Behind the Scenes: Light My Fire
The lighting for this image is one of the more complex setups we have done for a portrait. Four lights were used to create this unique look, each with a different colored gel. When setting up lighting like this, it is best to start with one light and get it how you want then move to the next. That way you are building upon something rather than trying to do the entire look at once.
The first light is a Paul Buff Einstien shot into a stripbox and gelled red. This is off to the camera left so it hits the back of the subject as well as the background. The next light is an Einstien into a medium sized soft box camera right gelled blue. These two lights combine on the background to create purple in the center of the image.
The third light is an Einstien with a 22″ beauty dish and a 40 degree grid gelled CTO. This warm light coming from behind the model gives her a bit of rim, and also imitates the light coming from the sparkler. The last light is an Einstien fixed with a 7″ reflector and a 40 degree grid gelled cyan. The light is boomed out over the subject and aimed at her face. The grid allows the light to have a very tight falloff, and the cyan color balances out the orange from the beauty dish.
Using a Sparkler
When creating an interesting portrait it helps to have a few different elements in place. One of the best things you can add to a portrait is a prop. Props help to add interest to an image as well as give something for the subject to interact with. Check out the work of photographer Peter Yang to see some brilliant use of props.
For this portrait we toyed with the idea of using several different props including flowers and black fabric. Each of which would have produced a completely different look. We decided it would be fun to use a sparkler, but at the time had no idea that the sparks would wind up hitting our model. We started out trying to get the sparks to not hit anyone. After we captured an image where one of the sparks hit the model’s face we knew that was the right direction for the photo shoot.
At this point you are faced with an interesting challenge. Trying to convince another person to put a sparler inches from their face while having a wind machine blow as many sparks into their face as possible. I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree, but there are some things that you can do to help people push their boundaries a little. First I held the sparkler to my own face as a test to see if the sparks did in fact hurt. If they had, there would be no way that I would have asked someone else to do the same. It turns out that they didn’t hurt, and that helped bring the idea forward. Another thing that helps people to feel comfortable is to show them the photos as you are shooting. If they can see that their efforts are paying off, they may be more inclined to move forward.
Now just because we used sparklers in this photo and they happened to not hurt I am not telling you to do the same. Sparklers are dangerous and I don’t suggest putting them anywhere near your face. You could have a different brand that may react completely differently.
This final image is a combination of several different photos. All the effects are real and have not been exaggerated in Photoshop.
Aaron Nace: Welcome to behind the scenes of our latest beauty portrait involving sparklers.
Hey guys, welcome to PHLEARN. My name is Aaron Nace. You can find me on Twitter at aknacer. Welcome behind the scenes of our latest portrait shoot involving sparklers. We have a lot of challenges to overcome in the shoot. We’re going to talk to you a little bit about lighting, the concept, how everything came together and how we overcame some of our challenges.
Our goal was to create a really interesting portrait that was both beautiful and a little bit unique at the same time. Usually when creating something like this you want a couple of different elements to be in place.
First of all, you want to find a model who is relatively expressive with their facial features and how they pose. Someone who is just staring at the camera blankly really won’t work most of the time if you’re looking for something a little bit more than just your standard beauty shot.
The next thing we’re looking for is really interesting lighting. For this we went all over the internet looking for references, and in the end we decided to go with a lighting setup that we’ve never used before. It created a lot of challenges, but in the end it created a really beautiful light. We’ll talk you through that lighting setup.
The first light we used is a stripbox, that’s camera left. The reason why we used a stripbox is because we wanted our lighting to be relatively contained. All the lights in this image have grids on them or very, like a small throat. That’s because we didn’t want one light overpowering the other light. We’re mixing colors and in this case the light off to the left with the stripbox is gelled red and that’s what’s creating that red cast on the background as well as on our subject.
The next light is all the way camera right, and this is behind our subject. This is gelled blue. It’s in a medium sized soft box and this time it’s just hitting the background.
What we’re getting is the light from the left with the red gel, the light from the right with the blue gel and where they mix in the middle kind of creates that really nice purple color.
Our third light is a beauty dish and that’s located right above and behind our subject. It’s got a quarter CTO gel on it. It’s a little bit kind of orange, and it warms the image up a little bit. It kind of plays off that purple in the background color and gives it a bit of a rim light around our subject.
The last light that really ties everything together is actually boomed out right in front of our subject. It’s in a 7-inch reflector that’s gridded with a 40-degree spot grid, and that has a cyan gel on it. I’ll explain why we did all those things.
The reason it’s gridded is because we wanted it to just hit our subject. We didn’t want it to hit the background, and for that matter not even our whole subject, mostly just her face. We used the cyan color so it would balance out the warm colors coming from the rim light in the background, that beauty dish that we use.
