Well it’s finally done. As most things involving the interweb, the transfer from Tumbler to WordPress took longer than expected. But it’s finished and, I believe, working properly. There’s a ton more functionality. From all the new goodies in the sidebar to being able to enlarge the images to being able to quickly share posts, I believe (and hope) you’ll find the move for the better.

Please peruse, fiddle and give an all-around look-see. I’d love to hear what you think. And if you see any problems, please pass those along, too.

Now I can get back to the guessing (finally). Tomorrow, look for my take one of Art Streiber’s shots. But tonight, I drink beer.

nadav kander's photo lighting of brad pitt on guess the lighting blog

Ted Sabarese photography lighting diagram of Nadav Kander

copyright, Nadav Kander.

Back in August of 2011, New York Magazine hired Nadav to shoot both Brad and Jonah Hill. The reason? A little film called Moneyball, the true story of Oakland A’s general manager Bill Beane who used quantitative analysis and computers to build a winning team and fight huge payroll inequities. The film almost didn’t make it to screen (to learn why, go here). It took nearly 10 years, 3 directors and 3 producers to complete, with Brad jumping on board in 2007 and seeing the film through.

Nadav managed to shoot this compelling portrait in 1 day, in 1 studio but with 5 lights.

Camera: Medium format, digital, with 80mm lens. Set on a tripod 8 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f8.5, ISO 100.

Lighting: The key light is a gridded, white beauty dish at f11 (+ 1/2 stop) set high and 10 feet to camera left. Nadav was careful to position it precisely, keeping both of Brad’s eyes in the light. No fill light was used to ensure the strong contrast between light and shadow, which is pretty freakin’ killer. Behind v-flats (black side out) two white umbrellas attached to a c-stand at f8 (- 1/2 stop) were set behind brad to camera left and right. This creates the perfectly flat background. Now, quite a bit of post work was required to get this final look, but that’s a whole different blog.

Comments: It’s well-documented how Brad goodheartedly, yet relentlessly, pranked Jonah during filming. Let’s see. There was the giant, male genitalia placed on the back of his car before Jonah drove home on the freeway. Brad also shrink-wrapped Jonah’s golf cart bright pink (yes, movie stars get their own cart to cruise around the sets).

So for this shoot, Jonah decided he’d get a little payback, conspiring with Nadav and stylist Cheryl Konteh. When Brad arrived at the studio, they brought him through his wardrobe for the first shot: Black leather thong and matching tube top. Brad’s jaw dropped to the floor, but being a good sport and bowing to Nadav’s expertise, he took the outfit and changed in the dressing room. When Brad walked on to set donning his leather, Jonah jumped out, took a pic with his iPhone and yelled, “this is so going on my Facebook page, man. I mean, I think it is. Unless you don’t want me too. Okay, I’m deleting it now. Sorry, Brad.”

World Trade Center's tribute in light

World Trade Center tribute in light close up

Ted Sabarese photo lighting diagram of tribute in light


If you live in NYC, anywhere near it, have visited, watch the news or have orbited earth from a space shuttle, chances are you’ve seen the two, extraordinary beams of blue light cast in remembrance of the September 11 attacks.

I was here that day in 2001 and watched from the roof of my apartment building as the Trade Centers fell. I remember vividly my feelings of sadness, fear and confusion. I also remember how, in the following days and months, New Yorkers came together like nothing I’d experienced previously. It was a different place in so many ways.

It’s funny how the little things have ingrained themselves in my memory. There was an eerie silence as cars no longer honked their horns. Instead of walking quickly on the streets, head down, you looked others in the eye and said hello. It was okay to smile silently at a stranger as you both searched a wall filled with pictures of the missing. People said thank you and please. And everyone helped others in any way they could to find normalcy again, in such a trying time. Thinking back, as I do every year, makes me proud of New York City and the people who live here.

And that leads me to these blue lights.

Not that I ever forget, but the Tribute in Light helps inform me that it’s time again to remember and reflect. I thought it would be fitting for Guess the Lighting to reveal how the installation was designed, using 88 lights.

Lighting: The art installation, produced annually by the Municipal Art Society of New York, uses 88 search lights to create the two, vertical columns of light. The beams reach more than 4 miles into the sky. This was originally supposed to be a temporary exhibit but has continued on. There are two, high-intensity light squares incorporating 44 search lights in each. Since 2008, the Tribute of Light has been powered by generators running on biodiesel fuel made from recycled cooking oil.

Comments: The intensity of the lights has been a problem with thousands of migrating birds. Many of them become trapped in the beams and will not fly out. To ensure the birds’ safety, the lights are switched off for twenty minute periods, allowing them to escape.

Victor Demarchelier's photo lighting of Constance Jablonski

Ted Sabarese lighting diagram of Victor Demarchelier shooting Constance Jablonski

copyright, Victor Demarchelier.

When your pop is Patrick Demarchelier, you’ve got some photo juju at your disposal. After assisting his dad for a bit, young Victor went out on his own in 2009 to shoot mostly models of the fashion variety. And if you’re up on your models, you know Ms. Jablonski is pretty big. Which may explain (or not) the 50-gallon hat she’s styled in for this September 2012 Harper’s Bazaar Australia cover. Vincent lit this image with 2 lights and a hat wrangler.

