Serene Life

by garik

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How to achieve this style? Is it mixture of barn doors, snoots and subtractive light? Please give an example of how to use subtractive light

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2 Answers 2

My understanding of subtractive lighting is such that you take control of natural ambient lighting by reducing or reflecting it. This work looks more like it was taken indoors, and more in line with low-key photography, essentially photography in which shadows are the predominant part of the photo.

The basic setup is a very dark room, one strong light, possibly a second light or reflector. Have your camera set up roughly perpendicular to the light with the subject where the lines meet. The bright light should create very high contrast in the lit and unlit parts of the subject (with the unlit side often in complete shadow). In the case of the link, it looks like there was a second light or reflector lighting up the background behind the subject.

A very rough image to show the basic technique:

enter image description here

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As in many cases the key to reverse engineering the light lies in the catchlights (reflections of the original lighting in the subject's eyes):

Here we can see that a single hard (no diffuser) lightsource was placed above and to the right of the subject (as the camera sees it).

There were no other lightsources on the subject, but in many of the images a dim background light nicely separates the unlit parts of the subject from the background.

Additionally in some or perhaps all of the images a snoot was used to control the light hitting the subject, as evidenced by the sharp falloff away from the face.

The good news is you don't need a lot of gear to pull this off: two lights (or one light an a reflector), plain background, possibly a gobo or flag to keep the subject light from hitting the background. You'll need to completely overpower the ambient to get nice deep shadows.

Here's an example I shot with two lights. I used a softbox for the main, but if you were to take that off you'd get very close to the Greg Gorman portraits.

and here's the setup:

Finally, a modelling light is very useful for moving the light around to see where the shadows fall.

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