How Irving Penn lights Kate Moss for Vogue

September 9, 2010 — 10 Comments

irving penn's photo lighting of nude kate moss on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of nude kate moss on guess the lighting

copyright, Irving Penn

Though this timeless image of Ms. Moss from 1996 could have been created with a 2 light setup, Irving shot it using only natural light from a large skylight in his studio.

*Thanks to Nico Silberfaden for suggesting this image.

Camera: Rolleiflex 2.8f twin lens reflex camera with Kodak Tri-X 400 film, set on a tripod 8 feet back from the model. Shot at 1/60, f2.8, ISO 160 (pulled 1.5 stops).

Lighting: A large, overhead skylight lets the graciously-soft northern light pour down at f2.8 toward camera right. This leaves some of Kate in shadow and the right side of the background nicely lit.

Comments: Even approaching 80, Irving was a constant trickster. He would only speak to Kate in a cockney accent and kept referring to himself as Avedon. Tea was served at noon, tequila shots at 2:30, cigarettes continually.

  • Scott

    Whatever happened to the rule:

    “Expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights”?

    • I guess when you’ve got a fixed aperture lens and Kate Moss nude, you throw all the rules out the skylight window.

    • Shaunron

      As for developing for highlights and exposing for shadows… What he does in the darkroom is print the image down so it is dark dark dark. Then he uses a process after the darkroom called bleaching where you paint on the print (yup with paint brushes) and it removes the silver of the print. This can only be done with fibre paper. So you select areas you wish to bring out. You really notice it on her right hand. Its a great technique!

      • Scott

        @ Shaunron,

        I’ve done quite a bit of selective bleaching.
        It can be done on both fiber & RC – negatives too.
        However bleach tends to work better on zones 5 – 8.
        Below that (dark areas) it doesn’t add much aesthetically.
        What that means is you can’t print down too dark.
        The Potassium ferricyanide hits all the lighter areas in the print first.
        It will lighten highlights – including those caused by over development of the negative. Bleaching and toning are not substitutes for laws of exposure/development. (This print was probably toned too).
        (Sold my darkroom -color & BW- in 1999)

        • Scott, your dark room skills are kinda blowing my mind. I’m leaving this debate to you and Shaunron.

  • Scott

    It all depends on the time of day and weather (quantity of ambient light).

    But if you notice on the right side of the frame (left side of frame is probably both flagged for light and heavily burned in), the film has either been over developed or over agitated. Not indicative of pulled processing.

  • I disagree with your diagram. You show the light next to the camera and behind Kate.

    Look at Kate’s face. Her right cheek is in shadow. If the photo were  lit your way the side of her face would have been illuminated, not in shadow.

    Also look at her butt cheeks. There is a shadow. This shadow tells us the light is high overhead. Possibly a skylight or large softbox overhead?

    So from her facial cheeks and butt cheeks we know the light is overhead, not next to the camera.

    Terry Thomas…
    the photographer
    Atlanta, Georgia USA

  • sam

    yo terry shut the fuck up

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