*Thanks to Dennis Zeitz for sending me this image.

Camera: Medium format, digital, with 100mm lens. Set on a tripod 10 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f11, ISO 50.

Lighting: To achieve this extremely flattering, soft light, Vincent pulled a page from his dad’s playbook. The Key light is a medium octabank at f11, just above head height and 6 feet to camera right. You can see that the light is not very high since it Constance’s hat doesn’t cast much of a shadow on her face. A 7-inch grid reflector with 30 degree grid at f8 (-1 stop) is low and behind Connie to camera right. It’s aimed up at the center of the seamless to create the slight glow behind her. A black v-flat is just to camera left of Constance to create a strong shadow on that side.

Comments: Unbeknownst to many, Constance is quite the card. She arrived on set speaking not with her native French accent, but with a full-on Aussie one. She proceeded to teach the entire crew how to speak Australian and told Victor that she almost “chucked a sickie” because she was “chundering” all morning after a “cobber” fed her a few “icy poles” made with Vodka.

More updates on the way

September 5, 2012 — 14 Comments

It’s been a long time. A long, long time, fellow lighting guessers.

I could give you some excuses. Like:

  • I broke my drawing hand and it took 8 months to heal
  • I gave up the blog when I started guessing for a photography magazine
  • The economy
  • After seeing my drawing of her Sports Illustrated cover shot, Kate Upton whisked me away to a private island to create a daily photo library of her in bikinis two sizes too small
  • My internet was down
  • A Murder, She Wrote / Angela Lansbury addiction

All of which would be prevarications.

The truth is, well, I’m not exactly sure why. I have been busy with some things, for sure. But that’s an excuse, too.

Lots of fans have written with wonderfully-kind things to say. Some have even pleaded for me to continue on. They’ve even offered to help out and draw. The response to my absence was unexpected, to say the least. All of that kindness has convinced me to get back into the proverbial saddle (powered by Wacom) and do what I do best. Guess lighting. And draw in a mediocre fashion.

I won’t post daily, but I’ll try to post at least once or twice a week. Starting tomorrow.

See you there.


guess the lighting blog's ted sabarese bio pic

Doggett's lighting diagram of ted sabarese bio pic for guess the lighting blog

Ted photo, copyright, Ted Sabarese. Illustration, copyright Eric Doggett.

I always appreciate all the comments, recommendations and props I receive from GTL fans. But today in my inbox, Eric Doggett blew my mind.

Hi Ted –
I love what you’ve done with GuessTheLighting, and I always enjoy each post.
However, I felt that while you were great at giving out the lighting love, no one was returning the favor. So, I decided to break down your profile image myself.

Here’s what Eric had to say on his blog.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out GuessTheLighting.com, I recommend you give it a look (especially if you are into lighting like I am). Ted Sabarese runs the show over there, where he dissects images and offers his take on how he thought the lighting for an image was done.

Always entertaining and informative, it will give you a good primer on lighting if you are new to it. If you are a veteran it will offer you some great ways to think about how to light your next shoot. In any case, you will get a laugh with each post as Ted pontificates on the behind-the-scenes drama of a particular shoot.

So, in deference to Ted, I offer my own “Guess The Lighting” post to breakdown his bio picture:

Camera: Canon 5D Mark 2 with 50mm lens, on a tripod, remotely triggered from 5 feet away. Shot at 1/100, f5.6, ISO 800.

Lighting: Tungsten light bulb, camera right, 10 feet off the ground. Otherwise known as ‘porch light’. Ferrari headlight, camera left, 40 yards back.

Wardrobe: Nike hunter green parka with matching hoodie, 2006 (discontinued).

Comments: This image was taken at the winter home of Sean Connnery. On this rainy day, Ted was tasked with walking Mr. Connery from his house to the photo set (which involved a 2014 Ferrari concept car and a Louis Vitton bag). Ted managed to keep Mr. Connery dry for the 7 minute walk to the car (and its pre-activated heated leather seats).

Thanks again, Eric, for taking the time to post this (badass sketch, by the way).

So how do you think he did? Anyone care to comment?

Kate Upton on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover for guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese lighting diagram of kate upton on sports illustrated swimsuit cover

copyright, Walter Iooss.

Over the years, Walter Iooss (pronounced “yose”) has captured just about every famous sports photograph to grace the pages of Sports Illustrated. His volume of work borders on the ridiculous. Check his website. Then pick your jaw up off the floor. And since bikini-donning is most definitely sport, it makes sense that SI tapped him (once again) to shoot this year’s models. Kate Upton did not break into swimsuit modeling through the normal channels. She posted a youtube video with her doing the “dougie” and over 4 million views later, she squeezed into what may be called a bikini for SI’s cover shot. God bless the internet. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Walter lit this with no lights other than the hot, Australian sun.

Camera: Nikon D3x with 70-200mm lens, handheld from 14 feet back. Shot at 1/400, f11, ISO 100.

