Lighting in Layers – Nudes?

As some of you may know, I have been teaching workshops on still life photography using a special lighting technique I call “Lighting in Layers.” Of course, this technique is especially well suited to objects that don’t move, but everyone always asks if you can use this technique with people. Well… yes, you can, and I recently had the opportunity to prove it in a workshop setting at FOTOfusion 2014, this past January. I conducted a studio lighting workshop for light painting the nude, the first time I’ve taught this particular workshop, and everything turned out great.

Light painted nude

This image was the result of several separate exposures with light “painted-on” using a small led flashlight

Starting with the amazing Ayize Hanif (Queen Ayize on Facebook & Model Mayhem) and an very enthusiastic group of photographers, we had a great time shooting several poses and composing images from different exposures! The process I teach, allows for complete flexibility and control over the lighting color, intensity, and direction. The results transcend the sum of their parts to create stunning lighting that literally cannot be achieved any other way.

On Chair

The light painting technique requires the model to remain motionless during and in-between exposures.

Ayize turned out to be a master at remaining motionless, facilitated of course, by careful posing on an over-stuffed chairs and couch. This allowed for the necessary comfort and support to keep most of the figure still during 6-second exposure “passes” with a small LED flash light.

I had a group of 9 photographers, assembled in front of the model, cameras set on manual w/ ƒ11-16 @ 6 seconds. I counted out “1, 2, 3…” they would all open their shutters, and I would “paint” light onto the model. Each pose received several different “passes” with the flashlight illuminating different parts of the body. I often start with a very soft overall light that will become the “base” ambient fill. The Westcott Ice Light is ideal for this, but all of the other, more dramatic lighting comes from small inexpensive LED flashlights!

Negative Clarity

The Ice Light exposure as processed with negative clarity to eliminate texture and soften the contrast.

I processed out two different versions of the soft light image, where the Ice Light ‘wand” was moved over the full length of the figure. The first version, above, was set up with a minus “Clarity” setting in ACR/Lightroom for the smoothest rendering of the figure.

Minus Clarity and Contrast

Minus Clarity and Contrast

In the other version, below, a maximum plus-Clarity setting was used to bring out the details in the couch. This version was used at the end, just for the couch!

Max Clarity

The same Ice Light exposure is given maximum Clarity to emphasize the texture – this is intended only for the detail in the couch for the last layer – I will mask off the model in this layer.

Plus- Clarity

Plus- Clarity & Shadows


The sequence below shows how each exposure was added into a separate “Layer” in Photoshop – all using the “Screen” blend mode – to create a unified effect, starting with a blank black “Background” layer.

Black Layer

Black layer – made by using a Solid Color Fill adjustment layer

Red Blend

The soft version of the fill light shot is blended into the red channel using Blending options.


Red Blend

The Blending Options dialog is accessed fro the Layer Options fly-away menu at the upper right corner of the Layers panel – uncheck any of the RGB channels that you don’t want to blend into.

Light added

Light added

PhotoshopScreenSnapz005 PhotoshopScreenSnapz006 PhotoshopScreenSnapz007 PhotoshopScreenSnapz012 PhotoshopScreenSnapz013


You can see how the lighting is slowly built up, adding one layer at a time until you have achieved the desired result. This image used 16 layers, including the blank “Background” layer and a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to colorize the couch a bit.

The Photoshop Layers "stack"

The Photoshop Layers “stack”

This lighting technique has an almost unlimited set of applications for static subjects and is well worth exploring, especially since it does not require expensive or exotic lighting gear! In addition, it is easy to generate variations by changing the color of individual lighting layers or using slightly different exposures – here are a couple of variations of the first two shots:

Cool Mood

Colorizing the base exposure for a cool mood.

green/blue color

A Curve adjustment was used to create the green/blue color

I plan on teaching more workshops on the subject, so stay tuned. I will be giving a lecture/demo on this and other techniques at the New England ASMP event March 22nd, 2014 at E.P.Levine just outside of Boston.

You can find some other blog posts on the subject of lighting in layers here:

Lighting Blog Posts


One thought on “Lighting in Layers – Nudes?

  1. Pingback: Light Painting the Nude. | Eduardo Angel

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