Here are some of the things we went through in the workshop last month. There was a lot of content to cover which meant restricting the amount of sets and lighting styles to cover each one in depth. Our model for the day, Vicky provided all the outfits whilst hair and makeup was done by studio owner Becky Hampson. We started off with a simple beauty shot to talk about setting up 3 lights one at a time, starting with the key, using the light-meter to get the others at the exact ratio we wanted. The background is provided by a 1.2 metre octabox, facing the camera and back-lighting the model. Fill is provided by a strip box from below, and the key light is a diffused beauty dish. This is a pretty formulaic and easily repeatable setup – it’s a bit like building your own Photo-Me! booth for beauty shots: once it’s set up and the lights are dialled in, you can just blast away. There are lots of variations on this using reflectors instead of a second softbox for fill or with a Tri-Flector, or with a front-lit background and so on. I like this set-up as the background light washes over the edges of the model – you just need to be careful not to crank up the background light too much or the light will eat into the edges of the hair and other fine detail. You can meter this to get started, however this is really a creative decision – I tend to start at 2 stops over the key light, with the octabox about a foot behind the model.
Then we moved on to the creative stuff, altering the angle of view against a single octabox, from backlit to side-lit to front lit. Adding rim lights and finally back-lighting which coupled with some port-production editing can produce some dramatic results. See the basic setup for the octa plus strip box for rim light here. See how close the octa is to Vicky? This gives us the softest light, but also with the fastest falloff, rendering dramatic light on the model, and a darker background, as it is getting much less light proportional to the model (remember the light intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the light source). The rim light, on the other hand, is harsher, and more even along the model’s profile as distance to the light is roughly consistent all the way down as the light is further away: ie a few inches either way is nothing when the light is 8 foot away.
The final shot from this set-up is below. The octabox was just out of shot for this frame, and the image has been extended to the left in post production. Using this technique, you can get much more dramatic light whilst retaining a more balanced frame, and working in a small studio with limited width is no problem. Of course this only works with plain backgrounds, or you are into full cutting and compositing onto a new background. I actually do take these “portraits” in “portrait” mode – to maximise the resolution. The resulting file below is around 7500 pixels square full size.
Expanding the background to get a good frame and layout to the image is something you can do with a blank seamless background. In Photoshop, I expand the canvas, usually to the left, but also sometimes I add a little on the right or top and bottom if I need to. However nine times out of ten, I’m just expanding the canvas to the left of the model. I like to have the model on the right hand side, looking left – this gives a good balance to the image, and room for text on the left. I then select a rectangular strip all the way down the image from the left of the model all the way to the left hand edge of the original image. The, using the free transform tool, I’ll drag it over to cover the bigger area we just created. Then I blur the background by duplicating the layer, selecting and cutting out the model on the new layer, blurring what’s left and adding 1% monochromatic Gaussian noise to remove the banding that the Gaussian blur makes and then pasting the model back down. I’ll then mask out this blurred background around the feet to restore the shadows so the model looks connected to the environment once more. You could, of course do a precise selection and put the model into a completely different background – however that’s another story:)
We then went on to swap the strip-light in for the octabox as the main light to camera left and added a strobe with a standard reflector directly behind Vicky, pointing back at the camera at her shoulder height. This is something you might normally do with fog (or “smoke”), however I found that be cranking the light up, I can get a good edge light all around, and I can delete the stand and power cables that would normally be hidden by the fog, in post production. This is so easy now in Photoshop Cs6 using a combination of clone stamping, healing brush, patch tool and content aware deletion, along with some very precise selections using the pen tool. This invisible light source gives us even more drama to the light and this final shot is my favourite from the day. Big thanks to Vicky for being such a great model, and to Bex who not only owns and runs the studio, she did Vicky’s hair on the day. Bex also does a whole raft of other stuff including pole fitness classes, and operating a model agency – she has an entire wall of certificates for things she’s qualified to teach or do – seriously – check it out if you visit. You can see details of the studio here: http://bodycouturestudios.co.uk/