Feed your self. Modelling. Lights. White walls.

Hello there,

After shooting food and interiors for 6 months I needed to do something for myself. Wait, that sounds somewhat selfish so let me extrapolate: one of the reasons we do this (and by extension painting, design, music, films, anything creative) is to feed that little thing inside of us that yearns to do something other than sit in an office for 9 hours a day watching the clock until we can become ourselves again.

Recently I was chatting with a dear friend of mine (hello, D) about ‘art’ and feeding oneself. The crux of my perspective is that for every bit of client work you do you’ve got to do something for yourself that isn’t for money, or to a brief, or with art directors or whatever happens on set/in-studio. For me, that’s sometimes walking off by myself in the woods and taking crappy macro shots of whatever I see in there, or it’s walking around the block with a 50mm and seeing what I see outside my front door. For you that might be throwing paint on a canvas, or carving something from windfallen branches.

And honestly, sometimes I come back with 20 awesome images and sometimes I come back with 1 that’s a 5/10 after 3 hours. That doesn’t really matter though, the fact is you’re out there indulging that part of you that needs to feel the breeze, see the rocks, and not worry.

Anyway, hopefully you get the point.

That leads us at last to the subject of this post: a shoot with a model I adore and love working with and an excuse to use my fancy lenses that don’t seem to get much use in the commercial realm in which I operate.

Super simple lighting setup here:

Key light – Godox AD600 into a softlighter
Rim light – Godox AD600 into a silver umbrella

Key is camera right, in front, and pretty high (look at the shadow under her nose). The rim light is around the back left which you can see is lighting up the model’s waist, shoulder, hair and providing the separation between subject and background. If that light wasn’t there, the whole left side becomes black and we don’t want that if we can help it. If you have to bring up the shadows in post you’re going to get noise (noise only lives in the shadows btw, it’s the camera sensor trying to put in information that isn’t there), so stick a light source round there (reflector, or have the model put their back to the sun) and you get a definite distinction between the layers of foreground, subject, background.

Some notes on the terms:

Key light – to me this is the light that covers the entirety of the subject from the front.
Rim light – you can call this a separation light, that’s probably a lot easier.

When I light I’m thinking inversely. As in, I’m thinking where I want the shadows to be as oppose to what I want to light. Then if you want to get into it you can drill down into how you want the nature of the shadows to be – hard, soft, gentle, harsh – then choose your modifier or setup to match. It’s the whole thing of ‘working backwards’ – envision what you’re aiming at and work towards it.

For this setup I wanted harder shadows:

I love that shot. The hands are perfect (nothing to do with me). This is literally a white wall in a hotel room and a silver umbrella at just above head height and more in less directly in front of the model pointing right at her.

This is where I need to give props to the model. My direction consisted of something like “hey, what about here?” and pointing at a spot on the wall in between the TV and the coat hooks. The rest is all her and it’s professionals like this that mean we’re going to get awesome images.

The lighting surely helps but you can only shoot what’s in front of you, and if they’re one of those people who think modelling is just looking at the camera so you get 200 copies of the same pose, you’re not going to have a productive shoot and, for me, it’s tiring to constantly direct as well as thinking about all the other stuff.

Same setup.

Now this was on a very sunny day in a room with an enormous window that takes up one wall. This meant that we’re dealing with a very bright light source and in order to shoot at f/2 or f/2.2 we’d need to be at a very fast shutter speed. The AD600 lights can get down to 1/8000 and sync, but then we get issues like colour balancing (tinted windows), shadows from the sunlight, and a myriad of things I’m not interested in dealing with. So draw the curtains and replicate the sunlight.

I wanted this to feel natural, like a lazy morning away, not obviously lit and setup or contrived. That meant roughing up the bed for 5 minutes by basically pulling off the covers then ‘making it’ pretty half-assedly, then throwing the pillows in an about right position to make it look slept in. I find it quite distracting and breaking the 4th wall when shoots in bedrooms are on these perfectly crisp sheets and very obviously just made beds… plus, nobody in the real world makes beds like they do in hotels.

Here I’m basically trying to replicate sunlight by using a big, soft light just off the edge of the bed.

The closer the light = the softer it becomes. Move that sucker in close.

There’s no separation lights or anything here, just the one light off to the right and a camera at 85mm and f/2. I wanted to be at eye level so it looks more intimate and honestly the higher up I got the more it just looked like an ass shot, which is all well and good sometimes, but wasn’t what I wanted to achieve. This is all about the face and positions of the hands and shoulders and, for me, I find it more alluring when it’s seductive rather than blatant. I got in touch with the model and asked if she could talk a little about her process during shoots:

“Tips I’ve learned are:

Always watch your hands, try to make sure your palm isn’t facing the camera.

Pick 5 different places to look when posing before completely changing the pose again, make small changes first, before making a big change of posture.

Try your best to act natural, not forced – you can always tell when a model looks uncomfortable in a photo.

Practice facial expressions, to bring something different to every photo – sassy, seductive, fierce, proud, etc”


Moved the light to the foot of the bed, switched to 135mm and cropped some shots to a 16×9 aspect ratio to make it look more cinematic.





That’s wide open at f/2, with the light down to it’s lowest setting.

In beauty shoots one of the most tried and true lighting systems is called Clamshell lighting, which is basically 2 light sources on an axis and the subject in the middle. Essentially, one light above, one below, model in the middle. It’s a timeless setup that isn’t always available due to space or time or a million other reasons. But, you can do the same thing by having the model lay down and put a light just past their head and a reflector or something just out of shot.

Like that.

Change the angle and you get this:

Exactly the same light but the model just twisted slightly so it fell differently. I think that’s a beautiful photograph.

Someone emailed me about editing. Specifically colour grading. You may have noticed that in these images apart from the monchromes there are no pure blacks or pure whites. That’s a stylistic choice made for this shoot, and in other shoots you’ll find the whole gamut. I made that choice here to make the images softer, less contrasty, sort of hazy, but have that warm mood.

Basically (and I do mean basically) you’ve got the shadows and you’ve got the highlights. Open up a curves panel and move the very bottom point slightly up, and the top point slightly down. Then go into the RGB channels and do the same thing with the different channels.

The way in which they work is roughly as follows:

RED CHANNEL – Moving this curve upward allows the reds to become stronger. Moving this curve downward means reds become weaker,  causing reduction of red in the image. In other words the colour opposite to red will appear – mix of green and cyan.

BLUE CHANNEL – Moving this curve upward will allow the blues to become stronger and making images look cooler. Moving it downward will introduce yellows into the final image.

GREEN CHANNEL – Moving upward introduces green. Moving it downward will introduce magenta/purple.

What does this mean? It means you can correct colour casts and introduce colour casts into your image. You can make the highlights warmer and the shadows colder for that orange/teal cinema look, you can cool down a very red image, or warm up an image such as a sunset where you want to double down on reds and oranges.

Anyway. I’ve waffled enough. Honestly colour grading is something of which I only scratch the surface and all I really try to adhere to is to make the skin tones look realistic. Beyond that, it’s fair game.

Hopefully this helps out there.

Keep on clicking.