Erwin Olaf’s subdued, cinematic lighting for his “Hope” project

December 20, 2012 — 13 Comments

Erwin Olaf's photo lighting for hope project on guess the lighting

ted sabarese lighting diagram of erwin olaf's hope project on guess the lighting

copyright, Erwin Olaf.

Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf holds a special place in my heart. Many would say he’s primarily an advertising photographer with a fashion bent. And yes, his work for Diesel Jeans, Lavazza and Moooi reflects that. But even these ad jobs showcase an imaginative artist. One who is conceptual in nature and enjoys creating unique worlds for his subjects to come to life in.

Recently, though, Erwin has focused more on personal, fine art projects. And they’re all pretty mind-blowing. This image is from his Hope series which is also a hardcover book. It’s beautiful. It’s haunting. It’s stagnant, yet dynamic in its ability to evoke emotion. I can kind of sit here for hours and scour over every detail–the casting, wardrobe, the door number, the open door, that lone umbrella–but I digress in my photo geekery. It’s just pretty awesome. To create this captured moment of hope, Erwin used 5 lights.

Camera: Medium format, with Kodak EPP 100 transparency film and an 80mm lens. Set on a tripod 11 feet back. Shot at 1/30, f11, ISO 100.

Lighting: It’ll be easier to break this down by model. Our man’s key light is a small softbox at f13 (+1/2 stop) over his head and slightly frontal aimed at his face. A medium softbox at f8 (-1 stop) is set high and three feet to camera left, also aimed at his head, providing fill. For our woman, a small softbox at f11 is over her head and also slightly frontal and just to her right. Another small softbox at f11 is positioned behind the wall the man is standing against and aimed at her face. A large octabank at f8 (-1 stop) is high and six feet to camera left. This provides fill for her body as well as the entire wall and left side of frame. The models kept very still with the slow shutter speed so Erwin could capture the wall sconce lighting (though it was enhanced in post).

Comments: The models were not the docile, overly reserved duo they appear to be. They were two members of the now-defunct German comedy troupe, The Supernaturals, and had themselves, the crew and even Erwin in stitches most of the day. Apparently, their bit about a fax machine salesman with two right feet caused the digital tech and the stylist’s assistant to wet their pants. Once and twice, respectively.

  • Joel

    Interesting shot – I like his work very much too – thanks for sharing

    • you’re welcome. he’s got lots of other amazing stuff that i’m sure i’ll revisit down the road.

  • R

    Ha! I hoped so much that you will discuss this one and finally you did! Thanks a lot!

  • Wes

    Is this a set, Ted? If so, what about the outside lighting?

    • i think it’s an actual hotel, wes. the light outside the window is dark because olaf’s stobes are overpowering the sun.

  • Dimitris Vlaikos

    I thing you have forgot one more softbox right up to the male model head. Check the shadow of the mounted wall light…

    • hi dimitris. i believe the softbox over his head is causing the shadow on the wall light. do you agree?

  • Guest

    if this is all guesswork, how come you know so much about his camera settings and choice of film stock and speed?

  • Hadn’t he made the transition to digital by this point?

  • Clive Hassall

    I’ve been labouring hard, trying to figure his lighting setups. Now that I’ve found you, I can kick back and see yours. Great guessing and thanks Ted!