achim lippoth photo lighting on guess the lighting

ted sabarese lighting diagram of achim lippoth guess the lighting

copyright, Achim Lippoth.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say Achim is the world’s preeminent children’s photographer. He’s consistently finds a way to visually capture the honesty of childhood without ever surrendering to the saccharine style so often associated with the genre. He shoots kids the way they’re dying to be treated: with respect and adult-like.

This image, from Promised Land for Kids Wear Magazine (which Achim also happens to publish), is one of the raddest (and probably most expensive) editorial stories for children’s clothing ever made. Now don’t think this was all shot in-camera. It wasn’t. It’s a Mad Max inspired collaboration between Achim and German post production house The Scope, with loads of CGI combined with incredible styling and propping. Shot in a massive studio. Composited with great expense. Oh, and with the assistance of 3 lights.

It kicks ass, right? I couldn’t image any photographer not wishing they’d shot this themselves.

Camera: Medium format, digital, with 50mm lens. Set on a tripod 11 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f11, ISO 50.

Lighting: This was shot in a studio, but Achim wanted to imitate desert sunlight as closely as possible. The key light is a gridded, silver beauty dish at f11 1/2 (+1/2 stop) 8 feet to camera right and 3 feet above the kid’s head level. A magnum reflector at f18 (+2 stops) is 6 feet to camera right of the boy, about head level and 4 feet behind him. This mimics the hard, late day sun and creates the strong highlights and long shadow on the ground. The fill light is a large octabank at f5.6 (-2 stops) 8 feet to camera left and even with the boy.

Comments: While the stylist was putting finishing touches and dirtying up the wardrobe, Achim playfully asked the 10-year-old boy if he’d ever heard of the movie Mad Max. “Yep,” he answered. “The trilogy kinda made Mel Gibson’s career, right? Mad Max 2 blew, but Beyond Thunderdome was more complex and visionary than even the original. Possibly one of the best films of ’85. Without Mad Max, there may not have been a Lethal Weapon worth seeing. In my opinion, anyway. Hey, Achim, can I please get a ginger ale? My mom doesn’t let me drink soda at home.”

Hey all. Sorry I’ve been away for a couple of weeks now. Hurricane Sandy, though not physically affecting my home or studio, caused quite a bit of devastation and problems in the NYC area. It’s incredibly sad how much damage was done. Needless to say, it’s been a hectic couple of weeks and today is my first day back in the studio.

I’m working on a guess as we speak and should have it up either today or Monday at the latest. It’s a pretty amazing shot from children photographer Achim Lippoth.

Also, Art Streiber wrote in with photo lighting feedback on my guess from his North by Northwest shoot with Seth Rogen. You can see his full comments here. The behind the scenes image below was taken by Art’s assistant Elaine Browne.

art streiber behind the scenes on guess the lighting

I look forward to getting back to some more guessing.

Thanks,
Ted

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.”

f. scott schafer lights larry david on guess the lighting

Ted Sabarese photo lighting diagram of Schafer's shot of Larry David

copyright, F. Scott Schafer.

Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld and now the star of his own show, is a funny man. He’s self-deprecating. He’s annoying. His social skills are lacking and his mouth knows no filter. I remember first seeing this image for the 2010 season of Curb Your Enthusiasm and immediately snorting out the orange juice I was drinking. It sums up the show perfectly, instantly and as hysterically as it should.

F. Scott Schafer seems equally as funny, at least visually speaking (I’ve never met him and can’t vouch for his joke repertoire). The majority of his work is provocative celebrity portraiture. It’s usually witty as hell, with intricate lighting, and this image is no exception. I’m guessing this delightful studio shot was created with precisely 5 lights and the use of a rented mini-trampoline.

Camera: DSLR with 50mm lens, set on a tripod 12 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f11, ISO 100.

Lighting: The key light is a medium octabank at f11 1/2 (+1/2 stop) boomed in from camera left and positioned above and slightly behind Larry. A medium strip light at f11 sits just out of frame to camera left by the couch to help highlight him. A medium octabank at f8 (-1 stop) is twelve feet to camera left while another at f8 is twelve feet to camera right. The lights help to fill the background, although the heavy vignette was created in Photoshop. A large octabank at f5.6 (-2 stops) is positioned high and directly behind camera to provide fill on Larry and the couch. As much as Larry hoped to shoot the exasperated psychologist in-camera, Schafer wasn’t able to find a suitable model willing to hang by his neck for an extended period of time. He was shot separately, bouncing on a mini-tramp, with the medium strip as the key light and the large octabank as fill.

Comments: As you can imagine, Larry isn’t exactly the type to sit quietly throughout the shoot day. He spent a good portion of it bouncing ideas off F. Scott and the crew for another, “better” (his words) concept for the poster. When the makeup artist’s assistant mentioned the honey badger, Larry’s eyes lit up and he hopped from the couch and called for a team meeting. “Can we get a honey badger in here?” he asked. “But it’s gotta be a crazy, nastyass one. And let’s get a bee hive, a jackal and two cobras. And let’s see if we can get Randall in here, too. Let’s get his agent on the phone.”

