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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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: