Lighting Tutorial: Low-Level Lighting

Be classic.
Be classic.
Be sweet.
Be sweet.
Be sexy.
Be seductive.

I got bit by that notorious lovebug this Valentine’s Day, and to my dismay, a topical ointment has not yet been developed for it, so I just had to do a photoshoot to get rid of the itch. I teamed up once again with the always wonderful MUA Raushanah Washington to create some really romantic beauty looks. Our visage au choix was that of the beautiful Emily D. What you couldn’t see in these shots is that Frankenstein, Raushanah’s adorable bichon frise, was pretty much on top of me the entire time. All creative direction credit goes to him.

For these looks I knew the setup had to be tight and concise since space was limited; we shot in a living room with average height ceilings. Also because I didn’t have any grids handy (my personal go-to modifiers for beauty), I knew that I had a bit more of a challenge on my hands since Emily’s porcelain skin was highly reflective, and with the lights so close it was important to not lose detail. The fact that all three looks turned out to be lit using low-level lighting techniques was a coincidence, but lets pretend that I’m just awesome that way and meant for it to happen. Ok? Ok.

CLASSIC: This look, inspired by classic Hollywood lighting, was achieved using a 2-light setup. The main/fill light, a 3ft parabolic softbox, was positioned directly to my right and slightly behind me, directed at a 45-degree angle at the model. The head itself was below shoulder height, but because of the width of the softbox, the light was pretty directionless. The key light here was a head set almost at full power with a 40-degree gridded snoot. This light was set high to the left and a little behind the model, pointing directly at her. If you don’t have a snoot, a 20, 30, or 40-degree grid spot will do, although it won’t give you as narrow a beam.

Robert Carter Classic Setup

SWEET: For this look, I wanted lighting with a fun, playful pop. In this 2-light setup, the main light was a head with just a silver dome reflector, in the same position as before, just slightly lowered to create the graphic shadow cast by her necklace. I didn’t include any kind of diffusion on this light because the makeup, particularly the type of bronzer and highlight powder Raushanah used, is wonderfully luminescent, and I really wanted to it to shine. The key light was a head at half power molded using Cinefoil. If you’ve never experimented with that stuff, I highly recommend it! It’s extremely versatile as a light modifier, and can save you money if you’re just starting out and can’t afford separate modifiers like strip softboxes or grid spots. In case you’re wondering – and I know you are – yes, that cakepop was delicious.

SEDUCTIVE: This look was a tough one due to a number of factors: a) I didn’t have any solid ideas of how I wanted to light it like I did for the other two, b) we were working with chocolate syrup, which, besides being incredibly aromatic and tempting, was incredibly messy and kind of a one-shot deal, and c) we were running very low on time, and had about 7 minutes to get the shot before our model had to skedaddle. Our main light here was in the same position as our key light from the Classic shot; high to camera left and pointing slightly behind the model so that it gradated onto the background. Instead of the Cinefoil to modify the light this time, I used a scrim from a softbox to diffuse the shadow transfer edge, and turned the power down about a stop. The fill light here was a head with just a silver dome reflector powered down to a little less than half. It was left in the same position as our main light in the second shot.

Robert Carter Seductive Setup

Tip: Something to keep in mind when using low-level lighting techniques is to be aware of odd shadows, they can really ruin a shot! Features that are usually easy to light overhead can become misshapen when the light comes from below, as you no doubt found out as a kid playing with flashlights. One of my favorite things about low-level lighting is the glow that it creates that just seems to exude life and energy.

Here are some other examples of low-level lighting I’ve done over the years:

The sheen in this image was created using a strip soft box.
The sheen in this image was created using a strip soft box.
The strong, dramatic lighting in this shot was created using just a grid spot.
The strong, dramatic lighting in this shot was created using just a grid spot.
This colorful split-level lighting was achieved using two grid spots, one very low, and one high.
This colorful split-level lighting was achieved using two grid spots; one very low, and one high.
Another split-level lighting scenario. This one was achieved using a ring flash on a low stand as a main light, and a grid spot as an accent.
Another split-level lighting scenario. This one was achieved using a ring flash on a low stand as a main light, and a grid spot as an accent.

I hope this post was helpful, informative, or atleast entertaining! If you have any questions or comments, by all means don’t keep them to yourself! Share them down below in the comment section or email them to me directly at rcarterphoto@gmail.com.