After two minutes of utter silence with Larry looking from person to person without any reaction, he said, “okay, okay. I see I’m alone on this one. Not the first time. That’s okay. I’ll just go back to the couch now. Can I get a Fresca first, though, please?”

 

tim flach's photo lighting of dog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of tim flach's dog

copyright, Tim Flach.

If you’re familiar with Tim Flach’s work, you know there aren’t many people out there who photograph animals better than he does. It’s not that he merely captures his subjects with excellent lighting. He also creates a unique environment for them – whether they be horses, chimps, bats or, in this case, dogs – and brings a painterly quality and rich, storied texture. As someone not easily enamored with animal portraiture (I’m not much of a William Wegman fan, for instance), I find Tim’s work beautiful and compelling.

This image of a Springer Spaniel chasing pheasants was included in his 2010 Dogs book. It was taken on the Elveden Estate in Norfolk, England which is huge, hunting mecca teaming with pheasants just waiting to be shot at. The book is definitely worthy of a perusal, if not an outright purchase. There are tons of fun pics of all kinds of dog breeds here, many of which I’ve never even seen before. Tim nailed this shot with 3 lights on an overcast day. I am happy to say no animals were injured in the filming and no fog machine was necessary.

Camera: Medium format, digital, with 100mm lens. Set on a tripod 13 feet back from ferns. Shot at 1/800, f11, ISO 200.

Lighting: Tim has positioned two lights to act as the keys for this shot. One large softbox at f16 (+1 stop) is set high, 15 feet to camera left and a foot behind the dog. Another large softbox at f11 is positioned similarly 15 feet to camera left just in front of the ferns. These two lights ensured the foreground would be covered regardless of where the dog ran or the birds flew. A third large softbox at f8 (-1 stop) is high and directly behind the camera, acting as fill. The incredibly overcast daylight measures f5.6 (-2 stops) and allows for the moody, gloomy background.

Comments: Tim waited hours in a cold, wet, camouflaged duck blind to get this shot. The hired Spaniel – a lifer hunting dog with an impeccable pheasant kill ratio – was noticeably displeased when, after executing a textbook flush from the brush, Tim shot the game birds with a Hasselblad H4D-40 instead of a Browning Auto 5 Light 12-Guage.

 

martin schoeller photo lighting of christian bale on guess the lighting

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of schoeller on guess the lighting

copyright, Martin Schoeller.

As a GTL fan recently brought to my attention, Martin Schoeller was left off Professional Photographer Magazine’s “100 Most Influential Photographers of All Time” list. Which is a grievous travesty (so much so I’ve called my local congressman. And actually registered on PP‘s website to log an official complaint). From his “close-up” series to his vast canon of celebrity portraiture, Martin demonstrates technical mastery, powerful framing and wonderfully subtle humor seen by few other photographers. He’s kinda the man. So in deference to this man so wrongfully snubbed by a silly list, I’ve decided to guess his lighting to open the week.

Back in 2009, soon after the release of The Dark Knight, Martin was asked to shoot Christian Bale for Esquire UK. Some very cool, close-up portraits were also published, but this shot of a sharply dressed jetty fisherman made me giggle outright. The attention to details like the old-school tackle box, multiple poles and a large flock of seagulls (I’m guessing his assistants had bags full of french fries to keep their attention) is amazing. Martin pulled this off with two lights and the strategically positioned sun.

Camera: Medium format, 160 ASA film, with 90mm lens set on a tripod 14 feet back. Shot at 1/250, f8, ISO 100.

Lighting: The key light is a gridded, white beauty dish at f8, positioned 5 feet to camera right, a bit above head hight and aimed directly at Christian’s face. The grid keeps the light from falling off too much onto his upper body and legs. Another gridded, white beauty dish at f5.6 (-1 stop) sits 8 feet to camera left and is similarly aimed at his face. This light gives us the fill on his face but allows his body to go dark. The sun, though not nearly at magic hour, is low in the sky at f11 1/2 (+1 1/2 stops) to camera right and well behind Christian. Martin has a 6×6 frame with a silk positioned to camera right in order to soften the highlights on Christian’s face and suit (notice how strong the highlights are on some of the birds’ heads that were not diffused by the silk).

Comments: Not having much saltwater fishing experience himself, but a big fan of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, Christian was excited for this setup. In between film changes, he practiced his casting into the surf and worked the lure further and further out each time. At one point, he unintentionally and inadvertently hooked something. The something turned out to be a 425 pound Blue Marlin that pulled him off the rocks, into the ocean. Waist-deep, he fought the fish for nearly two hours before finally battling it to the beach and beating out the previous local Blue Marlin record by 45 pounds. To celebrate, Christian treated the entire crew, as well as the medium-sized crowd that had gathered, to tequila gimlets at a nearby bar.

