Martin Schoeller Inspired Portrait, Pt.1
The Lighting Process
Every photographer knows that perfect lighting is never achieved instantly. It takes multiple lighting setups and a good bit of experimentation to find exactly what it is you’re looking for. In this case for an editorial-style headshot, we decided we wanted lighting inspired by the likes of editorial photographers such as Martin Schoeller and Peter Yang. We had to go through about five different lighting setups before we finally found one we really liked!
In the above photo of Emma Watson by Martin Schoeller, we can tell from the catchlights in her eyes that there are two separate light sources coming from the front, most likely softboxes. Paying attention to the eye catchlights in a portrait is a great way to dissect lighting, since the eyes basically act as little mirrors and show where lights are placed. If we zoom in, we can even see the reflection of the photographer between the two catchlights!
We decided to start with two strip boxes placed on either side of Chris in front of white seamless paper. The problem with this was that it was lighting the sides of his face and leaving his eyes and nose dark, which is the opposite of what we were going for. We tried switching out the strip boxes for parabolic reflectors, but the lighting was too flat and still not lighting the center of his face.
We finally figured out that placing the stripboxes directly in front of him gave us the look we were going for. Both stripboxes were aimed at his nose, creating fall off on the sides of his face. A 3-stop neutral density filter was placed over the lens in order to keep a shallow depth of field.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode where we’ll be going over the post processing!
Today we’re going to take you on a journey as we go through the process of imitating master photographer Martin Schoeller.
Hey guys. Welcome to Phlearn, my name is Aaron Nace. You can find me on Twitter @AKNACER. Today we’re taking the journey as we imitate some of the amazing portraits by Martin Schoeller. Let me tell you a little bit about why we did this and then we’re going to talk about how we did it and our process all the way through. This is part one and then part two which is going to air tomorrow we’re going to be doing the retouching on this image.
The reason why we did it, it really helps in photography to find an image that you like and try to repeat it. As long as you credit the person that you’re actually going for it can really help to push you. Maybe you’re stuck doing the same lighting setup over and over and over again and you’d see a photograph and you’re like, “Wow! That’s actually really cool. Maybe I could do that lighting setup as well.” In doing so it’s going to cause you to … there’s some trial and error. You’re going to be doing some things at the beginning that you’re really not that comfortable with. You’re probably going to get it wrong to start off with but if you keep on going and going and going you might wind up something with a lighting setup that maybe you’ve never done before, a portrait style that you’ve never done before and you might wind up really, really liking it.
That’s what we did. We set aside, push ourselves how we can create a lighting style a lot like Martin Schoeller. We’re going to take you guys through the process. We started off, our lights look nothing like what we wanted them to. We thought they were going to look pretty decent from the start but they really didn’t. We went through multiple iterations of lighting setups to finally get to something that we like. We’re going to show you guys these with some behind the scenes images and we’ll just go through the whole process.
Here in lightroom, this is actually the entire photo shoot and you can see where we started up the beginning. We wanted to take these portraits for our website for Phlearn for the bio page. This is actually Chris, he’s our CFO. This is where we started off with the lighting for our shots. Basically with two strip boxes either side. Now in looking at Martin’s work a lot of the catchlights are right on the sides of the people’s eyes. That’s a really, really great way to analyze lighting. Look deep into a person’s eyes and if you see reflections of lights you can probably guess about what the lighting is. There’s an umbrella actually right here lighting me right now and you can probably see a reflection of it in my eye. It’s really great way to see the lights that might be around your subject.
Being that they were lit from the side, we started to put two strip boxes both the right and the left of our subject and we could see … let’s just zoom in to about here. You can see the light right there in his eyes as well. There were a couple of problems here. The light really comes in from the sides really nice but you get this dark space in the middle of his face; dark face space. That might not be horrible, maybe that’s what you want in your image but the Martin Schoeller images did not have that at all. Then we switched up from there, still working with our lighting. We’re still using the strip boxes that you can see here lighting on the side as well and we’re shooting with a 50 millimeter 1.4. Now the lights are turned really, really down in power because we wanted it relatively shallowed up the field as well.
Now the next change we made is you can see here the background is relatively dark because there were just lights on our subject but there were no lights on the background and in all the portraits that we saw the background was a little bit lighter. We decided to put a third light and that’s a soft box there on the right. This is the soft box you can see and it’s actually lighting up the background as well. Still they look pretty horrible, no offense Chris but it’s pretty much our jobs to make it look better. That’s one of the big lessons I’ve learned as being a photographer is a great portrait of anyone is totally out there. It’s your job to make it. If you deliver this to a client they’re really not going to be too happy with you because it’s not as good as it could be but you’re probably just a couple of lighting setups away from a great portrait. Keep trying if you’re not there just yet.
Scrolling through these we decided to put … it’s like well maybe the lights coming too much from the front so we put the strip boxes behind the back and then coming even back around the front a little bit more. We’re shooting a little bit wide here and it’s at 50 millimeters with the 1.4 lens. It’s relatively wide, a little bit wider than a standard portrait but it’s the look that we wanted for these images. The lighting coming around towards the front, maybe trying it a few angles.
We’re trying this over and over again and it’s like … the catchlights are not that far off but I just really didn’t like the lighting. It was much too … dark in the center and too bright on the outside. It just really didn’t come together that well.
