In this, the second of my series of studio lighting tutorials we will be building on the Awesome Headshot Lighting setup from last time, and adding some rim lights and a hint of color via the use of color gels to give a dramatic and stylish neon look.
These images are the results from one of my many recent collaborations with my good friend and make up artist, Ciara Allen.
We shot two completely different looks in the same day with our fabulous model Li-Ann Smal from Distinct Model Management. The first, entitled "Peony" can be seen on Ciara's blog. The second look, entitled "Anthelion" can be seen in the series of images below.
The goal with this series was to create an edgy yet vibrant, and somehow slightly futuristic look. I knew straight off that I wanted to create a contrast against the softer "Peony" images we had shot earlier that day. So to me, that meant dark and dramatic. You can't get darker than black, so I knew I wanted a black background and plenty of shadows on our model.
I quickly set up my go to lighting. As you can see in the lighting diagram, the main light is pretty much the same as the Headshot lighting set up from my previous blog post. The only differences are that I have moved the light a little further away from the model, and the flash is at a little over half power, as I am shooting at f/8 to retain lots of detail. I did this for two reasons:
- Firstly. I didn't want the light to be super soft. By moving the light away, it becomes smaller in relation to the subject, thus making it a little bit harder of a light source. Again, this was discussed in the previous blog post. I upped the power to compensate for moving the light further away.
- Secondly (and most confusingly). I didn't want the main light falling off into complete shadow as dramatically as my headshot image from the previous tutorial. By moving the light away from the subject you can reduce how quickly the light falls off. This is down to some crazy physics voodoo known as 'The Inverse Square Law'. Don't even bother trying to figure out all the crazy maths, it'll hurt your brain. Just be aware that the beam of light coming out of your flash decreases in exposure value the further it travels from the flash (obviously), but the further it travels the slower the exposure value decreases. This may sound confusing, but if you think of light as having a sort of depth of exposure value it might help. So, if you place someone right next to a light source and expose them properly, the light will fall off very quickly. Resulting in deep shadows on one side of the face. Now if you move that person further away from the light and expose them properly, the light on their face will be more even as it is now falling off in EV at a slower rate as it travels further away from it's source. Phew! If you want to see it in action, Zack Arias has a decent demonstration image on his blog that should help to make sense of it all.
Ok, so now that all of the brain melting stuff is out of the way, we can get back to work. I knew I wanted to separate Li-Ann from the black background, and there's no better way to do that than with some rim light. What is rim light? Well, it's exactly what it says on the tin. A small rim of light coming from behind to highlight the edges of our subject.
When setting up rim lights I usually bring the lights up to about face or shoulder height on the stands, at roughly a 45 degree angel to the model. If using two rim lights, both lights should be about the same distance from the subject and firing at about the same power.
With the model looking straight ahead I then use the modelling lights on the strobes to exactly position where the rim falls on the subject. I prefer to have it just highlighting the edges of a persons head, face and shoulders. Try not to have the rim light spilling over onto a models nose. It's not a huge deal if the light hits the nose during the shoot, as the model moves around, but it's just a personal preference of mine that the light is not hitting the nose during initial setup while the model is looking straight ahead. I do this because when I'm shooting a portrait of someone who is looking straight ahead into the camera, I only want to see the exposure from the main light on their face with the rim lights just highlighting the edges of their silhouette.
In the lighting Diagram, you may have noticed that I used two strip boxes for my rim light. I actually prefer to use bare strobes as a rim most of the time. But on the day, the strip boxes were already set up from a previous shoot, so I just went with it. I mixed it up a bit during the shoot, bringing the strips in close for some shots for a softer edge and then backing them off for others to give more definition. Just be aware that anytime you back a light off, you will have to up it's power to compensate.
COL OR GELS
I don't know why, but whenever I think of the future my mind always sees scenes from the classic sci-fi movie 'Blade Runner'. In particular, it's neon drenched cityscapes. So, with neon on my mind, I dug into my small collection of color gels and chose a deep blue and a red color that seemed to be just on the verge of becoming a little bit pink. This combination of colors always reminds me of neon for some reason.
By the way, a color gel is basically just a transparent sheet of colored material. Put it in front of your light source and the beam will take on the color of the gel. Be aware that the saturation and shade of the color can absorb some of the light coming from your strobes. So you may need to bump up your power a little bit to compensate, depending on the gel you're using.
For this series, I started off with one blue and one red rim light. The main light had no color. To me this just didn't have the neon look I wanted, so I soon switched to two red rim lights and a blue gel on the main light. Thankfully this worked for me this time around. However, putting a color gel on your main light is not always a good idea, especially if it's a fairly saturated color. People will tend to look like aliens very fast in most cases. Just be aware of what kind of look you're trying to create before you go sticking gels on all your lights just for the heck of it.
Oh, here's a tip if you're having trouble coming up with color gel combinations that work well together. Go to your local art store (or online store) and get yourself a cheap color wheel (about €5) like the one below. I've found these to be a great help when dealing with creative color matching in the studio and during post production.
Ok, I guess I'll leave it there for now. Things got a bit ropey in the middle there with all the crazy physics talk, so I wouldn't blame you if you rage quit this blog post. If you made it to the end, I commend your patience.
If you have any questions about rim lights or color gels, or anything else you can leave a comment below, or get in touch via my Facebook Page.