a planned shoot where I know what I want to achieve, I visualise the images before hand, and play around with the lights in a simulator called SetALight3D and here’s the set-up for the image at the top of this post. Note how close to the model I am shooting: this is one of the techniques I picked up from Joel Grimes’ work. I shot these close which accentuates the model’s eyes and nose. This means of course that the camera angle and height is very important, as a movement of a couple of inches is now significant in the overall scale of distances involved. Whatever is closest to the camera will appear large in the image, and the aim with this shot is to get the eyes as close as possible without the nose getting too big – so make sure your model has her head angles down slightly, and mount the camera on a tripod to keep the shots consistent. Note that this effect is not caused by using a wide angle lens, which is a fallacy I still see perpetuated in tutorials. It’s simply because when you are close to your subject, the difference in distance between say the ears and the nose is significant compared to the shooting distance. Conversely, if you shoot far away, a difference of 3 inches between nose and ears is nothing if you are say, 10 feet away. The myth that it’s the wide angle lens causing the “distortion” of features (or the telephoto lens that “flattens” or “compresses”) arises from the a correlation between shooting distance and lens choice. ie when you shoot close, you need a wide angle to get it all in. When you shoot from 10 feet away, you need a telephoto lens to get the head to fill the frame. If you shoot the same shot from the same spot using wide and telephoto lenses, and crop the wides to the same size as the tele’s the images will look the same (as far as arrangement goes). So with this in mind, know that you can’t achieve the look Joel gets by shooting from 10 feet away with a telephoto (there’s no such thing as “zooming with your feet”).
Note also how low and close the light is, it’s right on top of the lens – touching it in fact. The distance between the light and the subject has a similar effect to the camera distance: i.e. differences in distance become significant, so the closest part of your subject will get more light: light falls off at a rate equal to the square of the distance as it spreads out in 2 dimensions (up-down and left-right). Joel points out that a smaller soft-box that’s closer than a bigger one, so that they appear to be the same size from the subject’s point of view will give the same light. This is not quite right: the 2 boxes have the same apparent size and so the shadow roll-off and fill will be the same, but the fall-off of light across the subject away from the light source will be more rapid for the closer light. If you want more even light intensity across your subject, get a bigger soft-box and put it further away so it appears the same size. To reduce the shadows you can use a white fill card, and I did on some of the shots, however I prefer to use a powered fill in the form of a medium sized rectangular soft-box. This is especially better for 3-quarter shots, where the reflector card would be too far away to influence the shadows on her face.
Next we did the same but up against the white wall so I could get Jess to lean on it for some upper body shots. The lighting is pretty much the same. The overall look of these shots is a natural, uncomplicated one, and Emily, the make-up artists has created a very natural, and clean look for Jessica’s face and hair. Blonde hair always looks good on a grey backdrop. I wanted to keep the costume simple as well, so bare shoulders for the head and shoulders shot keeps that simple graphic feel, and a simple white shirt here does the same. Frank Doorhof talks about taking away the “but” from your images – ie “its great but….” and for me this means striving to bring all the elements together – from the right model, hair, make-up, costume, lighting and composition of the shot (angles, distance).
Jessica then went back for a costume and make-up change – leather jacket, sparkly top, and full-on dramatic glamour make-up. This next set was inspired by the work of Jake Hicks. Jake uses a lot of gels and despite his trousers hanging around his knees, I like his work. Now, I do like to plan these shoots to maximise the time, and if you think about the shoot time (5 hours in this case) as a budget, and the tasks all have a time-cost, then make-up and hair is expensive. My make up and hair stylist – Emily, is fast, perhaps the fastest I’ve worked with, but even so, a full change of look like this can take 30-40 minutes. Putting the hair up can take 10, so I try to make use of a look or elements of it that are time-consuming to achieve, before letting them go. So we retained the hair up look for the first few shots with the leather jacket. SetALight3D doesn’t show the gels colours on the lights that have them for some reason (but it does how the colour where the light falls on the model). The right hand light at the back is gelled blue, and the left hand light is gelled yellow. The key light with the beauty dish is not gelled. So why use gels to shoot a black and white picture? When you make the black & white image in Lightroom, you get to choose how bright each colour channel will be, so by having the lights different colours, I can mess with ‘em in Lightroom, and the effects can be really dramatic. Especially effective is the white balance slider – move this back and forth and you’ll see different versions of your image flick past – just stop on one you like 🙂 You can also take liberties with the highlights that perhaps don’t work as well in colour and so for this shot I dialed down the white balance to maximise the blue. Also try moving the tint slider, and of course, the individual colour channels in the B&W channel mixer panel.
Then I had Emily take Jessica’s long, blonde hair down for the main shot I was after with this look. I introduced two more elements into this: some wind to get some more dynamism into the image, and some fog in the background to get the colour of the light into the background. We put up a black background for this btw, which really helps in a small space.
On the right is a picture of the little blower that I use on set. You can pick these up via eBay from a variety of sellers for about £25-£35. They create a powerful jet of air and used from about 5 to 8 feet away, are powerful enough to blow a model’s hair straight back, so you need to time the shot carefully to get the hair in the right position. It also makes a lot of noise. A *lot* of noise. Of course this doesn’t show up on the image 😛 so you don’t really need to spend £500 on a studio wind machine. On location, this is only about 550Watt so you could potentially power it with an inverter, or use a petrol powered leaf blower! The downside is that you do need someone to operate it – as it;s way too powerful to leave on, even if you did gaffer tape it to a stick. Your poor model will be blown away. Emily was “director of wind” for this shoot and did a fine job lifting Jessica’s hair.
There are a couple of ways to get the flare from the lights needed to see the colours in the background. I know Jake uses diffusers on his lens to achieve this look and I did try one, but it kind of ruins the rest of the image to be honest, so I tend to just pump a bit of fog into the background. You need the fog quite even, so waft it about and give it a minute or so. It will reduce the contrast on your subject, but hey! We have a thing for that – just brush it back on in Lightroom. In a pinch you can do what Frank Doorhof sometimes does and have someone breathe on the lens from one side just before he takes the shot.
First we went for some static (windless) poses, and I had to get the sparkly top Jessica had brought in on the action. Then it was time to let rip with the blower and after a few attempts we got a nice arrangement of hair. I was looking for a nice loop of hair rather than it all streaming out behind Jessica, so for each run, I had Jessica put her hair on her shoulders, so the ends would drag on the jacket.
I tested this blower on myself when I bought it, and even from 6 feet away, it is hard to maintain any kind of composure in such a strong air-stream. Jessica not only did that but managed to create the confident, and slightly arrogant look I asked her for to go with the outfit. You can see the fog bound small studio after the shoot above. Note the gels have been removed from the back lights and there’s a 4th light centre below camera which was not used in these shots. Thanks for John, Jessica and Emily for helping bring these images about, and to Joel and Jake for the inspiration – I had a great time making them.