The shadow

by Oleg Ti

This picture was made for a lookbook of well-known designer of wedding dresses. There were the wishes to escape from the banal, simple lighting setup and create something bright and expressive. Among the photographs attached as examples I got a lot of images with hard shadows which were higher that the model and loomed over her.

Of course, to decide to make pictures where the shadow is above the model, and, accordingly, the light source is below the camera lens is very difficult. This scheme is certainly dramatic, interesting to read, but it has main drawback – the light coming from below, which requires a whole range of components for success: a beautiful model and in addition her nice posing, that would help to  hide “not the best lighting on her face”. And precise work of the photographer, of course, too!

The first thing I had to do was to setup the light. I immediately decided that I will not move lighting source and camera while shooting so I just set the camera on a tripod at height of about 70-80 cm from the floor.

The lighting setup, according to the chosen solution, looked “very exotic” – the lighting source was located at about half a meter below the camera. I put a single strobe light on the “frog”, a very low stand that allow set the lighting source almost on the floor.

I needed a distinct shadow, but not too hard, not like the sun. So I chose the large reflector with a diameter of about 30 centimeters. Softbox would give too soft light and therefore less contrast and hard shadow.

I worked with a white background, so I wanted to make lighting picture more interesting. Putting honeycomb grid with large cells on the reflector I got such a size of the circle of light so the model would be completely accommodated in it.

I didn’t change the style of the shadow, but a little bit darken the edge of the light spot.

The result was interesting and suited me and the client, however, but lacked one thing – the border of shadow was not nice, with little steps of intensity, so I could say “messy”. Here is the situation where the diffusion gel comes to help us. I put 250 Half White Diffusion gel directly on the reflector, it makes a smooth gradients around the light spot, and most importantly a well-feathered border of shadow.

Such a lighting setup: a large reflector, honeycombs grid on it and 250 Half White Diffusion gel covering reflector seems like cinematic lighting equipment – Fresnel lens and allows you to get the same relatively hard light with a distinct focus of light in the middle of the light spot, and with well-feathered shadows. Of course, this does not provide such capabilities for managing the size of the light spot and has a significant loss of the original light power through the use of honeycomb grid and diffusion gel, but may very well be applied in the case where we want to imitate cine, Hollywood light, and operating with several such sources of light we can get really dramatic photos with a nice classic cinematographic style of picture.

I must say that at first this radical lighting setup made a strong initial skepticism: having interesting shadow above model I got very hard working on every pose of model. However, supported by a client, I continued this work trying to get as nice picture in every look as I can. And later, where I saw the row of all retouched pictures, each was a bit “strange” and “unusual”, I got the understanding that very brave and radical lighting setup with precise working of model and photographer could turn into very nice and very bright concept surprising with such a unusual solution. An that was possible just with fine working of model and photographer but, the main thing, with adequate client, who can not only adopt “courageous” decision, but most importantly “bold” result.

Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: Canon 1.4 50 mm
Aperture: f/16
Exposure: 1/200 seconds
ISO: 100