Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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I just came across a great photographer on Facebook and I was literally stunned when I looked over his albums. He had some portraiture work that I would call as "Freaking Awesome"! Here's the gallery:

Faces, by Chris Conway Photography

What I would like to know is the technique used behind these kinds of amazing photographs. The light set-up and the post-processing tricks.

share|improve this question
I'm not sure I'd really call that high-key. It's a little lighter in exposure than many people would treat it, but there's a lot of midtone texture. – mattdm Nov 24 '10 at 5:03
You're looking at light sources from both left and right, one from the top corner in front (near the photographer) at the very least. – Nick Bedford Nov 24 '10 at 5:04
Matt Grum's answer here is really good and describes what's going on very well. But the image is clearly marked with copyright and can't be used without permission. I've found the original gallery on facebook and linked to that. – mattdm Mar 27 '11 at 22:41
If that link ever breaks, basically, it's a bunch of headshots in the same style as Matt Grum's excellent example below. – mattdm Mar 27 '11 at 22:45
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Here's a similar but not identical shot I did a while ago:

The background is just a bare hotshoe flash pointing at a white wall, it's easiest to setup the background first, without the main lights:

And then position the main lights, turning the background light off to check for interference from the main lights:

As you can see the main lights do spill onto the background (which is inevitable when lighting a small space) however the lighting is approximately constant across the background so I can account for it by turning the background light down a little.

Here is the lighting diagram:

The main difference with the lighting on the shot you posted is that I have an asymmetric setup with two main lights. The image you posted has a fairly symmetrical pattern with two kickers, probably small softboxes either side (similar to the right hand light in my shot) and a main lightsource coming from above to fill out any shadows in the face. From the long nose highlight I'd guess the main was a striplight in a vertical orientation. Possibly more lights for the hair or for additional fill.

As for post processing, nothing too special here, slight curves adjustment, dodging and burning, most of the work is done with the lights. A B/W conversion using a lot of the red channel was probably used as this gives a nice bright look to the skin which you seem to be after. Here is a comparison of the three colour channels, from left to right, red, green and blue:

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Awesome! The best explanation I can ever get. Thanks :) – Rish Nov 24 '10 at 19:26
+1: holy hell, awesome answer! – Alan Mar 27 '11 at 22:34
— the original question described this as "high key", but I don't think that's accurate (other than the increased red channel for bright skin). Is there a name for this technique? – mattdm Mar 27 '11 at 22:48

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