I am impressed by this photograph of hip hop artist Kid Ink by S Dot B photography:


Can anybody tell me the settings for my Nikon D90 to take photos in that style?

I can't explain this style exactly... high contrast? It's kinda soft touch? Are there any suggestions for my camera settings? Or is this all just retouched in Photoshop, and if so, how?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Although it's not the same photographer, you may find it helpful to read the answers to this question on the "Dave Hill effect". \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Feb 18, 2012 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


As others have noted, much of what's going on in this image is about light, but folks seem to be really over-thinking it. It's kind of a habit we photographers get into after learning a few tricks and acquiring (or lusting after) a bit of gear.

The main light for this shot is overhead, and the effect on the subject is relatively soft. Now, it could be that there's an enormous softbox or a strip bank on a boom overhead that's high enough, both in height and intensity, to light the subject, the tires, the frame of the parts shelving and the car doors. That light is coming from both behind and in front of the subject, and to both right and left -- you can tell by the highlights on the jacket's sleeve creases and the prominent highlights on the subject's ears and nose, along with the lack of distinct directional shadows, even if you're not looking anywhere else. It's a possibility, sure -- but don't get too hung up on it. It's just as likely that you can get the same kind of effect with just the normal overhead shop lighting, with some of the fixtures turned off for effect.

There is a secondary light source that the photographer definitely added, though. Notice the eyes. Then notice that, just on the subject, there is fairly strong lighting from below everywhere. The hand causes an upward shadow on the face, the bottom of the eyebrows and the lower eyelids are softly highlighted, the forearm, hand and fingers are bright at the bottom. The catchlight in the eyes tells you that it's a large, even, and probably square source directly in front and well below eye level. (The "square" part is a guess, based on a very low-resolution image -- it could be a rounded rectangle, or even a circle, but I'd need to see something with a higher resolution to tell for sure.) And I do mean large -- it's probably something on the order of 40-48 inches. Don't panic: it's more likely to be a reflector than a softbox, and unless you absolutely need to have the same shape of catchlight in the eyes (and you can fake that in Photoshop) it doesn't need to be a square one.

Having at least one good reflector in your kit will make a world of difference to your photography. I rarely go anywhere with a camera without at least my 95cm/37-inch Lastolite Sunlite/Soft Silver reversible (the 120cm/48-inch isn't quite as easy to stuff into a backpack or messenger bag). The "Soft Silver" side is a good compromise between the qualities of silver and white reflectors, and the "Sunlite" side is a little hotter and warms the colour temperature less than a gold (or the usual "zebra") reflector, and I find it faster to use than messing around with the covers on a 5-way. But there are a lot of makes out there that come with much lower price tags than the Lastolites, and any of them is worth having. And there's nothing wrong with a DIY substitute if price is a bigger concern than portability.

There is a bit of work done in post, too. I've noticed that the photographer almost always raises the skin tones of his (often African-American) subjects above the "straight" values. I'm not going to get into any discussion of value attachments to light- and dark-skinned people in that culture (although that might have something to do with it) -- I think it's more about making the tattoos most of his subjects have more prominent, since the tats are very much a part of the subjects' identities. Raising the skin tones then increasing the contrast in the tattooed areas, particularly when the area would normally be in shadow, allows the subjects to "brand" themselves more effectively.

As for the settings, a relatively large aperture (low f-number) will get the subject/background separation right, and use a shutter speed and ISO that will allow you to expose to the right, at least to a degree, so that you have room to work with the skin tones.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Much better analysis than mine! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 18, 2012 at 13:44

This look has less to do with camera settings and more to do with lighting techniques.

I'd guess there's a large softbox on camera left serving as fill and another softbox on camera right serving as key. I'm guessing there's an accent light high on camera left, aiming down at his arm and hat. I think the background, directly behind him is lit, too.

You can learn about lighting (including how to do stuff like this) on Strobist.

  • \$\begingroup\$ There's some kind of light from below. The easiest way to recreate light setups is to "cheat" by looking at the reflections in the eyes. :) Looks to me like light from above/behind and front/below. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric
    Feb 18, 2012 at 15:03

Well, some observations:

  • there is quite shallow depth of field, so it was shot with fairly fast lens
  • there are no hard shadows on the person, yet even the bottom part of his hand is quite well lit
  • there are visible highlights on the top part of his hand and jacket

Overall I guess much of this look comes from carefully done lighting, which probably includes one overhead light slightly behind the man, as well as what might be a softbox below camera.


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