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Behind the Scenes: Gods and Monsters

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Jan 17

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The goal for this photo shoot was to create two completely different looks using the same model in a short amount of time. In this behind the scenes video you will learn how to set up lighting for a full length portrait as well as a headshot. We focus on creating drama for both shots, and to do so we use backlighting. Backlighting your subject helps to define their shape, but still leaves a lot of detail in shadow.

Jumping Shot

When setting up lighting for a full body shot as compared to a headshot it is generally a good idea to use larger lighting modifiers such as softboxes, large umbrellas, v-flats etc. This is because you have a larger area that needs to be evenly lit. If you use small lighting modifiers to light a full body you will get a sharper falloff and part of your subject will probably not be lit.

We use parabolic reflectors often when lighting a full body because they are a very large light source but they are directional at the same time. This means you can light an entire person, and still control exactly where the light goes.

For this image we use a parabolic reflector above the subject to imitate lighting from the sky. To add a bit of definition to the subject, we also added a parabolic reflector camera left. This made sure their face wasn’t in darkness. To add a bit of pop to his face, we also used a regular reflector camera left aimed at his face.

The right side of the subject was coming out a bit dark, so we added a 24″ x 36″ soft box to brighten the shadows up a bit.

gods and monsters phlearn

gods and monsters lighting diagram full body


Setting up lighting for a headshot sounds like it may be easier than for full body because you have less of an area to light, but in truth many times it is more difficult. The reason is that each light plays a more important role. One light in the wrong place or set to the wrong intensity can take a great portrait and turn it sour.

It is also important to think about intention when lighting a portrait. Do you want to create a bright and fun portrait or are you looking for something a bit more moody. You have the ability to portrat emotion through your lighting. If you are looking to go for more of a serious somber shot, try placing your lighting behind your subject. That will place them in shadow and add a bit of mystery to the shot.

Even if you don’t use off camera lighting, you can still achieve this type of image. Having someone sit on a chair with their back facing a window at sunset will backlight your subject naturally. You could even use a reflector to fill in shadows.

To create a bit of drama in this portrait we use a 24″ x 36″ softbox camera right and behind the subject as well as a gridded beauty dish camera right. The softbox lights most of the model from behind, while the beauty dish controls where the light will fall off. This allows us to create a sharp line between shadow and highlight and choose where we want it to fall. To add a bit of definition to the top of our subject, we add an light into a 7″ reflector gridded 40 degrees and aimed directly at our subject.

gods and monsters headshot phlearn

gods and monsters lighting diagram headshot

  • eli

    Great! Very interesting, thank you!

  • Pezi Be

    Really interesting! I love the idea with the sand but personally I like the portrait much more than the other photo. The lighting here is perfect and makes the portrait look like a painting. Great job!

  • Pedro Penduko

    For the second look, I thought the softbox was placed behind the subject, which was the opposite side of the beauty dish…

  • Paul Frocchi

    Awesome! Thanks for the inspiration

  • Tim

    Would love to see the retouching for the portrait. Even better if it was the next sale ProTut…

  • Pingback: Utilizing Back Light for Two Stylized Portraits @ Spotofoto

  • Michael Gines

    Love your selection of color. Always a inspiration to see your work.

  • Bryan Leighty

    Obviously its impossible to have a beauty dish without a big dent on the side. Awesome video as always sir!!

  • Pingback: Utilizing Back Light for Two Stylized Portraits | Photo Junkiez

  • Abraham Yang

    I’m looking around your website where I can purchase the Pro tutorial on this but I can’t find it. ;) Come on, do it, do it, do it.

  • Pingback: Utilizing Back Light for Two Stylized Portraits | Fstoppers

  • James A. B.

    the minute this is a pro.. I’m a buyin… sweet shot man

  • Wolfie

    Would be nice to see a tut on doing the confetti portion of the image. I could see that being very helpful in a variety of images.

  • Serge Aganze

    Would like to see the photoshop behind this images, especially the second. How to achieve that look.

Episode Transcript

Half of day, one model, two looks and here’s how we did the lighting.

Hey guys welcome to Phlearn my name is Aaron Nace. You can find me on Twitter @aknacer, today we are taking a look at behind the scenes and how we did a recent shoot involving one model with two completely separate looks and we’re going to show you how we did the lighting for each of them.

The concept was to bring a model into the studio, get two interesting shots out of it with two interesting lighting setups and not take a whole long time to do it, so we did both of these looks in under four hours.
The first shot we’re going to talk about is the jump shot and photo wrapping someone from full body is quite different from photographing just a portrait. First of all when you’re using a portrait, you don’t have a whole lot of area, so your lighting modifiers tend to be a little bit smaller. You can get away with smaller reflectors and view your distances and things like that. If you’re photographing a large area like a whole a scene or someone that is full body you need slightly larger lighting with modifiers and they are going to create a more even look across the subject.

