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annie leibovitz lights game of thrones on guess the lighting

ted sabarese lighting diagram of annie leibovitz

copyright, Annie Leibovitz.

If one thing can bring me out of lighting guessing retirement, its Game of Thrones. Well, not just G.O.T., but Annie shooting the cast for the fourth season (which, by the way, I just finished and is freaking amazing!!). This image, in particular, is dripping with nuance. Look how the members of House Lannister and Baratheon are positioned–no accident. Cersei in the foreground with Jaime tucked neatly behind her. Joffrey, although king, small and almost in the background. Tyrion is off the side, never quite a true part of the family. Tywin also sits smugly off to the side where he can pull strings without drawing unwanted attention. And Brienne looks on from afar, as close as she will ever get to Jaime.

Thrones drama aside, Annie delivers a gorgeous and strong image lit by only 1 light and a cooperatively clouded sun. And yes, I’m a G.O.T. nerd.

Camera: Medium format with 80mm lens set on a tripod 16 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f11, ISO 100.

Lighting: I believe Annie goes back to one of her recent favorite lighting setups here. The key light is a single Photek Softlighter at f11, handheld by an assistant, high and 8 feet to camera right. The diffused skylight fills in the shot at f5.6 (-2 stops).

Comments: While on a green juice break, Annie got Peter Dinklage talking about the upcoming season and who would inevitably be killed off. He wouldn’t give specifics, but said that 2 people at today’s shoot wouldn’t be around for next year’s. Annie tried to tickle it out of him but found Peter isn’t very ticklish.

annie leibovitz photo lighting of lady gaga on guess the lighting

ted sabarese lighting diagram of annie leibovitz shot

ted sabarese lighting diagram of annie leibovitz shot

copyright, Annie Leibovitz.

Thanks to everyone who responded to the poll on the GTL facebook page. Annie was the hands-down winner of readers’ choice for my next guess. So, as you’ve requested, here’s a cool shot by Annie featuring Lady Gaga for the December, 2009 edition of Vogue.

As would be expected, Annie’s interpretation of the childhood Hansel and Gretel story rocks with drama and a high fashion sensibility. This image reenacts the scene where the two children turn the table on the witch and throw her into the oven. Having Gaga and model phenom Lily Cole on hand certainly doesn’t hurt.

I’m also guessing this image was not all shot together, in-camera. I don’t see how Annie could have achieved the vibrant red light on the oven and ground while keeping the models lit mostly white. I think the camera was locked off with Gaga being shot by herself, then the two models shot separately. 6 lights were used in total and the final image was composited in post.

Camera: DSLR with 50mm lens set on a tripod 15 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f11, ISO 400.

Lighting: The key light on Gaga is a Photek Softlighter at f16 (+1 stop), handheld by an assistant, high and 6 feet to camera right. It has been removed in post. A large octabank with a red gel at f8 1/2 (-1/2 stop) is set directly behind camera. This fills in Gaga and gives the red hue to the front of the oven and ground. A gridded magnum reflector with a full CTO gel at f22 (+2 stops) is behind her on the floor of the oven, aimed slightly upward. This adds the yellowish highlights to Gaga’s hair.

In the second setup, a medium octabank at f5.6 (-2 stops) is set high and 10 feet to camera left, providing fill on Lily’s back. Another medium octabank at f8 (-1 stop) is set similarly to camera right for fill on the man. The same large octabank with a red gel at f8 (-1 stop) is set just behind camera. A small, Profoto striplight with barn doors at f22 (+2 stops) is boomed directly above the models and aimed downwards, creating the areas of high contrast on their shirts, faces and legs. I’m guessing the red on the man’s hair has been accentuated in post. Probably lots of the red has actually been accentuated. Finally, the same gridded magnum reflector with a full CTO gel at f22 (+2 stops) sits on the oven floor and creates the yellow highlights on the man’s face. The final image is a composite of the two shots.

Comments: Lady Gaga thought it would be totally rad if she literally set herself on fire for the shot. But the level-headed Leibovitz (who ordinarily has a penchant for “reality” too) convinced her that sometimes “figurative” is just as good as “literal.” Especially when dealing with flames.

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.

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.

annie leibovitz's photo lighting in Vanity Fair for wizard of oz

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of annie leibovitz for guess the lighting blog

copyright, Annie Leibovitz.

Talk about a challenge. In 2005, Vogue Magazine posed this to Annie Leibovitz: take the Wizard of Oz, one of history’s most important films. Recreate the iconic scenes, but add your own personal, touch. Looking at the photo story as a whole, I have to say Annie nailed it. Crushed it, actually (it certainly didn’t hurt to have Keira Knightley at her disposal). Google the story. Each image is more beautiful than the next. This shot of Dorothy, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry rushing to shelter captures the cinematic feel while adding Annie’s modern sensibility. It was created with one light and the help of the sun.

Camera: Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm lens and Kodak Portra 400NC film, handheld 15 feet back. Shot at 1/60, f16, ISO 400.

Lighting: To mimic a gloomy, tornado-laden day, Annie underexposed the shot by two stops. The key light is a large Octabank at f8 set high and 12 feet to camera left. The sun at f8 is high in the sky and slightly to camera right. This adds fill and some flatness to the image. Two large wind machines are out of frame to camera right aimed head-high adding to the stormy feel. Though a stickler for realism, Annie did not wait for an actual tornado to touch down. The background was added in post.

Comments: The cute puppy, though a dead wringer for Toto, wasn’t the most obedient pooch. While the rest of the talent moved toward the shelter doors, he ran in the opposite direction. Usually chasing a vagrant squirrel or his own tail. After numerous failed attempts, the prop stylist replaced him with a taxidermied fox. The dogs features were retouched in in post.