Lighting: Since it was early in the morning, Walter positioned Kate with the relatively low sun to camera right. An assistant held a 6×6 silk to help diffuse the hard light. At least twenty three stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists and random Sports illustrated employees are just out of frame to camera left.

Comments: After this shot was finished and the team was setting up the next one, a mature, female Great White was spotted just offshore. Kate’s natural instincts kicked in when she noticed a teenage boogie boarder unaware of the danger. She picked up a nearby shark harpoon and flung it at the White. She missed, but the teen did paddle in to safety to see why the “bikini hottie” (his words) was “getting all agro on such a chill morning.”

Albert Watson's photo lighting of Steve Jobs on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese lighting diagram of steve jobs on guess the lighting blog

copyright, Albert Watson.

Steve Jobs was the man. In so many way. But he granted very few interviews and photo ops, apparently due to camera shyness and being uncomfortable in the public eye. With Steve’s passing, Albert Watson’s 2006 portrait catapulted to fame overnight. It became the defining image of the intense genius behind Apple’s rebirth. Originally color, the now b&w shot says what Steve knew all along: I’m going to revolutionize so much more than just computers. The image was created with three strobes.

Camera: Arca-Swiss F-Line Misura with 150mm Schneider lens and Kodak Portra 160nc 4×5 film, set on a tripod 8 feet back. Shot at 1/250, f32, ISO 100.

Lighting: Albert is certainly old-school and this set-up is nothing shocking. The key light is a white umbrella at f32, high and six feet to camera left. Two umbrellas at f16 1/2 (-1 stop) are placed behind Steve to the left and right. They evenly light the background and remove any shadow there.

Comments: Before getting underway, Steve and Albert jabbered about computers, iPods and the future of the music industry. Still a fan of analog (cameras, records, etc.), Albert was still skeptical of keeping his entire music library on a tiny, electronic device. He did, however, think it would be cool to someday have a phone that would play music, keep appointments and help him track the sun’s trajectory during the day.

Nick Knight's photo lighting of Lady Gaga on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of lady gaga for guess the lighting blog

Nick Knight multi-camera setup

copyright, Nick Knight.

Nick Knight may be fashion photography’s Andy Warhol. He pushes his work conceptually, technically and stylistically. Usually in a $3000 suit. This outtake from i-D Magazine’s 30th birthday cover shoot with Lady Gaga, though, lands on the tamer side of Nick-ness. Straightforward black and white. Yet still quite beautiful in its simplicity. This image of the Lady (and two lucky photo assistants) was created with three strobes.

That’s a bonus shot of Mr. Knight with one of his crazy camera setups (not used here). The man’s a dashing, mad genius.

Camera: Hasselblad H2 with 100mm lens and Phase One p65+ back, set on tripod 10 feet back. Shot at 1/250, f8, ISO 50.

Lighting: It’s not easy keeping up with Gaga’s on-camera antics, so Nick shot at 1/250 and had an assistant hand-hold a head to even have a chance. The key light is a Magnum reflector at f8 1/2 (+ 1/2 stops) held by the assistant at head height, six feet to camera right. Two large softboxes to the right and left of the white seamless at f5.6 (-1 stop) light the background.

Comments: This particular day, the lovely Lady was feeling feline. Specifically, like a Norwegian Forest Cat since this breed followed the Vikings around the world on their ships. “I could totally see myself kicking ass with the Vikings,” she told Nick “but as a cat. I would be the cat no other cat would want to ever meet. Unless they had a death wish. I’d take all of their nine lives in one vicious wave of my paw, cut of their ears as a prize and mark my territory before leaving. Yeah, I’m totally a Norwegian Forest Cat today, Nick.”

alex prager photo lighting for bottega veneta on guess the lighting blog

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

copyright, Alex Prager.

Alex Prager is hot stuff right now. If you haven’t heard of her (shame on you—less telly), you surely will. Her fine art work is brilliantly cinematic. She’s a sort of modern-day Cindy Sherman and has been exhibited at little museums like the MoMA and Whitney in New York City. When Bottega Veneta asked her to shoot their latest advertising campaign, they were rewarded with truly provocative imagery that doesn’t look like all the other current fashion ads. This particular execution (with a not-so-subtle nod to Hitchcock) was created with 2 HMI lights.

Camera: Contax 645 with 80mm lens and Kodak Portra 160NC film, handheld 12 feet back. Shot at 1/60, f8, ISO 100.

Lighting: To mimic and blend with the midday sunlight, Alex has set an Arri 12,000 watt fresnel HMI fifteen feet to camera right, up high and slightly behind the model. A one-stop silk in front helps to soften the light just a touch and create the attractive highlight on his face. An Arri 6,000 watt fresnel HMI with barn doors sits twelve feet to camera left and is positioned in front of the model and lower to help fill the shadows. To achieve this dynamic, upward angle, Alex must have built a stage for the model to stand on.

Comments: Shoot with live birds and you chance the occasional pooping. These pigeons possessed an almost supernatural aim. When the poor model was nicked three times within an hour, Alex told him it was good luck. He had his reservations until he won the local Pick 3 lottery the following day.