In order for this to look natural we were going for a little bit like a stormy, cloudy day in which a little bit of light would actually be coming from above. Now obviously this is shot in a studio, it doesn’t look like it’s natural light, but we did want a large light for us to come from above, so that’s why we put a Parabolic reflector all the way completely above our subject and that’s boomed out. That’s actually the main light in the shot and that’s what creates the look that we can see to kind of give the entire top of our subject, that really nice rim and highlights things like the hair detail, all the fur, and even the dirt flying around.
Once our subject is comfortable with the direction that they were going to be jumping we decided we needed a couple more lights that would kind of outline their facial features a little bit. We wanted something that was really going to catch in their eyes, separates them out from everything else that is going on as well as provides a little bit more of that red light.

To create that catch light you we put a seven inch reflector off to the camera on the left and that’s just trying to direct me into the subject’s eyes, so that is going right to your end really carving their face out from everything else.
For the rest of the room we used another Parabolic and that falls to the left of the camera as well, so we’ve got those two lights off to the camera left, one just a small point light going directly to our subject face and the other is quite a bit larger and that’s just really creating that nice frame. Now when we started the shoot all we had was the light on the top and then the two there on the left. The right one we’re leaving completely blank and that would be a lot more like what natural light does. Natural light tends to kind of come from one direction, so it was like top and from one side. The problem was we were not really getting much detail there on the camera right, so we decided to add another soft box, this time just a small soft box and we brought the power pretty far down on that, so it’s not really carved out the subject, it doesn’t extenuate much to the subject, it just adds a little bit of detail there where it was going almost complete black.

For our lighting we’re using Paul Buff Einstein, so it’s a laceration on those is extremely short, meaning the timing of which the flash fires those all the way up to the full intensity and then back down to zero is a very, very short amount of time, so what it does it’s very good at capturing movement and any time you’re having someone jump in the air or doing some kind of action and we you want to freeze it, you want to make sure your flash rations are very short.

To make the shot a little more interesting we decided to add some thick sand into the mix so it would make it look like almost like he’s jumping through an environment, so the sand we sprinkled on his shoulders and his head before every single shot, and even put some on his hands, so he’d be jumping through the shot he kind of releases the sand and it slows all the way back behind him. Now in both directions we are going to photograph even more sand this time on its own and add that to the shot to make it really look like he’s kind of jumping through a mixture of sand and rocks that really add a lot of interest to the shot.
Here’s another secret, we use baby oil in a lot of our shoots.

We put a little bit of baby oil on the skin of our subject and that really helps define the skin a little bit better, so those nice highlights you see carved out with his muscular frame, those are because of the baby oil. Any time we get a model in our studio we really love to take advantage of the time, so that means usually getting a couple of different shots even if the models, the same model, the same wardrobe and everything, but it will just give you a little bit more variety and when publishing these images it gives you a little bit more of a story to kind of go behind. In this case we talked about the jumping shot and that was kind of our action shot. The second shot is more of like and intensive shot, maybe this is the night before, he’s thinking about how he’s going to conquering his enemies or whatever, but this is going to be our tentative shot.

To really start we really did want him to look a little bit more natural as well, but still pretty dramatic, so we’re lighting it again from the top and from the sides, but all of our lighting modifiers goes down inside because we’re not photographing his entire body. The lighting from above instead of being a giant 86 inch Parabolic reflector we actually used a much smaller light, this is a seven inch reflector and it has a 46 degree spot grade so that spot grade really directs the light, so the light is going out at a thick beam like this, it really kind of directs it in just so it’s going to hit the top of our subject’s head, it’s not even much on their shoulder.
Now the lighting power was turned down and we didn’t want it to be like something that was really calling a lot of attention to the top of his head, mostly just for the detail. Now that we have our hair lighting place what we want to do is carve out the rest of his face with the light and often times if your lighting the subject, if you could put up the light right in front of the subject their going to be bright and their lips, it’s not really going to be that interesting, so playing around with the shadows and the highlights is a lot of fun and to do that we need a large area of our subject, but we still need to control the fall off.
In other words we wanted to dictate where the light went from light all the way into shadow and to do that we use two lights.

The first light is back behind our subject and that’s just a medium size soft box, now that lighting most of the subject from behind, but the real important light here is the beauty dish and that’s a little bit off to the side and it’s got a 40 degrees spot on it as well. That grid just like the grid on the hair light is directing the light right to where we want it, so we can decide if we move it slightly to the right or the left if not we’re going to bring the shadow highlight line from here to here, to here, each of those are going to give you a completely different attach.

The combinations of those three lights, each of which is really focused gives us a great portrait, that it gives some detail, but it doesn’t give you too much information, so it doesn’t give away the whole story, your still kind of left guessing at what else is there. Here’s a cool trick, you want someone to look like pensive and emotional just have them look at the floor, it’s a really simple trick and it works out on trained models as well as untrained models, just have them kind of like look down and drop their chin and it works pretty much every time, that’s why he looks pretty depressed right now, so that’s good.
That’s both of our lighting setups in a nutshell.

It’s really cool to be able to bring a model on set and have one specific look and when we’re done with that just switch up the lighting a little bit and get a completely different look out of your subject and not take a whole lot of time doing it.

To achieve drama we tend to light people from behind instead of the front, but that’s just how we do it. How do you guys go about achieving drama in your photo shoot? Let us know any comments down below.

Thanks so much for watching guys, I’ll Phlearn you later. Bye everyone.

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