What we did is basically tried to switch everything up. We went from here in the switch to 200 millimeters. You can see what the difference that which is shot at 50 millimeters and that which is shot at 200 millimeter. It’s going to really compress his face and make a lot more flat. I thought it was way too much, way too wide at 50 millimeters so we went to 200 and I was like, “Well, I don’t like that either. Trying to zoom in, going something like 70 but I really didn’t like that either. We went back to the 50 again and then bringing the light out from the front, we’ll talk about this in a second.
You can see during a photo shoot a lot of things change. Now often times you’re not going to have time when you’re actually working with your subjects. You are actually photographing a celebrity or something like that. You’re not going to have the time to go and change your lighting five or six times. What I recommend doing is getting your lighting setup with a test subject who’s wearing something similar to your actual subject, similar skin tone and things like that. That way you can get everything set up with your test and then the real subject can come in, you might have one minute to shoot Jay Leno’s, first person that comes to mind for some reason but if you have one minute to shoot Jay Leno you’re not going to spend that time getting all your setup. You want to do all your setup beforehand and then shoot your subject.
Continuing all with that we decided that the soft boxes were a little bit too small of a light source so what I did is I switch to a parabolic reflector which is just a giant light source and you can see it here in the reflection of the eye. That’s me standing right there in the middle of the parabolic. With this as well you could see our exposures weren’t exactly perfect in all this. The same thing with this as well, the lighting was just a little bit too flat. It wasn’t that interesting and it wasn’t falling off really well.
Continue on going … I know some of these aren’t exactly exposed perfectly but we decided to keep on going and we put the strip boxes back on the lights and instead of having the strip boxes come from the side we decided to put them directly from above. Looking at the reflection in the portraits we still wanted those strips in the catch lights but instead of coming from the side we did basically directly from the front.
Now what we found out working is front pointing in really lit the sides of his face but if there each like very close to his face and they’re both pointing at basically his nose what it does is it creates a really nice highlight here in the center of his face with a nice fall off out towards the edges. Here we’re just starting to get actually what we want out of our shots.
This is the lighting that we came across and you can see it really is quite a bit more dynamic. We tried a couple of things like having Chris cough in the middle of the shoot just because it was funny and then he laughed which is some great portraits as well. I always try to do stupid stuff in the middle of a photo shoot just because you never know that might be the best photo of the day.
Okay, the next thing we did is we put actually a neutral density filter in front of the lens so he was so close to the lights that the lights were really, really bright but we still wanted to shoot at a shallow depth of field. In this case we’re shooting at 1.4 but there is a three stop neutral density filter in front of the lens so it’s really cutting down the amount of light that’s coming from the strobes that are literally right in front of his face but you can still get a correct exposure.
The lights that you see here off to the sides, both these … let’s just make this medium gray so you can see how it gets really dark towards the sides and the reason that is is because that’s literally the strip boxes in the frame. I had about a gap maybe two or three inches wide in which I was shooting through and the strip boxes were literally right to the left and right of the frame. Getting that close turned out to be the key.
This is an exposure that happens if you forget to put your neutral density filter on. This is properly exposed and this is three stop overexpose. That’s a really big difference and a neutral density filter can really do a good job with that. We’ll put links to all the stuff down below in case you guys are interested.
Then we kept on doing some interesting shots and this is actually the shot that we wound up sticking with in the end. Let me just disable this. Okay, this is the shot that we wound up sticking with in the end and you can see it’s a really nice portrait, everything is really close cropped and the eyes were in focus, we have a really nice catchlights and it’s basically what we want.
What we want to do now is I’m going to go back to our grid view and I’m going to pop open, let’s actually pop open the develop module. I’m going to go over here, lens correction. Now since we’re shooting at 50 millimeters, it’s so close it’s really going to cause a lot of distortion, not only that but we’re shooting at … in this case 1.8 which is going to give you a lot of vignetting around your edges as well.
Any time I’m doing something like this I always make sure to go to enable profile corrections, click on that and what that’s going to do is it’s going to fix a little bit to that perspective distortion and it’s going to help out with my vignetting right around the edges. If you want to even add to that you can fix it even more right here in lightroom without having to go into Photoshop or anything like that. Very cool effect there.
Now what I can do is I don’t want to have to do that with all these images so what we’re going to do is I’m going to go over here to … let’s just bring this back over here and I’m going to hit command A. We’ve got this selected, command A is now going to select all of them or you can hit sync settings. Those couple of changes that I just made, it’s going to apply them to everything. We’ve got all these checked, you can hit either check none or check all. I usually leave like crop off just in case I did some custom cropping and then we’re going to hit synchronize and then you’ll be able to see that it’s actually just changing all of them at the same time.
That is basically how we went through the photo shoot, how we got to this image from going through many different lighting setups that really didn’t look that good but in the end we came up with something that was really great that we liked a lot and we even went through an outfit change. I don’t know if you guys saw that earlier actually but earlier we were wearing … not we; Chris was wearing a blue shirt with a red shirt underneath it which I thought just a solid color would work just a little bit better and match his hair. Little changes like that throughout a shoot can wind up making a big difference.
That’s how we actually did the shoot. Join us tomorrow for editing this image; we’re going to make it really standout and a real piece of art. Thanks so much for watching Phlearn, I hope you learned a lot and I’ll Phlearn you later. Bye everyone.
In case you guys are wondering why lightroom was really yellow, I have this program called Flux which basically warms up your screen to help your eyes accommodate to something at night. That’s what I disabled in the middle of the episode. Don’t edit with Flux on.