What makes the light on this face so evenly distributed? Lighting reverse engineer please!

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by mood_lover, May 21, 2015.

  1. https://500px.com/photo/5897916/vladimir-malcev-actor-by-sergei-sarakhanov?from=user
    Photo of hot light being used: https://500px.com/photo/77052255/stanley-greene-war-photographer-by-sergei-sarakhanov?from=user

    I can't seem to figure out how to get this kind of lighting though I've tried getting a 5' photek softlighter (reflective umbrella) just out of frame and throwing the majority of the light in front of the subject to "feather" it. I'm about 80% close but still can't seem to figure out how the light across the face is so even and smooth. Mine has some shinier/sparklier highlights across the face which I would like to even out like in the examples.

    The photographer is using 400ISO film and has other pictures that show use of hot lights, which in my experience something like an Arri fresnel gives out a very smooth light even with just barn doors on. It's hard to tell from the catchlight what exactly what used. If anyone has done this exact kind of lighting before, please offer some insight - thank you!
  2. This is 50% guesswork, but the lighting isn't at all soft, which makes me think that it's at some distance from the subject and hence gives low falloff. That should make speculars more pronounced, but I think that's been counteracted by the subjects wearing pancake makeup - at least in the case of the two older white guys. Lighting on the black guy is overhead and slightly right, raking down across the face and body. The visible lamp to camera left is doing nothing apart from being decorative as far as I can see.
    I also suspect that a fair bit of afterwork (i.e. PhotoShop) has been done on the shots of the actors. There's a distinct line around the face of the guy looking up towards the light, and the out-of-focus parts look artificially blurred. Using layers and changing the tone curve on the face could easily even out the facial tones and calm the specular highlights, which are still visible but more evenly matched to the rest of the face tones.
    Edit: T-Max film developed in D-76 has a very peculiar tone curve. That might also give a clue.
  3. The head and shoulder shots look like Mole with a
    focal spot. The seated full figure portrait looks
    like Fresnel with barn doors. Classic old school
    Hollywood portraiture.

    The shallow DOF looks normal for medium or large
    format. Can't tell for sure how much retouching
    might have been done without a larger JPEG. George Hurrell did a ton of retouching on negatives and prints to achieve his style.
  4. SCL


    I know the portrait photog I worked with relied heavily on the use of applied pancake makeup to reduce specular highlights.
  5. My answer is 100% guesswork but if I understand your question about the lighting, rather than getting your lights so
    close, back them off far enough so when you meter them there is no fall off from the edge closest to the light to the edge
    farthest from the light. And as others have suggested use a large but non-diffused lighting source.
  6. The eyes tell the story.
    In the third photo, there is a mid-sized, circular or octagonal highlight on the top half of the eye. This makes me think the photographer use a soft box/umbrella (perhaps metal reflector on a strobe) at camera left above the subject. The highlight is not huge, so the light must be fairly far away--which would also explain the defined shows. The bottom half of the eye has a light band in them, which I assume is a reflector card/panel just out of the frame below the subject. The long shape suggests a trifold. This would help to even out the light and make it softer on the face.
    The first photo is similar, but the top highlight is smaller. Either the light is farther away or smaller.
  7. If you look at some of the catch lights in the subjects eyes, you will see a dark center area in the catch light that looks like a beauty dish. I believe, as Ellis suggests, it is pulled back. I wonder if it is using a grid to narrow the pattern and perhaps a net to control the chest area. Could modify the softness with a sock under the grid. However, it sure looks like a spotted fresnel perhaps with a half scrim. The photographer is using film and medium format and has a fresnel in one of his shots so he has them and perhaps, like me, likes the look of a fresnel and he uses the classic gear accordingly. Yes, specular edge transfer can be softened by changing the subject surface efficiency with makeup.
  8. This lighting setup tutorial might help you understand how distance and power of light can change tonality and contrast. I found it to be the best demonstration on the physics of light that I could understand.
    What others have said about distance I saw first hand with a 36 degree dispersion LED flood light that is highly directional up close but as I pulled back the spray of light widened and offered less harsh shadow roll off. I was always messing around with regular light bulbs that sprayed a 360 pattern and never knew how different a directional flood light reflected off 3D surfaces.
    You're best bet is to play around with the light you've got or get the lights others have suggested.
  9. @Rodeo Joe: it's not artificially blurred, the bokeh is just a result of using medium format film with a wide aperture.
    @Ellis Vener: thats a good tip though even when I have a light close the power doesnt change much on different points of the face (possible because I feather?). So I don't know how reliable this technique would be for making sure I'm not getting any specular highlights.
    @Allen Friday: great guess, I've contacted the photographer and he said he used a continuous light (halogen, 1000w) like a Raylab Xenos and a silver umbrella. Why do you think he used a reflector on the strobe? Also when I use a silver umbrella I get very specular highlights and hotspots so this is confusing for me.
    @Bob Bill: theres a debate between photographers that light is light yet every time I see portraits with fresnel continuous lights theres something different about them. Do you agree with this notion?
    @Tim Lookingbill: that was a great resource, though it further confirms my belief that using a silver umbrella will cause specular highlights and that a closer/larger light will smooth out the tones (though the photographer in the original post said he used a silver umbrella). Could you link me to the kind of light you're talking about? I know you noticed the shadow falloff but what about the highlights?
  10. "...every time I see portraits with fresnel continuous lights theres something different about them. Do you agree with this notion?"​
    Absolutely. Most of my experience with Fresnels is in live theater lighting. There's nothing else quite like it - evenly distributed within the focused beam, yet with definite falloff that's just gradual enough to avoid drawing attention to itself. Several times I was frustrated in low budget community theater trying to get good lighting effects with household type floods and spots, and even with the basic PAR cans.