Also, if there are any studio lighting setups that you’d like to me to recreate, or any from my website that you’d like an explanation of, let me know! I’m up for the challenge and here to help!!

Lighting Tutorial: Fairytail Bride

Probably one of the more memorable shooting experiences I’ve had so far, this commissioned bridal lookbook for brilliant couture bridal designer Junko Yoshioka marked a lot of firsts for me: my first bridal shoot, first commissioned shoot in New York, first model casting (I met 2 ANTM alum!!), first time building a set, first experience with a Wacom tablet in post, and my very first lookbook! So, naturally, it was absolutely terrifying. Working with the stunning Alexandra Storm @ VNY Model Management made my job that much easier, although she kept getting lost in the forest

Shooting layered, multi-textured, white-on-white gowns without losing detail proved to be pretty darn difficult, and required a lot of patience, trial-and-error, and a sizeable optometrist bill from the glare on the screen in post. For this ethereal fairytale lighting, I used a 3-light setup in the enchanted fairy forest against a wheat-colored seamless. The main light is a large beauty dish with a diffusion “sock” cover, set at a little over half power (I brought down the power in order to get as much detail in the gown as possible, and later boosted the exposure selectively in post). The beauty dish is set on a stand slightly above the model’s head about 4ft to the right of the her. The first accent light here is a strobe with a grid at half power and a periwinkle gel set about 5ft away to the left of the model. This accent light is helping to define the edges of the dress, and provided a lovely, delicate highlight across the model’s face and arm. I went with cooler colored gels because they tied in with our initial ideas of a wintery enchanted forest. The second accent light is another strobe with a grid, this time with a sky blue gel, set close to a quarter power. It is also set about 5ft away. The main purpose of this light was to provide a little fill, and to keep the cool color palette consistent. At first glance it’s hardly noticeable, especially with the surrounding forest of the same color, but as you’ll see from the “Before” image below, it gave the gown a soft glow around the edges, aiding in the airy quality of the finished product. And that’s all!! Really simple, right? About three hours (per image) in post and several spurts of hand cramps later, the enchanted forest became Alexandra’s new home.

In case you’re interested, here is the idea from conception to completion:

You’ll notice the fine attention to detail and shading, and my absolutely breathtaking draughtsmanship..just like my great great great grandfather, Henri Matisse taught me. ;-p
One of Junko’s reference images.
One of my reference images, taken from M. Night Shayamalan’s The Village.
All the images were shot using a fog machine, aiding in the ethereal quality of the light, and helping the model to better blend into the ‘misty’ forest.
Voila! The final product!

I hope this post was helpful, informative, or atleast entertaining! If you have any questions or comments, by all means don’t keep them to yourself! Share them down below in the comment section or email them to me directly at rcarterphoto@gmail.com.

Also, if there are any studio lighting setups that you’d like to me to recreate, or any from my website that you’d like an explanation of, let me know! I’m up for the challenge and here to help!!

Lighting Tutorial: 3 Looks, 2 Lights

This past week I had a last-minute opportunity to work with the stunning 6’1″ model Raelia Lewis! Sidenote: I will be billing her for my therapy expenses, as I developed an acute Napoleon complex once she put her heels on – but I digress.  A Monday opening at the studio I shoot at presented itself on Saturday, which left me with a single day to come up with a theme and a team – just enough time for me to cross my fingers and see what I could come up with at a moment’s notice. Normally, I prefer to have atleast a week to develop an idea and pull all of the necessary elements together, but I have to say, flying by the seat of my pants was pretty exhilarating! In a single day I nabbed two awesome models (the drool-worthy Phil @ Colby Models NY being the second), acquired a great makeup artist (the consistently delightful Raushanah Washington), and brainstormed with stylist Lacora Emerson (who is as energetic as her rambunctious 8 year-old son)…phew! If there was ever a time I needed Hermoine’s Time Turner, this was it!

Inspired by textiles I found particularly interesting, I decided to do a beauty story centered around them, using some of my favorite commercial fashion images as a basis for each respective image.

