Martin Schoeller’s lighting setup for Henry Kissinger “close up”

September 13, 2010 — 24 Comments

martin schoeller's photo lighting for kissinger on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram for kissinger on guess the lighting blog

copyright, Martin Schoeller.

Not one of the more popular images from Martin’s Close Up book, Kissinger’s 2007 portrait is my secret favorite. To me, Martin has captured every gut-wrenching decision Henry ever made in this single expression we’re uncomfortably close to. He created this with 4 light sources.

Camera: Mamiya RZ67 with 140mm macro lens and Kodak portra VC 400 ASA film, set on a tripod 5 feet back. Shot at 1/60, f5.6, ISO 400.

Lighting: The two key lights are 4-bulb Kino Flos positioned 3 feet from Henry’s face, just to camera left and right. At full power, they barely pull a f5.6. A small soft box at f5.6 is boomed directly over his head. A 7” reflector with grid at f8 sits on a small c-stand behind Henry, aimed at the background. The grid creates the white glow just above his shoulders, but allows the top of the background to go slightly grey.

Comments:  Martin and Henry got into a spirited debate about whether it’s proper etiquette to eat weisswurst after 12pm, but ended up agreeing to just disagree, without any hard feelings, whatsoever.

  • David

    crazy photo, thanks for sharing

  • Nick Minton

    I don’t think the camera information is correct with these. I remember seeing a behind the scenes video of him shooting a body builder in the same manner and distinctly remembering that he shot with a 8×10 camera. This would probably explain the low depth of field and high amounts of detail.

    • could be nick. though his body builders are definitely lit with multiple strobes above and below their heads. different setup. i’m not sure the kinos emit enough light for a large format lens.

      thanks for commenting. keep it coming.

  • Here’s the video Nick mentioned

    • thanks for the link. yep, i still think this is a different setup.

  • I just found this blog through another website. This is a fantastic link.

    I wonder how replacing the two 4-bulb Kino Flos by two light box would affect the end result.

    • glad you’re liking the blog. i think the martin uses the kinos because it allows him low powered strip light. i don’t believe he could pull of a large aperture with strobes.

      • thanks for the feedback. I think kinoflow lighting is very beautifull lighting, give a more natural light and does not have the harshness of strobe lights. i use them about ten years ago. I wish the studio i currently use had some of them.

  • CWP

    I assisted Martin and he doesn’t use Kinos for the big head portraits. What you see reflected in the eyes are Broncolor strip lights (not sure if they still make them, or what they were called) – which where basically bare strobe tubes about a foot and a half long, about an inch or two wide, like short little light sabres. They were omni directional by design.

    You can get shallow DOF by dialing way down on the strobe packs or using neutral density filters on the lens. And you can bet he shot Kissinger with an 8×10.

    He used 3-4 other strobes and I will leave that up to your imagination. =)

    • Gamaliel Rios

      Can you elaborated more on this?

  • okay folks. there has been a LOT of discussion about this setup (i’ve received many emails that aren’t reflected in the comments section, here). I just did some research and found this schoeller interview from smithsonian magazine:

    here’s an excerpt where he talks about the “close up” series:

    Q: At the risk of getting too technical, how do you do it?

    A: I use a medium format camera that takes roll film. I light them with these light banks. Fluorescent light. Basically they look like fluorescent light bulbs but their color temperature is daylight color temperature. They’re called Kino Flos. They’re mainly used in the film industry, because it’s not a strobe light, so it’s not actually that bright. I mean they’re bright to look at because they’re much brighter than the flashing strobe obviously. But they’re for a very shallow depth of field and a very narrow depth of field which kind of also emphasizes what I’m trying to do with bringing out the eyes and the lips, where most of the expression in a person’s face is all about the eyes and the lips. I try to get my focus right so the eyes and the lips are the focus. Everything falls away so quickly because of the shallow depth of field. Everything else becomes secondary. So not only am I focusing on just the face, I’m even concentrating it more by having everything else look like it’s out of focus.

    does this answer it? let me know.

  • Blackmaan4

    i work for martin so the layout is a little off and u didnt mention the gels

  • Blackmaan4

    also he has two big head step ups the one u see is the kino set up if u want i could email you polaroids of myself with the same light. i have worked for him for 4 yrs off and on

    • hey there. we’d love to see come polaroids. and let us know about the gels or anywhere else i was off.

      • Black

        i could. i only remember the kino set up cause i have been doing it for a while, the 8×10 set up is very technical

    • Gamaliel Rios

      Can you send me some polaroids too? I like to study his style in depth…

  • :)

    How would you go about to do this with 250/500 watt lights?

    • the lower power, the better. go with the 250s. maybe use some silks to further diffuse the light.

  • JBone

    All of you, for the most part, are completely wrong.I was Martin’s first for four years (2000-04), and these “big heads” are shot using two 4×4 Kinoflos (4 feet tall/1foot wide, 4 bulbs) and ONE Hensel Porty head at very low power (we used Fuji 800 Neg) and shot pretty much wide open also using the RZ Pro II 140mm macro with the tilt-shift bellows. There was never any softbox used on this set. The other style of big head-such as his bodybuilder women is shot on 8×10 using the broncolor strip lights which we modified. overall, if memory serves, that 8×10 set up used 11 heads. Caution…do not attempt to copy this set up, it is so signature for Martin that you will appear foolish.

    • ColaDevil

      It actually sounds like the blog guy got it mostly right besides the softbox…?

  • Harald

    It was proper etiquette to eat Weisswurst before 12pm, because the refrigerator wasn’t invented and the production of Kalbsbrät (cow sausage meat) starts early in the morning. Yes, I do eat Weisswurst today for supper.

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  • Peter

    Hi guys,

    It disqussion was very long time ago but I take a pictures like Martin and just know about him. I really love close-up portraits and interesting how Martin do more volume faces than on my pictures. My kino flos do face some flat. I think Martin’s lighting setup is different for each people. Maybe omebody have else light setups or materials on his work?

    (Sorry for my English)