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eric ogden's photo lighting of cormac mccarthy on guess the lighting

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of eric ogden's shot

copyright, Eric Ogden.

You may have read/heard of/seen the movies All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. The books were written by Cormac McCarthy – a southern, literary phenom (and Pulitzer Prize winner) who has been compared to Faulkner and Melville, but maybe better. The probability is high that you haven’t heard of his earlier work, though. Titles like Suttree, Blood Meridian, Child of God and Outer Dark. Critically acclaimed novels that had absolutely no commercial success. When I was introduced to these works years ago, they rocked my world. In a good way. I have been one of McCarthy’s biggest fans ever since.

Now know that Cormac is a strange guy. Other than writing about topics like sibling incest, necrophilia and Indian scalp bounty hunting, he is famous for how little we’ve seen or heard from him. He’s a J.D. Salinger-level recluse. In his entire life, he’s given just three interviews and I don’t believe had ever sat for a formal portrait until this 2007 shot by Eric Ogden for Time Magazine.

Why did Cormac wait until then? Not sure, exactly. But the reason for this shot was his collaboration with the Coen brothers on the Academy Award-winning  No Country. I was excited to see that Time chose Eric for this story. His photo lighting is dramatic, powerful and portrays Cormac as the bad-ass he is (well, at least in my mind). This shot was created with 3 lights and the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on continuous loop.

Camera: Medium format, 400 ASA film, with 90mm lens, set on a tripod 9 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f11, ISO 400.

Lighting: Though seemingly straightforward, the layered lighting has some delicate nuance. The key light is a standard 7-inch, gridded reflector at f16 1/2 (+1 1/2 stops) 8 feet to camera left, slightly behind Cormac and just above his head. This light creates the strong facial highlights and draws the viewer’s eye directly there. The fill light is a large softbox at f5.6 (-1 stop) high and directly behind camera. A small, gridded softbox at f11 is boomed in from camera left directly above Cormac’s head, acting as a hair light.

Comments: After a lengthy kale frittata discussion on the correct ratio of egg to heavy cream (nope, not whole milk), Cormac engaged Eric in an impromptu staring contest. The two of stood just feet apart, for what some say was near 8 minutes, before Eric finally yelled “uncle” and blinked. At which point Cormac continued staring, cracked his knuckles and began to sing Prince’s When Doves Cry.

100 most influential photographers

copyright, Professional Photographer Magazine.

I’m a sucker for a list. Especially one that comments on the most influential photographers of all time. You can see the full PP list here. I’d love to hear what you think. Any glaring omissions? People too high or low? I’d also be willing to guess lighting on any of these photographers (many of whom are already on the pages of GTL), so if you have a fave or two, send them my way.

Art Streiber's photo lighting of Seth Rogen on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of seth rogen on guess the lighting

carey grant in north by northwest cropduster scene on guess the lighting blog

copyright, Art Streiber.

If you haven’t seen Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, get yourself a Netflix account and block out tomorrow night for some old time movie watching (two bowls of popcorn should do the trick). The crop duster scene is riveting. And demonstrates that, in 1959, a master director like Hitchcock could create an action scene comparable to anything possible today. Without the need for those really expensive computer graphics.

On a side note, that’s one sexy mutha of a suit, Cary.

But I digress. On to the lighting. Art Streiber was tapped in 2008 to help shoot Vanity Fair’s 14th annual “Hollywood” issue, an homage to Hitchcock featuring recreations of 11 of his most iconic scenes. Art was assigned this shot (one of my favorites of his) and nailed each and every detail of the original. Right down to having Seth Rogen’s replica suit recreated by the same tailor of the original (oh, and yes, that’s also a real biplane, shot in-camera). Art used 2 lights and some early morning westerly sun to create this jealousy-inducing image.

Camera: DSLR, with 85mm f1.2 lens.(revised due to sync-speed comment below from Matt) Medium format, digital, with 150mm lens. Set on a tripod mounted to the back of a flatbed truck. Shot at 1/1000 1/800, f16, ISO 200.

Lighting: This shot’s lighting challenge was to balance the fill flash on the front of Seth’s body with the strong sunlight to camera left. Art uses two generators on the truck to power the two, 2400 watt packs. Two magnum reflectors at f11 (-1 stop) are staggered on one c-stand and set high, just to camera left. The sun is directly to camera left of Seth at f32 (+2 stops) and lends those gorgeous highlights.

Comments: Seth is not – by profession, hobby or genetics – a runner kind of guy. He’s a hilarious actor and that’s where he excels. To ensure Seth gave it his 110% and sprinted away from the plane on every take, Art hired a local dog trainer. She brought three, male Rottweilers, none of which were overly fond of runners, to set. Without any leashes.