B&W Nudes w/ low lighting

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by sean_bernsen, Jun 29, 2003.

  1. I'm going to be shooting a B&W series for a class that I'm in but not sure how to get the effect desired. I'm doing a series of nudes but with black or dark backgrounds and trying to high light sections of the body at a time and the rest be shadows. Can anyone give me some advise on ways to achieve this. Here is a good example of what I'm trying to acheive. http://www.scotthanson.com/html/crossed_arms.html
  2. Scott,

    About 5 years ago, I saw a website that was the reason for my REALLY taking photography seriously. The technique the man used was not described in detail, so I went after the same affect (as you mention) by trial, error, study, experimentation, and frustration. The biggest mistake I see in other photographer's attempts at achieving this, is the use of flash. It just doesn't deliver the warmth in the shadows. I probably do low key better than anything else I do, and I do it with amazingly primitive equipment. I use various gobos in a certain method, with "hot lights". (If you consider 60 watt bulbs hot...smiles). One of my preferred lights, is the first one I constructed. It was made by cutting the bottom off of a small fire extinguisher, mounting a light socket in the other end (the inside of the top where it bottle necks), and inserting a 60 or 100 light bulb. I plug it in to an extension cord with an inline dimmer switch like you would have in any room of your house. This allows me to control the highlights, and avoid the "wash out" look of flash. Mounted to an old tripod, it is very easy to position. In some cases, I have taped a small sheet of tracing paper over the end to act as a diffuser, and two black cardboard barn doors to control the flow of the light.

    For bigger subjects, I constructed a "dressing frame", like women used to use to change behind. It consists of two frames made of 1-inch pvc pipe that measure two feet wide by six feet tall. One of the frames has white parachute material stretched around it, and the other has black vinyl stretched around it. The two are connected side by side with what ever is handy, i.e. bunge cords, tape, etc. The black side prevents light on my background (a black bed sheet), and the behind the parachute clothe, I put a light like the one above, or a lamp, or whatever you choose. The diffusion characteristics are great!

    Finally, use a fine grain 400 speed film (I prefer Ilford HP5), use a GOOD lens, and a shallow depth of field. By using the shallow depth of field, a black backdrop places 4 or 5 feet behind your subject will "disappear into blackness", so to speak. Any slight wrinkles won't show up.

    For five of examples of my work with the above tools, you can go to http://www.ironsaddle.net/links/gal_faces.html

    And always remember, it doesn't matter how much you spend, or what you use, the end result is all that counts!
  3. P.S...sorry about mis-addressing you, Sean. I'm horrible with names in real life, I just didn't know it carried over to the pc! (smiles)
  4. If you'll notice, the contrast in the posted image is due mostly to the sheen on the model's body. Without that, or with too much diffusion, the image would have a much subtler range of greys. A silver reflector would also help.
  5. don't know how to attach on this system, so here's a link to a photo that i uploaded for you:


    the harsh lighting on this was intended, but could obviously have been much more subtle.

    you need to know your lighting, meaning how light works. here's a good place to start:

    if the film sees 4 1/3 stop less light (reflective meter) coming from the background than is set on the camera (for subject), it's going to record as black - no matter what color, surface, reflectivity it actually is. if it sees 2 1/3 MORE light coming from the background, no matter what color etc., it's going to record as white without detail.

    and a fyi: the artistic term for highlight and shadow interplay is chiaroscuro.
  6. ok, so now i see how to upload.
  7. [​IMG] Backlit with studio flash. Use barndoors or similar to keep light off the background - and off the lens!
  8. Now where did that go? Try again...
  9. Will, with all due respect, I beg to differ. The first 5 rolls I shot trying to achieve a black background were with dark grey and dark green sheets. None of those test pictures have a true black background when developed for the highlights. One whole series, unfortanately, wrinkles could be detected, oh so slightly, in the background. Some of this can be corrected in the darkroom, providing the photographer has one. At that time I didn't, and relied on commercial printers. (thank god I got over that!) And IMHO, doesn't it make sense to try as best you can to shoot it the way you want it to avoid corrections in the darkroom?

    P.S. - Ole, you have my respect as far as the delicate use of studio flash, nicely done!
  10. actually, it's not my opinion; it's common theory of light which is hardly debatable. look at a zone system calibration, go to middle gray, count down 4 1/3 stops. that lands you dead in zone 2; no perceptible texture.

    check your light meter....
  11. my mistake; it lands you in zone 0. no texture. i was looking at something else when i typed that.
  12. none of these examples look like "low light" photography. Light the subject well, and underexpose if you want the entire set to be rendered dark. If you want the background substantially darker than the subject, be sure there's more light on the subject than there is on the background. If subject and background are less than 3 stops different from each other, they will both easily record on a normally developed sheet of film and in a straight print on normal paper, normally developed when photographed in the same light.
    The easiest fix is to not have background and subject in the same light. Either block light off the background, or move it further from the lightsource that illuminates your subject, and not into a secondary light source.
    Your example, Sean, looks like a bright small light (small relative to the size of the subject) set at 90 degress to the lens axis and projecting it's beam parallel with the subjects thigh. She is oiled and sprayed with water, and most likely, dark skinned. "Crossed_Arms" is lit with a larger source at the same position. Of importance in both images is the directional quality of the main light (grid or softbox), and the lack of fill light. Hang black cloth on the left of the set and behind the camera, wear dark clothes, and be sure there is nothing light in the room (ceiling?) that might reflect into the set... t
  13. My apologies Will, I stand corrected. I was only speaking from experience and didn't take time to look up the 'theory'.
  14. Steven opined:

    “The biggest mistake I see in other photographer's attempts at achieving this, is the use of flash. It just doesn't deliver the warmth in the shadows.”

    I have seen this idea and related ideas put forth many times. But, any lighting effect that can be achieved with one light source can also be produced with other light sources. It’s not clear what “warmth” refers to in this context. Color temperature is not generally an issue when using B&W film, so what is meant by the term?

    This may seem a small point, but it is important to use terms carefully so that we all understand what they mean. Otherwise, our discussions are lacking in precision and meaning.


    Joe Stephenson
  15. Maybe it's the other area of confusion (there are only 2, you know), when mixing the terms "flash" and "strobe" and their mechanical origins, on camera units and studio equipment. I break them down like that, but not everyone else does. Your point (Joe) is a good one: Be clear at the expense of being obvious... t

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