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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.

eric ogden's photo lighting of penelope cruz on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of penelope cruz on guess the lighting blog

copyright, Eric Ogden

This highly cinematic and dramatic fine-art portrait of Penelope Cruz tells a million stories, each one as haunting as you care to make it. It was created with 3 lights.

Camera: Mamiya RZ67 with 90mm lens and Kodak Portra VC 400 ASA film, set on a tripod 8 feet back. Shot at 1/125, f8, ISO 400.

Lighting: Eric considers shadow and darkness additional “characters” in his images – as important (if not more) than the subject. The key light is a medium octabank at f8 positioned outside the window and out of frame to camera left. I only call this light the “key” because it’s responsible for illuminating Penelope’s face. A gridded, 7” reflector with a straw-colored gel at f8 1/2 lights her back from the waist up. It’s placed just out of frame to camera right near the back wall. A silver umbrella with a straw-colored warming gel at f8 sits hidden outside to camera right of the window aimed at the hanging foliage and ground. Penelope’s reflection was added in post.

Comments: After Eric served a specially-prepared dinner of duelos y quebrantos, Almodóvar’s muse got into character by reflecting on what life may have been like as Penelope Cruz-Cruise.