Studio shoot with Brittney & Valerie / Background Lighting

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

Last month we had the opportunity to work with two Maui models - Brittney Baker and Valerie Wessel.  Makeup and hair was done by Kahulani and Ronald assisted us on this shoot.

A white wall can be a very versatile background - it can be white, gray, dark gray, black, or almost any color you can think of as long as you control the light that falls on it.  For this entire series in the studio, the background was the same white wall.  All we did was change the lighting on it.

We began with a white background.  We lit a white seamless backdrop similar to the setup we did last year.

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

The main light was an AB800 with a 5 ft Photoflex Octodome to camera left.  We used a silver California Sunbounce Mini reflector on the right for fill.  2 AB800s with umbrellas were used to light the back wall about 1 stop over the main light to make it an even white.  We did a few full length shots, then switched to our next lighting setup.

To drop the color of the background down to gray, we turned off the two AB800s in the back. The Octodome was switched out for a WL1600 with a beauty dish boomed above the model.  The silver reflector was moved to the front and below the model to bounce light from the beauty dish back into the model. We added an AB800 with a small gridded strip softbox and a 1/8 CTO gel to edge light her.  I darkened the edges slightly in Lightroom to put more emphasis on the model.

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

Brittney is a great model to work with - not only does she know how to rock her poses, she has a look that is just wonderful to photograph.

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

If you look closely at the catchlights in her eyes, you'll see the position of the beauty dish and the reflector below.  There's one thing to be careful about when you have a light boomed above the model.  Actually, there's two things.

First, always have sandbags on your lightstands so that they don't fall over and whack your model's head.  Your model will NOT be happy if it does.  And no, that did NOT happen on this shoot. :-)

Second thing is to study the model's eyes.  Some models have deeper set eyes and if you have the light too directly above them you'll start to get shadows in the eye sockets, which isn't very flattering.  If that happens, start moving the light towards the front of the model's face while taking a few test shots until you can start to see the catchlights in the eyes.

For Brittney's next outfit, we went with more of a Hollywood glamour lighting style.

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

We used an AB800 with a gridded small strip softbox and a 1/8 CTO gel up above the back of the model to light up her hair.  We took away the beauty dish light and lit the front of the model using 2 AB800s - one with a gridded medium softbox for fill and one with a 7" reflector and a 10 degree gridspot which was aimed at the model's face.   The fill light was set to about 1 stop under the gridspot light.

Because we were using grids on the light modifiers to control the directions of light, we were able to keep most of the lights from hitting the background, which made the white wall go almost completely black.

Don't have the exact lighting measurements because I didn't have my light meter that day so we had to eyeball it. The overall effect we wanted to achieve with this lighting setup was a more dramatic look with her face being the brightest part of the image, in order to draw the viewer's eye to it.

One of the main difficulties of doing this type of lighting is trying to aim the light that has the 10 degree gridspot on it.  The gridspot turns the light into a very narrow beam that has to constantly be re-aimed at the model's face as she moves from pose to pose.  Miss it by just a little bit and her face will not have as much impact.  This is one of those times when you REALLY need to have an assistant.

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

An added benefit of keeping the fill light off of the background and feathering the light (meaning not aiming the fill light directly at the model, but rather aiming it so that the light skimmed across her front), was that the shadows that it created helped define the folds of the dress which made it look more interesting.


Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

When we started photographing Valerie in her blue dress the folds of her dress really stood out in this lighting setup.

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

Valerie is a very theatrical model, and at one point started playing around with some very dramatic poses.  To match the lighting to what she was doing, we used 2 AB800s with gridded strip softboxes for her edge lights and turned off the gridspotted AB800.  We pulled the softbox fill light off of the lightstand and lit her from underneath as her main light.  This resulted in a more evil look, similar to that of old hollywood monster movies.
Since there was very little light hitting the background wall, we were then able to add a little mood to the image by putting a splash of color to it using a Nikon SB26 on 1/16th power and a red gel.  We gaffer-taped a set of small barndoors to the SB26 to help control the amount of colored light hitting the wall.  We tried different power levels on the SB26 until we got the right amount of color intensity on the background.

A little smoke and lightning effects helped make the final image.

Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

For our final set in the studio before heading out to location, we went back to a gray background to get setup for a couple of shots of both Brittney and Valerie together.

Lighting for these final studio shots was with the AB800 and Photoflex Octodome for the main light and the two AB800 striplights. Since there was no grid on the Octodome, the light traveled past the models to light up the background a little, making it go back up to gray. While Kahulani put the finishing touches on Valerie, we did a few tests in this light with Brittney in another outfit.

 Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8


Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

We then brought Valerie back on for our final set.


Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8

These two really photograph well together. There's a nice contrast of calm, collected seriousness from Brittney and the wacky playfulness of Valerie.  They probably could start in their own TV sitcom someday.


Canon 5d mk II 70-200 f2.8L IS II iso 100 1/160@f8