    The cheapest way to experiment is to buy a full page plastic Fresnel sheet magnifier. Hold it in front of any lights you have at home, including camera flash. With the camera on a tripod you can even experiment with portraits. With the free hand just hold the magnifier sheet in front of the light source and try various distances, angles, etc.

    Incidentally, part of the distinctive characteristics of Andy Warhol's Big Shot Polaroid phase portraits was the Fresnel screen in front of the flash. It was roughly the size of a credit card, and at the close range for those tight head and shoulders portraits it created a direct flash look that was, for lack of a better term, theatrical rather than snapshotty. That's what's missing from many direct flash snapshots - that cheap Fresnel screen in front of the flash. Even the textured screens on most hotshoe flash units isn't quite the same. I carry a credit card sized Fresnel magnifier in my wallet to use occasionally for those closeup snaps of people. It helps minimize spill into the background.
  11. Allen, that explains the round dark area in the catch lights in some, but not all of the photos caused by the light bouncing into the umbrella. Mood, light is light, ie photons racing about, but light quality is another thing. Do those folks think there is no difference between a 5 degree grid vs a 6' octa as a main in a portrait? It is a different modifier as is a fresnel lens. It doesn't just restrict light to a 5 or 10 degree pattern like a grid, the lens collimates the light into parallel rays. I wonder if the umbrella used by the photographer was a parabolic that does a similar collimation. It may not be as controllable as the barn doors on the fresnel, but I wonder if it would give a similar look. The lens creates an evenness of light across the illuminated area and that may be the difference you are noting. It also is extremely hard so razor sharp shadows result.
  12. "@Rodeo Joe: it's not artificially blurred, the bokeh is just a result of using medium format film with a wide aperture."​
    And you know that for sure?
    I've used MF and LF film, and the sharp transition between sharp and unsharp in those head shots looks unreal to me. The plane of focus also doesn't align from one area of the image to another. Notice the very blurred hair in the shot of Mr Kazachkov, and yet a quarter inch in front of the blur the hair is almost pin sharp.
    Below is a portrait I shot that someone else setup, and had to be shot at f/16 because the flash power was too high. The hideous wallpaper background couldn't be thrown OOF in camera, so I used PS to artificially blur it. The result looks very much like the blurring in those linked portraits.
    You could get much the same effect in wet printing with a lot of dodging and de-focus work under the enlarger.
    Edit. Just seen this: https://500px.com/photo/6202675/olya-&-yanis-by-sergei-sarakhanov?from=user
    Now tell me that shot hasn't been blurred artificially.
  13. Yes I know that for sure. He used an RZ67 and if you ever used an RZ67 110mm at 2.8 you would know right away it's not artificial. If you raise the camera even slightly up like the example and shoot down on someone at 2.8 (which is paper thin on MF) everything behind the eyes fall out of focus rapidly. The hair is pin sharp just before it gets blurry because the focal plane is parallel to the lit side of his face, not straight on, look carefully at the angle of the camera.
    With a tilt-shift adapter the focal plane can be misaligned. Your blur is okay but there's a dark halo around her head and theres sharp hairs where the blur is. I see no reason for him to create it artificially really. And no, the shot you linked to isn't blurred artificially. He's using a tilt-shift lens, it says so in the description. Others have used the same arax tilt + volna 3 combo: https://www.google.com/search?q=volna-3&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=LhxlVdy4EcHAtQWasIOgAQ&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1434&bih=931#tbm=isch&q=volna+3+arax+tilt

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