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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.

erwin olaf's photo lighting of dirty denim on guess the lighting blog

ted sabarese photo lighting diagram of erwin olaf on guess the lighting blog

copyright, Erwin Olaf

An oldie but a goodie, this shot for the Diesel Jeans “Dirty Denim” ad campaign features a pair of naughty octogenarians. And was created with 2 lights (not including the 4 light bulbs in the wall sconces).

Camera: Hasselblad 503CW with 80mm lens and Kodak EPP 100 transparency film, set on tripod 10 feet back. Shot at 1/60, f8, ISO 100.

Lighting: Erwin uses a very simple but effective lighting setup to direct our focus to grandma’s hijinks (while managing to make the jeans look pretty good too). One small softbox at f5.6 1/2 is boomed above and slightly in front of grandma’s head (and angled towards her) from the right. Another softbox at f5.6 is boomed above and in between the couple (and aimed toward grandpa) from the left. Just the slight bit more light on her helps to lead our eye to grandma first. The wall sconces were shot as a separate frame with a long exposure (2 seconds) and then composited into the final image.

Comments: The couple spent most of the morning arguing over whether to listen to Benny Goodman or Glen Miller on the turntable Erwin had rented especially for the occasion. By the time they finally started shooting, Grandpa was worn out and took an impromptu nap, which happened to work out okay. The glasses were intentionally filled with real, rye whiskey instead of cola.