Again, you kind of have a play between warm and cool that work together. It’s got a really tight follow off that was hitting her face, but by the time it gets down to her mid torso you can’t even see the light anymore. It really does give a focal point to the image and you know exactly what to look at.
The next element we use to create an interesting portrait is usually some kind of prop. This can be anything. This can be an animal, it could be even another subject kind of used as a prop or it can be just an everyday object.
In this case we tried to play around with a few different things. We used flowers and some fabric and eventually we came upon the idea to use a sparkler. We had a few left over from the shoot we did before, and we thought it might be pretty interesting, especially with this lighting, to kind of put a sparkler in the shot.
Having your interesting subject and interesting lighting, make sure you include a prop because that will give your subject something to kind of play against and add that little bit more interest into the photo.
We’re shooting with the sparkler and everything looks good. It’s a little bit crazy and it smells horrible and it’s getting all smoky in the studio. We’re taking the pictures and everything looks great and in one of the frames we notice that one of the sparks from the sparkler actually came and tapped the subject right near her eye and it kind of fell off. We happened to capture that on camera just purely by luck. We’re looking through these and we’re shooting tethered so we can see everything that’s actually on the computer screen while we shoot. Looking through this and everyone saw this shot and they’re like, oh my god, that is so cool. We decided then we were going to go ahead and push that boundary a little bit.
After some tests using actually myself as a guinea pig holding a sparkler near my face and a little bit farther to figure out kind of about how close I could get a sparkler to my face without it hurting. It turned out you were able to get it really, really close and it didn’t really hurt at all, which is great.
The next piece of the puzzle was getting our subject to feel comfortable holding a sparkler that sparks were going to come hit her face. This is something that really don’t try to force the model into this. If the model gets excited about the picture, she gets excited about the concept and she wants to do it, or he, great. Then you have a really nice collaboration. But if someone’s like, no, I’m not going to do that, please don’t force anyone to do something like this because it’s a little bit dangerous and you want to make sure that the person involved is really comfortable doing it and, in fact, they do want to take care of that.
One way we go about giving confidence to our subjects is to kind of show them the pictures. That’s why we shoot tethered so they can see the pictures as they’re coming up and they can see, oh my god, this is looking amazing, and we’re like, okay, wouldn’t it be even cooler if these sparks were coming out and hitting your face and they’re like oh my god, that’s scary, but yeah it would be really cool. We try to inspire that confidence in our subjects as well and that’s how we usually can push the boundary a little bit farther than most people.
We decided we were going to have the sparks from the sparkler go ahead and hit our subjects face. I know you guys are like you are absolutely crazy and we need to shut down Phlearn, you’re endangering people, and I promise it really was not as bad as it seems. We wanted the sparklers, the sparks to kind of touch the face of our subject and one way we went about doing that is create … we actually brought in a wind machine just to the right of the camera. As our subject was standing there she had her eyes closed, she was braced for this, and she was basically holding the sparkler and we used a wind machine that was going to blow the sparks in and have them bounce off of our subject’s face.
All of the pictures you see here are straight out of the camera. These have not been retouched in any way. The subject actually did go through this and she’s a boss because of it.
Ashley: Definitely, it was hard to keep my face pretty still because it was so scary to have it close, but it didn’t hurt so it ended up being okay. I got used to it by the third time.
Aaron: Yeah, you were very brave.
Aaron: Awesome job. To make sure we had the maximum effect we wanted to use a longer shutter speed, and that would mean it would capture a lot of the sparks coming and hitting her face so it wasn’t like one or two. What we wound up doing is cranking our shutter speed down really low, down to one second, and with that it was completely dark in the room. We turned off all the lights, we’re using a long shutter speed and when you get to that point sometimes your cameras might have a little bit of problem focusing. We have a small flashlight we keep on set and we can aim that at the subject for a second or two, go ahead and get the focus, move the flashlight down and then shoot. We were shooting in complete darkness. The only thing was the sparkler kind of going on her face and it was a really, really cool shoot to witness and the images turned out amazing.
None of this would’ve come together if it wasn’t for an amazing team. That’s one of the biggest things that I would promote is try to get someone you really love and trust to do hair and makeup and get them onset with you every single time you shoot and you’ll kind of work that bond. If you’re really familiar and friendly with your hair stylist and makeup artist, if a model comes on set and everyone else is already really familiar and happy with them it’s going to help them calm down and get cool as well.
Work with a good team and work with a team who really cares. We probably went through four or five different hairstyles on this shoot alone. The first one we shot in and it was just like, no it’s not exactly right. We have a very dedicated hair stylist who wanted to do it over and over and over until they got it right. Having those kind of people on set really does help out. Do what you can to find an amazing team.
Guys, thanks so much for watching this behind the scenes look at our beauty portrait involving sparklers. Look forward to a tutorial coming soon and please don’t go out and set people’s hair on fire with sparklers. Thanks again, guys.
I’ll PHLEARN you later.