Steven Klein’s gorgeous lighting of “dudes in close proximity” for Dolce & Gabbana

October 17, 2012 — 9 Comments

steven klein's photo lighting for dolce & gabbana ss2008 ad

ted sabarese lighting diagram of steven klein's d&g ad for guess the lighting

copyright, Steven Klein.

For years and years, Steven has been wowing us with provocative imagery for D&G. From the softer side of Madonna to sexy, futuristic science experiments to elaborate period piece setups, the campaigns always have a visual complexity and hammer-to-the-head stopping power. Which is exactly what you want in an ad (and probably why Dolce continues their long relationship with Steven).

This SS 2008 shot of a group of strapping, smartly suited, young men walking with utter disregard for the notion of personal space is no exception. I’m guessing it’s inspired by that opening scene from Reservoir Dogs with the gang walking down the street in slo-mo. Minus Chris Penn in the light purple nylon jacket, of course. Among other tricks from his goody bag, Steven uses colored gels to animate an otherwise drab background and allow the dark suits to really pop from the page. The layered lighting effect was created with 7 lights.

Camera: Medium format, 50mm lens and Kodak Portra 400NC film. Set on a tripod 10 feet back. Shot at 1/250, f8, ISO 400.

Lighting: Think about it. A dark, industrial, razor wire-dotted stretch of city isn’t necessarily the coolest of locations. But Steven makes it just that. Let’s start by looking at the background lighting since that’s where most of the interest lies. Two, standard reflectors covered in red gel at f11 (+1 stop) are set on floor stands and aimed up against the wall on camera left. A magnum reflector at f11 (+1 stop) is set high behind the guys and aimed down at the background street. Another magnum reflector at f11 (+1 stop) with a yellow gel is also set high in the rear of the shot and aimed down toward camera, coating the wet cobblestones with a lush, warm glow. A medium striplight at f11 (+1 stop) with a full CTB gel is attached under the scaffolding to camera right, mimicking industrial lighting. It’s fun to notice that not only do the variety of colors affect the shot, but the shape of the light modifiers, as well.

Now on to the dudes. The soft key light is a giant parabolic reflector at f8 sitting high and directly behind camera. A white beauty dish at f11 (+1 stop) with a full CTO gel is boomed in from camera left directly over the group’s head. This gives the cool (looking) warm highlights on their hairdos. Steven also had some industrial-strength fog machines on set to accentuate the colored light’s dramatic effect.

Comments: A rebel visionary who enjoys pushing the envelope and sometimes crossing the line, Steven originally proposed that the models wear only their neckties and each walk their own invisible dog. After fully covering that scenario, he Skyped with Quentin Tarantino who insisted that Reservoir Dogs would not have been what it was without the black suits. So Steven obliged the client and Quentin and went “safe.”

  • Jay Dee

    The light is really awesome, and i don´t want to be picky, but am i noticing kind of a Photoshop Disaster going in this image? What´s going on with the guy on the right next to the center model? what´s that all about his shoulders? Is he behind and at the same time in front of his left pal? They share an arm? siamese maybe? Is the center guy using a translucent jacket? Where do they came from? Are they real? or faking?
    PS: Love S.Klein work. Really awesome.

    • hah, funny point jay. i thought that that particular guy was behind and neither of his arms were showing. but on closer inspection, it’s tough to tell 🙂

      • Brian Powell

        It’s a ‘disaster’… look at where their feet hit the ground, but also the size of that dude’s head compared to the main character — it’s way too big for him to be farther away!

        Only other thing that bothers me is that some dudes are looking at camera, some are looking off.. and they’re not all quite rocking the ‘cool’ expression. Some still have that lost/confused model look in their eyes. If the expression was consistent, I could deal with the looks going different ways 🙂 #picky

    • Yo McGo

      Brilliant! Well spotted. It looks like he has his hand turned around in a shady kinda way for a bit of a fiddle of the other guy

  • Alessandro

    I’ve noticed that the middle of the frame has an overall cyan hue, it really bothers me. 🙂

  • Matt Lucas


  • kojiro

    Ted, just found your blog and it’s great!! Thanks for sharing your insight. Would you mind breaking down more of Klein’s work in future? His lighting technique is soo worth it!

  • Ty Lorraine Ashby

    Just stumbled across your site Ted. You’re phenomenal!