VELVET: For this shot inspired by the wonderfully luxe velvet sofa, I needed lighting that was equally as sumptuous. I went with a classic 2-light setup with the model about 1.5ft away from a metallic olive-colored wall. A gridded beauty dish set about 3ft above and slightly to the left of the model served as a main light, creating the gentle definition of her bone structure, and adding dimension to the textures of her jewelry. Because of the angle I was shooting at, the angle of her face, and the height of the light, there were initially no reflections of a light source in her eyes – an occurrence I refer to as “twinkling”. To add a twinkle and soften the shadows a bit, I added a fill light, a small grid set slightly lower than the model’s head about 6ft away to the right. The power on this one was turned way down, so as not to interfere too much with the direction of the main light. To help illuminate the texture in her jewelry a bit more, I moved in a 3-panel silver reflector directly under her face, angled towards her. The effects of this are most noticeable on the snakeskin and in the sliver of light in the bottom of her eyes.

CRYSTAL: For this shot inspired by the glamtastic crystal chair, I needed light that would really help the jewelry sparkle. I went with a timeless 2-light setup, using the same lights as the previous shot at different settings, with the model about 7ft away from a black seamless. As before the beauty dish was my main light, but this time I increased the height to about 5ft and boosted the power up to create longer, more defined shadows and specular highlights. This increase in height also affected the model’s facial features, as her cheekbones and eye cavities became more pronounced. The accent light was a grid, turned up to about half power about 2ft behind and to the right of the model. I decided to only highlight one side as opposed to both because I felt a complete rim light would throw off the balance of the frame in the left. Also, this way more attention is drawn to her bling!!

LEATHER: For this shot inspired by the sleek leather chair, I wanted a light that was just as chic, so I opted for a bit more modern approach, again using a simple 2-light setup with the model about 4ft away from a white seamless. The main light in this was our faithful beauty dish, set about 3ft above and slightly to the left of the model, exactly like the velvet shot. This time though, there was no second light to serve as fill light to soften the shadows. Instead, for the sake of the jewelry and to create a little more life in the eyes, I brought back in the 3-panel silver reflector directly under her face, angled towards her. The second light in this is a light with a dome reflector (no grid) with a red gel attached aimed directly at the white seamless. It is turned up to full power, which rendered the background yellow because of the light’s intensity. As the light traveled, the color of the gel took over, resulting in the red haze that washes over the model until it crosses paths with the main light. Admittedly, the yellow was a complete surprise, but I went with it. Gotta love experimenting and happy accidents!

I hope this post was helpful, informative, or atleast entertaining! If you have any questions or comments, by all means don’t keep them to yourself! Share them down below in the comment section or email them to me directly at rcarterphoto@gmail.com.

Also, if there are any studio lighting setups that you’d like to me to recreate, or any from my website that you’d like an explanation of, let me know! I’m up for the challenge and here to help!!

Lighting Tutorial: Lighting a Diva

Note: In this image a second flag was added, to block the flare of the right accent light.

This shoot was a long one – we did 6 completely different looks! The moment Veronica slipped into this gown (provided by Karima Renee for TheSkinnyMinority Image Consulting) and Tatiana worked her makeup magic, she instantly became a diva worthy of a Guinness World Reord. After she threw a couple cell phones at some poor passersby and we had provided her with the 5,897 pitted cherries imported from Australia, she decided to grace us with her presence on set for exactly 4 minutes. Here’s what I got in that sliver of time. (If I never have to see another cherry again in my life it’ll be too soon…) 

For this dramatic movie-star lighting, I used a very simple 3-light set-up against a black seamless. The main light here is a large beauty dish, set up high to the left of me at a 60-degree angle, creating the shadows under the model’s chin and curves. There is an accent light behind the model on the left at half-power with a light-blue gel to add a faint, moon-like glow and some separation. This light was flagged off from the background in order to prevent any spilling onto the black. The second accent light with the orange gel on the right is set up at the same height as the first, but is closer to the model, almost standing on the seamless. It is also set at full power. This light was not flagged, in order to create the brilliant flare that washes over her. If you look closely at the very bottom of the frame, you will notice a reflection; the model is standing on a sheet of black plexiglass. This may seem superfluous here, but in a large-scale print of this image, this simple element can add a polished touch. Here is a bird’s eye flat of what this set-up looked like, for all you visual people:

Please excuse my elementary Illustrator skills. I didn’t have a Wacom tablet handy. Then you would’ve been able to marvel at my elementary drawing skills instead. :-/

I hope this post was helpful, informative, or atleast entertaining! If you have any questions or comments, by all means don’t keep them to yourself! Share them down below in the comment section or email them to me directly at rcarterphoto@gmail.com.

Also, if there are any studio lighting setups that you’d like to me to recreate, or any from my website that you’d like an explanation of, let me know! I’m up for the challenge and here to help!!