Alex Prager’s retro 60s lighting for her fine art work

February 23, 2011 — 11 Comments

alex prager's retro 60s lighting for fine art work on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of alex prager for guess the lighting blog

copyright, Alex Prager.

Alex is white-hot in the fine art world right now. She’s a self-taught photographer whose influences include William Eggleston, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. He work usually involves 1960s-styled women, lots of wigs and fantastic use of color. This 2009 shot entitled Rachel and Friends is both gripping and eerie. It was created with five lights.

Camera: Contax 645 with 55mm lens and Kodak 400vc Portra film, set on a tripod 6 feet back. Shot at 1/60, f4, ISO 400.

Lighting: The key lights on rachel and friends in the front row are Arri 6000 watt fresnel HMIs with barn doors set on a medium roller 8 feet to camera right and right. The left sits high and the right is at about head-level. Another 6k fresnel with barn doors is 10 feet to camera left, just in front of the second row. A third 6k fresnel with barn doors is sitting high, in the rear right of frame, aimed downwards. This forms the hair lights on the women in the back of the image. A smaller, 1.2k Arri fresnel HMI is set just off the ground to camera right. This creates the nice glow on the woman’s face in the third row.

Comments: Rachel produced this image on her own dime so tried to save money wherever possible. Since there was a lot of talent, she didn’t want to buy wigs for everyone. Instead, she cast people who already had the 60s look working for them (one of the more unusual women believed it was still 1969). Only one person in the shot is wearing a wig. Any guesses as to who it is?

  • Dc_pedersen

    Are you suggesting this is one single photo, and not a bunch of photos layered together?

    There are only three total models in this photo, and there are clear lighting mismatches (and even color grading mismatches) from model to model.

    It’s way more likely that these are cardboard cutouts of various photos she shot, all lined up to make an audience. At this point, it’s just a guessing game to determine which are photos and which are real actors in the scene.

    • correct. i’m guessing that this was created in-camera with 11 models. but that’s my guess. i can see how the lighting setting i described would work (especially with a little flagging). one question: how can you tell there are only 3 models?

      • Dc_pedersen

        Sorry, I should be more clear. And less know-it-all.

        It’s my opinion that the first two rows are the same three models recycled.

        Girl on the far right, first row = Girl in middle of second row (easiest to spot by cheekbones, nose, eyes, etc.)

        Far left first row = Far left and far right in second row (guessing by roundness of face and eyes… hard to tell)

        The girl in the middle of the first row casts a completely flat and barely-there shadow on her chair… and every shadow on her face and body is contradicted by the lighting everywhere else.

        Not to mention her hair isn’t actually true black, it’s like a 15% lighter shade… like the effect you would get if you printed something with black ink, then lit it with a light.

        Also, the girl on the far left in first row? Her face is in an impossible perspective, just like if it was 2D and the surface wasn’t facing exactly toward camera. Unless they happen to be Sloth from “The Goonies,” noone has a face that skews to a vanishing point.

        Drop the photo in photoshop and crank the levels so all the detail in the black areas come up into the midtones. You can see how impossibly varied all the blacks are (considering there is no detail in any of the tones.) The middle girl’s face is, in my opinion, black ink on cardboard that was overexposed by the lighting.

        To me, this photo screams “mixed media” craziness.

        • dude. i think i need to have you make a guest “guess.”

          • Dc_pedersen

            Ah man, it’s way easier to critique work then to build it from scratch. If I’m NOT commenting on your posts, it’s because I’m too busy taking notes and learning.

            I’m an ad-style art director, not a photographer (at least not at a legit level), so I come from the photoshop/post perspective. I look at a photo and try to see where they cheated.

    • though if i had to re-guess, i may put another 6k fresnel to camera left also.

      • okay, i did re-guess. thanks mr. pedersen.

  • I also find this photo to have a bad and inconsistent lighting. Clearly it’s impossible to judge the compositing/retouching work from such a lo res file, but seems not exactly a good example for this “guess the lighting” serie. BTW, shooting this mess with so many heavy lights it’s a total waste of resources. Some speedlights would have been more than adequate.

  • Just discovered your blog and love the idea of “picking” the lighting set-ups of others “apart”. There’s a lot to be learned from that. Cool stuff.

  • Corkie

    I know you did Andrew zuckerman before, but would you do him with one of his Wisdom series?

  • Rob

    Ted, I love reading your blog and think its always great to see that the photographers sometimes comment on your guesses. I agree with some of the other comments in that I think this I’d a small group of models recycled in the back rows then comped together. But that’s the great thing about Alex’s work is the artificiality of it and how it makes you question what your looking at. Has she purposely cast similar girls in the background to make you think they are the same person used multiple times.
    Keep up the great work.