I want to analyse this photo.

enter image description here

I want to know with which lens it was taken, under which light and how to achieve this 'strange' look.

  • Does it have a name?
  • Are there any filters used?
  • Was it taken in a studio?
  • What to watch out for when analysing such photos?

Thank you


2 Answers 2


Four lights? Not quite.

This picture is about as simple as it gets. A single light source was used, above and just to the right of the camera (probably as close as the photographer could get without using a boom). Look at the broad highlight on the forehead, the highlight on the cheek, the shadows under and to the left of the nose, and the specular highlights on the eyeglasses. There is no significant fill; what "fill light" there is under the chin is bluish, and probably comes from Mr. Rushdie's shirt.

It's soft-ish, but not tremendously soft. There is significant specularity to the skin -- not enough to make me say "straight flash", but certainly more than you'd get with a large studio softbox (unless the subject has rather oily skin). Suspect a small umbrella or a speedlight-sized softbox.

There doesn't appear to be separate lighting on the background. The glow around the subject is an odd shape, and can be better explained by image processing (probably in-camera, something like Nikon's Active D-Lighting, although most cameras have some sort of active dynamic range expansion). Consider the shapes of the light patterns that various flash reflectors throw (either a rough rectangle or one of the conic sections) -- if the light doesn't match the patterns, it's either ambient, created by a cookie or other holdbacks (gobos, barn doors, etc.) and will have its own explainable shape, or, as likely in this case, is an artifact of processing.

The background itself could be a plain white wall at a distance (it doesn't take a lot of distance if the light is close to the subject), or a white or grey seamless or pop-up background.

As for the eyeglasses, they're standard-issue, everyday, I-wear-them-to-see, eyeglasses, complete with lenses. You can tell by the nature of the reflections at the bottom -- that's coming from the edge of the lens, not the frame's mounting groove. The reason there are no lights reflected in the look-through part of the lens is that the lenses are directed down and to the picture left (Mr. Rushdie's right). With a single-light setup, that's all it takes to eliminate reflections.

The lens is a moderate telephoto, but that could mean simply the lens that's built into a compact or the kit lens on an inexpensive DSLR set to a "portrait length". There's quite a bit of depth of field, so we're not talking about needing expensive fast glass (like an 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.2) to reproduce the picture.

If I had to create a scenario for this shot, I'd say it was done on location rather than in a studio, with a few simple tools a "house PR" photographer would ordinarily carry -- a single speedlight, an umbrella, a lightweight light stand (although that light stand could be a second person), and perhaps a portable backdrop -- and done in a brief moment of time when Mr. Rushdie was available during an engagement. I'd further suspect that the shot was done as an in-camera JPEG, and underwent minimal additional processing (if any at all).

As for the "how do I analyze a photo correctly" general question, it's a matter of shooting pictures and paying attention to what happens when you change things. It's possible, I suppose, to read a whole lot of books and web tutorials, paying close attention and building up a knowledge base, but there's really no substitute for hands-on experimentation. As Henri Cartier-Bresson put it, "your first ten thousand photographs are your worst." Particularly with digital photography, there's little excuse for not simply shooting and learning (in the film days, with every click of the shutter costing real money, you might want to rein your enthusiasm in to fit your budget). After a while, you'll develop a sort of intuition about things, and intuition is nothing more than logical processing happening just below the level of conscious thought -- it comes from knowledge and experience.


I'm not sure if I got your question correctly by I think with a (1) four point light setup (or maybe even three lights!) you can achieve such photo.

enter image description here

(2) I'm not sure what kind of filters are used but generally speaking photos taken at studio (this answers your third question) are slightly post-processed. Mainly because of the light setup, some details on the skin start to become visible so there might be some small skin retouch, increasing contrast in pupil and etc. (4) Analyzing a photo is a little bit subjective. Based on experience I can say this is a studio photo, but I can not say how do I know! Some parts are objective though. For example, the glow around his head leading me to this idea that we have the case of a back light so this is a four point light setup. In my opinion, analyzing a photo, is somehow personal.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see any evidence of #3 backlight, nor any evidence of #2 fill light. I'm not even sure there was a background light. Based on the lighting and shading on the subjects face, I'd say there was a SINGLE light to the upper right...probably up high enough to handle the lighting of the background as well. I don't believe this is the correct answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Sep 18, 2012 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista I agree. The shot in the question does not look like a four light setup and the illustration in this answer does not match up with the lighting in the photo because the key is on the left here not the right as is obvious in the photo. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9817
    Sep 19, 2012 at 10:18

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